The Clare Spark Blog

December 27, 2012

“Come home, alpha female!”

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 9:38 pm
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Image (44)[Before you read this blog see]

Kay S. Hymowitz wrote a provocative essay in City Journal last week, suggesting that “alpha females” were staying home to raise their kids by choice, not because they had necessarily hit the glass ceiling.  See

Ms.  Hymowitz, availing herself of statistics, partly addressed the most vexed questions in the feminist movement (I have blended her concerns with my own):

Are women physiologically different than men, with aptitudes for motherhood and child-rearing that are unique to her gender?  Or is that a male myth that aims to keep female competition “barefoot and pregnant”?

Is there, or is there not a glass ceiling that accounts for the paltry number of female top leaders in corporate America?

Do recent developments in child development suggest that the infant-mother bond is central to healthy child development, hence the handing off of infants to nannies, day care providers, or even husbands, may have long term effects on the child, and not to its benefit?

In recent years, I have spent much time looking back on my life as a wife and mother (1959-1971), and even further back on my experience of the nuclear family, torn apart by World War 2 (and then a painful divorce in 1957), widespread ignorance about child-rearing in my parents second generation of Jewish immigrants, even among educated professionals.

I go back and forth in viewing my past achievements, sometimes viewing myself as an underachiever, sometimes as a woman who “had it all.” From that unstable, very shaky viewpoint, I say this with some certainty) :

THERE IS NO EARTHLY FAME THAT CAN SUBSTITUTE FOR THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF RAISING HEALTHY, CREATIVE, AND INDEPENDENT CHILDREN.  There is no more challenging task, yet the position of women in a man’s world tends to underestimate the difficulties that all women face in reaching such a goal. (The intelligent, ambitious woman is not only viewed as masculine and freakish, but she may view herself through the eyes of jealous males, even as a successful mother. There are men who resent the attention and libido that mothers lavish upon their young.)

I refer not only to the skills associated with child-rearing, but the necessity to know oneself and one’s limitations, for instance, unresolved conflicts regarding siblings and parents that suddenly pop up when confronting archetypal events in the life of the child. It is disconcerting to notice that one is turning into one’s mother or father, even as we imagine that we have surpassed them and have not made their cloddish mistakes.

Everyone knows the pangs of middle and old age: loss of energy, aches and pains, the realization that one may die at any time, the loss of dear ones, the perhaps neurotic wish to go back and repair all the errors of youth.

Let us pretend that the Mother knows herself, is empathic with the needs of growing children, and has all the necessarily skills to raise that healthy and creative child. But what about “independence?” We don’t even agree on what independence means, let alone whether it is a value worth striving for, or if attained, whether we and/or our children will be deemed demonic and strange for non-conformity. I will say this for my own imperfect mother: she was no lefty, but while I (once) was, she told me to put up a fence around my psyche and fend off aggressors. I bless her memory for that injection of courage.

My family, ca 1942

My family, ca 1942

The Progressives, male and female alike, put great emphasis on the power of statistics. There was an assumption that once faced with the facts, people would do the right thing for themselves and for “the public interest.”  Kay S. Hymowitz probably believes she has written a helpful article that will assuage the guilt of the intelligent would-be alpha female who stays home to raise her own children.  In the view of this (maybe) alpha female, she has mostly started a conversation that will agitate us without end.

In a hyper-modern, hyper-speedy society, are we archaic or enlightened?

Clare, Ron Loeb, kids ca 1971

Clare, Ron Loeb, kids ca 1971


  1. You ask whether there is a glass ceiling. I don’t think the existence of the glass ceiling is up for debate, really. You can’t look at gender representation in decision-making institutions and reasonably conclude that there is more or less equality across the spectrum.

    However, the source of the glass ceiling is the big debate – the one on which every theorist chimes in with yet another incomplete explanation. I think that the source of the glass ceiling phenomenon is actually quite simple and it is precisely the same problem which causes ALL gender injustice.

    Almost every culture is plagued by the evil of altruism, the “ethical” notion of self-sacrifice to others. People are admired for denying themselves opportunities to grow and flourish, instead giving their time and resources to those who can’t or won’t help themselves. Everyone who buys into this nonsense (which is most people) will condemn those who are rational, who are ambitious, who have self-respect, and who refuse to spend their lives being servants for others.

    In case you haven’t already made the connection, the principles of altruism are precisely the ones which keep most women at home to raise children and maintain domestic order. They knowingly sacrifice their dreams, their abilities, the very potential of their lives, to feed children who didn’t need to exist in the first place. Why? It doesn’t seem rational that they should do so. Don’t they want to pursue careers, hobbies, sports, friendships? Don’t they want to travel? Don’t they want to pursue higher education? Yes, of course women want these things out of life. But they are condemned for daring to want something for themselves, because only self-sacrifice is considered “ethical” in the wider culture. And there’s nothing more self-sacrificing than making the rest of your life a means to an end, literally draining your body and mind to feed and nourish someone else.

    Altruism is the prevailing ethical paradigm in this culture, and it is precisely what denies women every opportunity to grow as human beings. It is precisely what keeps women out of math, science, and engineering; out of business and the corporate sphere; out of politics and public policy; and out of everywhere they can succeed outside of home. Only once we end this anti-human way of thinking will the glass ceiling shatter and women start freely achieving their dreams.

    Comment by tiffany267 — December 30, 2012 @ 10:43 pm | Reply

    • It is true that most women are socialized to be altruistic, to be self-sacrificing, even masochistic. But women do have a choice today either to pursue a profession or other activity outside the home, or to have children. Once she decides to have children, she (and her husband, who may not be so well designed for parenting) has obligations to be a good mother, and there is much evidence to support the importance of early childhood development to healthy, creative, independent adulthood.
      It remains an open question to me as to whether or not women can “have it all” without damaging their children. I have seen families with nannies, who sometimes come and go, hence the children may suffer from lack of “object constancy.”

      Comment by clarespark — December 30, 2012 @ 10:53 pm | Reply

  2. Very thought provoking. Thank you.

    Comment by Kate — December 29, 2012 @ 3:49 am | Reply

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