What do Women Really Want?

On Michelle Easton’s How to Raise a Conservative Daughter

I recently had a conversation with some friends whose oldest child, a daughter, was graduating from 8th grade, requiring some academic decisions. Different school options emphasized different disciplines, so I asked what her favorite subject was. “Getting straight As,” answered the father.

She’s a good girl, by which I mean, her type is that of Good Girl. It’s a common type, and its management is usually straightforward. The majority of girls behave in ways rectilinear to praise from their preferred authorities. As long as the preferred authorities are decent people, the result will be a Good Girl. But a crisis develops when authorities are uncertain as to how to guide a girl toward goodness.

Uncertain authorities, especially regarding girls, have become common among conservatives. What are we supposed to be telling young women to do with themselves? Encouraging marriage and motherhood is retrograde and gauche, or at least tenuous (you can’t make a guy propose to your daughter). Encouraging a career-minded path can make it sound like a job is more important than a family. Guiding a smart girl toward lower status but more family-friendly occupational prospects appears to disrespect her mind. Allowing a reticent girl to follow her native inclination may leave her ill-equipped for life. There are more practical problems, too: how do parents enable their daughter to text them, research a paper for school, or have friends, without also handing her over to TikTok and YouTube?

So a book with a title like How to Raise a Conservative Daughter has obvious appeal. Greater liberalism among young women is not alarmist anecdata. The nightmare of conservative parents is no longer that their daughter would return from her first semester at college pregnant. It’s that she’ll have changed her major to Gender Studies.

Michelle Easton, Board President of the Clare Booth Luce Center for Conservative Women,  lays out a set of principles for norming conservative values at home. Few readers will object to the advice for households to value God, family, America, hard work, feminine difference, human life, financial responsibility, and service. Easton also has some good tips, one of the best being that a girl who knows five arguments for a conservative position (rather than one or two) will nearly always win a debate about it. And for parents whose dearest wish is to see their daughter regularly on Fox News, How To Raise a Conservative Daughter is the very thing.

This is to say that the book’s energy is not directed toward helping girls become likeable Everymoms who decorate with elephants on election days. Easton constantly gravitates to the “conservative activist” archetype. There are disclaimers along the way. But it’s difficult to avoid the impression that parents will be able to rest easy when a daughter starts a Young Republicans group in her high school, double majors in economics and political science, goes on to a law degree, and starts clerking at the Supreme Court while her glorious hair waves o’er the land of the free. It certainly would be clear at that point that a young woman has saved herself for Conservatism, Inc. What is less clear is how her life would be ordered on conservative values.

Whether Professional Female Conservatives are needed at all is its own question. But prioritizing their cultivation can only result in too many chiefs and not enough Indians. How many PFCs should exist per capita in the general population? If we let the number of recommended PFCs be a generous 1%, the parents of 99% of girls don’t get much out of this book. And in a culture that praises and rewards activism and visibility, teaching girls how to live a praiseworthy life that does not earn these prizes is a much harder job. Moreover, Easton does believe that the Professional Female Conservative is needed: “If all conservative women were at home with no conservative women leaders in the workplace, other left-wing women—of whom there are legions—would fill the vacuum.” Is it utterly wrongheaded to suggest that those positions might be filled instead by conservative men?

Easton attempts to resolve The Career Mom, Homemaker “Debate” (sic) by arguing that a woman who works full time for Conservatism, Inc. is doing good for all families rather than just her own. The accompanying anecdotes of families who got used to their high-powered moms being gone will find variable mileage among readers. But the argument never explains why those jobs had to be done by mothers with children at home. Cross check this with Easton’s advice to aspiring girls beginning careers (“[D]o what’s assigned; then, you work late nights and weekends and do lots more”) and her stated approval of women who chose to stay home tastes watery. This uncritical promotion of careerism, activism, and a preference for public influence shows How To Raise a Conservative Daughter to be a political version of Anne Hathaway’s cerulean sweater in The Devil Wears Prada. It’s a perfect example of conservatives as described in Samuel Francis’ Beautiful Losers, fighting for the policies leftists were plugging a few decades ago.

Neither does Easton’s desire to recruit and equip Professional Female Conservatives account for the actual interests and desires of women. Pushing girls to get jobs in the red half of The Swamp runs on the same zeal the Left has for girls in STEM. Good Girls on both sides will seek to please their preferred authorities, and keep getting straight As in a long schedule of subjects that don’t interest them. It’s a mean thing to do to Good Girls, many of whom aren’t inclined to pick fights with teachers about Milton Friedman (advice from page 11). This has a lot less to do with economic philosophy than it does with interest and personality.

This is true well beyond school. The Institute for Family Studies analysis of the 2017 American Community Survey found that less than 3 in 10 married mothers prefer full-time work. Most married women with young children want to be home with them, and those who are free to choose do just that. Those who aren’t free to choose exist in the numbers they do because of the dismantling of the family wage, policies that punish in-house caregiving, and a general political practice of financially rewarding antisocial behaviors (such as joblessness, illegal immigration, and drug addiction).

Without doubt, there are young women who are naturally inclined to become journalists, lobbyists, political candidates, and career activists. Some of these women would like to do this work for the GOP. But they don’t face material obstacles to it outside of naturally occurring competition within the field. The school-based sequence of achievement-acclaim-advance, coupled with the prevailing careerist mindset, creates all the cultural momentum that is needed to carry ambitious girls down this path. In other words, we don’t need a book that tells us how to get conservative women into newsrooms and the Capitol. (Incidentally, a great way for conservative women who need jobs and want to reduce leftist cultural dominance would be to teach or work in libraries, but neither of those rank high in HTRaCD).

Young women searching for a way to lean out are the ones who need a map and a lot more cheerleaders. Women who get good degrees, good paychecks, good media bookings, and good headshots make their parents, professors, and mentors happy. They have succeeded as Good Girls, especially if they get married, produce a baby or two, and hire a nanny who’s like family. Women who don’t get a degree, get one but don’t use it, don’t go back to work, or just don’t end up looking like a straight-A girl could look, have not quite succeeded. They are always getting asked about those things, always wondering if they’re being lazy or wasteful, always watching the women who have it all get praised. And, oh yeah, they don’t get paid (which, to be clear, is not just un-fun, but makes it much harder to live.) The difficulty of convincing a girl that this is the better path is the reason people are likely to read a book called How To Raise a Conservative Daughter, and why it is so disappointing that a book by that title doesn’t address the problem at all. A better title would be How to Raise a Movement Conservative Daughter.

A true conservative daughter is one who listens to the testimony of her elders—not just her parents and teachers, but her ever-so-great-grandparents.

She doesn’t believe that her ancestors were misogynist, cruel men and brainwashed, miserable women.

She knows that a paycheck and human acclaim aren’t worth the exploitation of serfs who do the jobs she doesn’t like.

She thinks about her duties, not her rights.

She prioritizes changing herself through discipline rather than changing others through activism and political force.

She stands up for herself by not getting dragged into bloated ideas about making a difference and changing the world.

She is willing to dream small because that’s what a neighborhood, a Sunday school, or a toddler needs her to do.

She builds strength to enable grace rather than conquest.

She cultivates the skills that women do well to master–preparedness, flexibility, agility, generosity, and perceptivity—in the context of an absolute moral system (recommendation available upon request).

So how does one raise this kind of girl? Easton is right about this: the best teaching is modeling. First, spare no expense to situate your family among a larger community of people whose moral orientation is trustworthy. You pretty much have to go to church, and be very careful about school choices. Smartphones are right out. (Forgive another set of instructions analogous to a conservative book list that tells you to read Little House and Tom Sawyer with your kids.)

Within your own house, be the evidence that the conventional wisdom has some big things wrong, that the girlhood experience of school as such is largely fictitious, and that “being there” for family and neighbors is a location-based function. Help daughters plan for life in the way that girls must: with lots of wiggle room and adaptability. The present reality is that girls should be prepared for marriage if and when it comes, babies if and when they come, and compensated employment if and when it is needed. As plans go, it’s not very clear, and Good Girls often don’t care for that. But a Good Girl will do a lot of things she doesn’t strictly care for if she knows they’re wise, and the right thing to do.

*Image Credit: Pixabay

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Rebekah Curtis

Rebekah Curtis is coauthor of LadyLike (Concordia 2015). Her writing can be found online at The American Conservative, Public Discourse, and First Things, and in print for Chronicles, Touchstone, Modern Reformation, and a variety of Lutheran publications. Her day job is housewife, church lady, and school mom.