Home / Culture / The Triumphs and Failures of Feminism


Some of the worst feminists are men. The classic feminist is a woman, of course. She emerged as a public spectacle about a century ago and has become something of an institution in our own time—thanks to the state-supported propaganda of our public schools and the history-by-pictures that passes for education. She is pictured as an oppressed creature breaking free from a social prison run by men. It is an image pretty well ingrained in the American mind. The demand for equality has a noble ring to it. It sounds like a cry for justice. But seeking equality with men was, as G.K. Chesterton, pointed out, a step down for women. That is probably why it was only a minority of women who embraced feminism. They were, as Chesterton said, simply guilty of “the plodding, elaborate, elephantine imitation of the male sex”—a description strikingly void of noble-sounding adjectives.

Chesterton explained that the main weakness of the feminists was that they believed all the silly claims that men made about the importance of politics. Most women were smart enough to let their husbands go off to argue in pubs and the clubs, since it accomplished very little and generally didn’t interfere with the real business of life, the drama of the home and the family. Men claimed politics was important; women knew better. They knew what was really important: shaping the minds and souls of their children in the ideal and independent setting of the home. But there were a few women, usually those whose upper class privilege had already separated them from their children, who fell for the male bombast and got political. Chesterton warned that if women got involved in politics it would have the dreaded result of making politics look more legitimate than it was. It would give cause for the government to grow in its reach and influence and eventually impose itself on every aspect of our lives. The result would be the weakening of the authority of the family and the strengthening of the authority of the state. History has shown that his warnings were justified.

Some may consider women getting the right to vote to be the triumph of feminism. But since feminists were a minority, the vote actually did not give them much of a voice. The real triumph of feminism was the legalization of abortion. The argument that women have the right to kill their own babies is not based on any known legal precedent, any traditional understanding of human rights, or any classic, civilized moral teaching. It turned the family violently inside out, making the very heart of the family its lethal enemy. But the feminist argument won…because a few men fell for it.

And there are still men who fall for it. In spite of all the evidence that feminism has failed—the broken homes, the day care generation, the wistfulness of working mothers, the fallout from promiscuous, loveless sex, and most of all, the deep regrets over abortion—the feminist flame still burns. But it is not women who have kept the flame alive. It is men. It is men failing in their masculine role. The male feminist has been the one of the worst influences in modern society. He represents the loss of chivalry, the loss of manliness, the loss of fatherhood, and the loss of authority.

Though abortion is a triumph for feminism, it is not a triumph for women. It has made men less responsible for their actions and less respectful of women. It is men who drag women or pressure women or abandon women to abortion clinics. It is men who fund abortion. It is men who profit from abortion. And all the while, it is women who continue to be degraded and discarded thanks to abortion. Perhaps the most stinging irony of all: it is usually females who are aborted.

Chesterton called feminism the hatred of all things feminine. The most feminine thing of all is motherhood, and the hatred of motherhood is epitomized by abortion: the gruesome slaying one’s own baby in an act that is defended as a right.

The loss of the distinctive roles of the sexes—what Chesterton calls “the distinction of dignities between men and women”—has had grave consequences for our society. The problem with the sexes today, he says “is that each sex is trying to be both sexes at once.” Feminism, which set out with women trying to be more like men, has only succeeded in getting men to be less like men. And women are letting them get away with it.


About the author: Dale Ahlquist


Dale Ahlquist is the president of the American Chesterton Society. He is the creator and host of the Eternal Word Television Network series, "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense" on EWTN. Dale is the author of three books, including Common Sense 101: Lessons From G.K. Chesterton, the publisher of Gilbert Magazine, and co-founder of Chesterton Academy, a new high school in Minneapolis. He and his wife have six children.


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  2. HappyHomeMaker

    Wonderful article, Dale! I have to say, however, that I believe the first great “triumph” of feminism came in the legalization of birth control and the eventual acceptance of birth control by Protestant churches. Insert “the pill” any time you use the word “abortion” and the truth of what Dale writes here still rings true. It is the treatment of sex as purely leisure and consequence-free (not to mention Margaret Sanger’s eugenics-based philosophies) — rather than a sacred act reserved for husband and wife — that blazed the pathway for the legalization of abortion. After all, what in the world was an enlightened feminist to do if she were to find herself somehow pregnant with an inconvenient child? See Janet Smith’s talk titled “Contraception: Why Not” to see the roots of abortion in this country founded in the Pill.

  3. Kara Slaughter

    Some good points here, to be sure! But I have to take issue with your (and Chesterton’s) assessment of the value of women in politics. I lean more towards St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (nee Edith Stein)’s view of the importance of women in public life:


    “Speaking on the role of women in national life, Stein urged, ‘The nation…doesn’t simply need what we have. It needs what we are.’ The same could be said about the factory, the office, the professions, the political sphere, as well as the school and the home. Stein especially encouraged women to become involved in political life. The maternal concern of women, she felt, should lead to a deep interest in the life of the community, from the PTA to the presidency. Since the decisions made in the public square have a deep impact on the family and on human persons generally, women automatically have a big stake in them.”

  4. Dale, what’s the difference between what you write here and this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjxY9rZwNGU ?

    Granted, the video is humor. But in all seriousness, I’ve never much appreciated Chesterton’s view of women, despite my general love of his writing. There are two things which bother me: the idea that half of humanity should, by nature of their gender, take no more interest in the world around them than what is strictly necessary for the running of a home, and that there is no real place for a woman who is not particularly skilled in the domestic arts, but is capable of taking an intelligent interest in other areas of life.

  5. An article which came out last week on Women’s Suffrage is an excellent compliment to this article. In both articles, Feminism has sought to invert the natural order of things.

  6. If the home and family are so important, why don’t men contribute to them more ?

    >the broken homes, the day care generation, the >wistfulness of working mothers, the fallout from >promiscuous, loveless sex, and most of all, the deep >regrets over abortion

    Being feminist does not necessarily mean endorsing either promiscuity or abortion.

    As for wistful working mothers, women, and men for that matter, are going to be wistful no matter what.
    It’s part of being human.

    I grew up listening to my older female relatives grousing about how lucky women are now because they aren’t, quote, “stuck in the house with a bunch of d-d kids, like I was !” unquote.

    Quite bluntly, considering what kids have had to face in previous centuries, and still do in many parts of the world, daycare is a walk in the park. Children are future adults, not fragile flowers . The sooner they learn things like “I am not the center of Mommy’s universe”, the better. Of course, the kids don’t like that, but who cares ? Kids are, from an adult point of view, stupid. Fortunately, most of them grow out of it.

  7. HappyHomeMaker

    A 2006 study by the Institute for Public Policy Research in the UK found that “babies and toddlers sent for long hours in daycare learn less quickly, have worse health, and behave worse than other children.”

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-389797/Children-perform-better-mother-stays-home.html#ixzz1OeTcN8jj

    If you’re truly concerned about the state of this world and where it’s headed (i.e., where the “stupid” – as you call them – children of today will take humanity) then you’d be calling for more stay-at-home moms. Quite frankly, children of stay-at-home moms are better off physically, mentally, emotionally, and intellectually.

    A child’s rearing shapes him as a future adult – it is indeed a very fragile time. As a parent, I often find myself in fear and awe of the great task placed in my hands to raise our children into responsible, selfless adults. And to think of all I’ve been charged with to do in a matter of years before our children are adults – it’s a grave responsibility that more parents need to take seriously.

  8. Many people forget that Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Foundation helped to fund many of the early pro-abortion legal battles. It was part of the whole “sex without consequences” movement that degrades both men and women, but especially women. Some feminists may have noticed this, but others jumped on the sexual revolutionary bandwagon, erroneously I believe.

  9. I am always amused by upper-class men like Chesterton’s argument that we shouldn’t trouble our empty little heads with things like politics. Men didn’t respect women before feminism; they thought we were cowardly, dimwitted weaklings who were assigned home life because we were too stupid for anything else. Given the actual mind-killing drudgery of housework, those men were probably right. Chesterton was a privileged twit who lauded the powerless because he no actual, person experience of that life. George Orwell, in “The Road to Wigan Pier,” gave the best assessment of Chesterton ever: “I know too much of slums to go into Chestertonian raptures about them.” I’ll listen to men rhapsodize about “the home” when they start cleaning their own toilets.

  10. Richard Aleman

    Would you mind quantifying your assertion that men thought women were “cowardly, dimwitted weaklings” prior to feminism? It seems to me that people confuse the privileged social class of the pre-Industrial age with the average household and, the wage system which, in part, heightened feminism and male-chauvinism. It was the political “liberation” of men and women caged by the coin.

    Chesterton did not go into “raptures” about the slums and instead fought against them through an attempt to put the social teachings of the Church into practice. Indeed, did Chesterton’s wife, Frances, seem oppressed? Quite the contrary. Anyone who knows anything about Chesterton realizes that he didn’t want women to get back to the home. He wanted men and women to get back to the home.

  11. @Richard Aleman, are you familiar with the phrase “women’s work?” Is “effeminate” a compliment to a man? Do you have any evidence that men valued women’s intellect or creativity before feminism? Do you have any evidence that antifeminists believe women even HAVE an intellect?

    Chesterton’s wife was upper class; of course she was well-treated, mostly by some of the 1,800,000 women working as domestic servants in England in the early 20th century. We have no evidence, however, of her private thoughts on her role.

    The “raptures” quote isn’t mine, it’s George Orwell’s, from “The Road to Wigan Pier.” Chesterton may have objected to the conditions of slums, but he believed strongly in maintaining a class system that dictated that certain people and their descendents forever would be at the bottom of the social scale. They would never be able to accumulate wealth or prestige. Furthermore, he, like all traditional Catholics, believed that it was vital to maintain a class of poor people to be the objects of wealthier people’s charity. He had no desire to change the system so that charity wasn’t necessary.

  12. Richard Aleman

    That’s fairly interesting considering Chesterton was a founder of Distributism, an economic theory we propose in this very magazine, to establish the widespread ownership of the means of production amongst the masses (and certainly not wealth, that is, money, or prestige). Where is the evidence that he wished to maintain a class of poor people at the expense of the wealthy? Have you even read any Chesterton? Chesterton championed the just wage and rights of the worker while deploring the power of few vs. many wrought by liberalism (economic or philosophical), and encouraged the poor to rebel against a wage system that left them politically powerless. Feminism is nothing but a product of that very liberalism serving the goals of men (Chesterton’s point) and enslavement of masses dependent upon a wage, wherein men and women squabble over the control of coin.

    I leave you with these words by GKC himself:

    “Now suppose, just suppose, that each State had done all along what the Church has urged should be done. Suppose the State had made and enforced vigorous laws against the ‘oppression of the poor’ and ‘defrauding labourers of their wages,’ against circumventing one’s brother in business, against unjust and usurious profits, against the repudiation of social responsibilities by the rich, against the forms of lying and cheating and ruining competitors, that are covered by the words ‘business’ and ‘finance.’ Does anyone imagine that if that had been done, there would now be any socialism or communism, or complicated international financial machinery whose imminent collapse threatens to starve poet and peasant, and politician alike? Big business would have been impossible, socialism unnecessary.” – G.K. Chesterton, Church and State

  13. Richard Aleman

    By the way: I am a traditional Catholic, and neither I, nor any distributist I am aware of, would like to maintain a class of poor people. I would ask you to review the articles on this site before commenting further, particularly our series on Catholic Social Doctrine.

  14. For Karen:
    here is an example of a woman from lower classes who got into political power: Ana Pauker. Communism(which Orwell didn’t like) allowed her to do that :).
    ‘in Romania, she is perceived half a century after her demise, as a perpetrator of evil, regardless of the finer points which academics will raise in their scholarly disquisitions, whilst they remain completely removed from any personal experience in the Stalinist purges.’
    What happened in Romania during Pauker being minister for internal affairs? The hell from Pitesti prison:
    In Romania it is believed that Ana Pauker actually denounced her husband to the Soviet authorities, even if he had been a notorious communist and he had drawn her into politics.
    The big question about Pitesti is: either she didn’t know what was happening in Pitesti (which would make her a very bad minister) or she knew and she actually ordered it.

    My point in giving this example is that getting wealth and power by any means should not be a goal for anybody. Our first goal should be to become moral and well informed and then we’ll know how to spend our lives in a good way. But when somebody misses morality (which is formed in the family), everything that person does might be very harmful for the society. So, indeed, women’s job to form moral children (who would become moral adults) is at the basis of any healthy society. Saint John Chrisostom said: ‘A thousand of good mothers will make the world better’.