Kathryn Lopez

Wilcox bases his analysis on his university's National Survey of Religion and Family Life, which, he explains, "indicates that, among married mothers with children in the home under 18, only 18 percent of married mothers would prefer to work full-time; by contrast, 46 percent would prefer to work part-time, and 36 percent would prefer to stay at home. Clearly, the most popular option for married mothers is part-time work, whereas only about one-fifth of these mothers would prefer to work full-time."

Feminists claim to be all about choice, yet many women in our gender-equal paradise seem to be doing something they'd rather not, given other options. Most working women would like to spend fewer hours at the office, and more time at home with their kids.

About half of American women, says Wilcox, are "adaptive": They "have interests in both work and family, and . . . they seek to scale back their work when they have children in the home -- especially infants and toddlers. But when they don't have children, or their children are older, adaptive women are often interested in working outside the home on a full-time basis. So, their orientation to work and family shifts over the life course, and according to the needs of their children."

In other words, they're neither just stay-at-home moms nor working moms: They're women who do what's best for them and their families at a given time. They "don't fit the standard conservative stay-at-home model or the liberal full-time-working-woman model. For that reason, they are often invisible in media and academic debates about work and family," Wilcox sums up.

Wilcox does see this adaptability in some of the pro-life women we've been seeing this political cycle. He points to gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in South Dakota, and Rep. Michele Bachmann in Minnesota. "These are candidates who have pursued a variety of work-family strategies in their effort to realize their dual commitments to family and public life over the years. And they don't fit neatly in any boxes."

Wilcox tells me that "both parties could do a lot more to make it easier for women to realize their ideal work-family strategies by promoting public policies that encourage flexible work arrangements, dramatically expand the child tax credit, and add more off-ramps and on-ramps for women who are seeking to move out of or into the workforce."

Will this authentic view of womanhood usurp the old political archetypes of what women want? The conversation has begun to officially rise above what self-identified feminists have long insisted they desire. May it continue and bear fruit. And, whoever wins or loses, this is a whole new playing field in politics, one that more accurately reflects who American women actually are and, yes, what they really want. Women want to annihilate this idea that career is everything; they want a life; she wants life. They especially want help in being adaptive, not pressured into being something they're not.


Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.