Who is Caitlin Flanagan and what planet is she from?

Posted: Apr 18, 2006 7:05 PM
In 2001, she appeared out of nowhere to chronicle the foibles of the female "upper middle class" (the polite euphemism for those of us rich enough to have nannies, but not rich enough to retire and live off our wealth) for the Atlantic Monthly. She got noticed right away:

"I have one conservative standpoint," says Flanagan. "I really have traditional emotions about having a full-time, at-home parent, be it mom or dad. For that, the left has excoriated me, humiliated me, called me names in print -- one of which I had to look up."

She doesn't think of herself as a theorist, as her new book, "To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife," makes clear. But in a culture of universal female grievance, she earns elite female disdain for noticing how much good men (sometimes) have to put up with. The women she knows and writes about are educated, liberal, at-home mothers who too often proudly announce: "I'm home taking care of my kids, but I'm sure as hell not home to care for my husband."

"It's not a fair division of labor," says Flanagan. "He comes home, he's exhausted, the house is a mess, the kids are out of control and there's nothing to eat."

It's also, in Caitlin Flanagan's mind, deeply counterproductive: "My goal in life is to be treated extremely well. I am the late-life child of really besotted parents. I want to be treated really well by my husband, and the way to be really treated well is to treat him well. Try just doing something nice for your husband. Set the table, cook something you know he loves and see what happens." Flanagan pauses to let the message sink in. "Take the kids to the park on Saturday so he can watch the big pre-game show in quiet. See what happens. That's all I'm saying."

For Caitlin, the point of having a mother at home is not so that your children will get into Harvard, or score that big executive job. A home is not a factory for producing children for corporations. The home is not a mere means; it is one of the great things in life you can have, create or give to someone you love. The real point of having a mother at home with children is that children get to be home with a mother who loves them.

So if you are a breadwinning mom who must work, Flanagan has little to say to you or about you. She is not a theorist of women's issues; she is an acute observer of the lives of a certain influential subset of women like herself: educated wives who've chosen to devote themselves substantially or primarily to the home. Or who seek interesting, creative jobs that don't bring home much bacon. The person who makes such choices possible is called a "husband."

And what's the point of having a husband if you are going to be mad at him all the time for giving you choices?

"You need to understand something about men," Caitlin tells me. "Men really want to help women. Yes, there are bad men in the world. Avoid them. Most of them show their stripes very early." (And if women weren't busily being sexual with men they hardly know, adds Flanagan, they might find it easier to spot the cads before they moved in with them. But that's another story.)

Flanagan connects the intense negative reaction her writing generates with the Democratic Party's recent electoral woes: "The left says they are the party of inclusion and tolerance, but in my experience, I say one mainstream thing and there is no room for me. You know why we keep losing elections? We are a really small tent."