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On the March 22 edition of the Focus on the Family radio show, "The Attack on Motherhood," Focus on the Family founder and CEO James C. Dobson promoted a broadcast by Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. in which Mohler criticized feminist Linda Hirshman. As he introduced Mohler's broadcast, Dobson compared Hirshman to an "old-time bra-burner type" and alleged that during an ABC interview with Good Morning America host Diane Sawyer that he admittedly did not watch, Hirshman "asserted that women who stay at home and raise their children are a threat to civilization." In his broadcast, Mohler said that in an article Hirshman wrote for The American Prospect, "she says, 'This [trend of women becoming stay-at-home mothers] is a harm to civilization.'" Contrary to Dobson and Mohler's claims, Hirshman did not assert in her ABC interview or in her American Prospect article that so-called stay-at-home mothers are "a threat" or "a harm to civilization."
In a discussion with his co-host, John Fuller, about Hirshman's appearances on Good Morning America on February 22 and 23, Dobson stated:
DOBSON: Well, John, there was an outrageous piece on the ABC Good Morning America television show last month that was, according to those who saw it -- and I didn't see it but I've certainly heard about it -- simply beyond the pale. It featured a very radical feminist who asserted that women who stay home and raise their children are a threat to civilization. I mean, can you imagine that? I mean, this woman could easily have come out of the late '60s or the early '70s. It was the old-time bra-burner type of feminism. People will have to pardon me for reminding us [sic] of that.
FULLER: You're saying, though, that my wife is a threat to civilization?
DOBSON: That's what she is saying, yes -- asserting. And it must have made a lot of women angry around this country. You know, for 5,000 years, women didn't have to defend their mothering role and in fact, there used to be a catch-phrase that spoke of the untouchable American values of the flag, motherhood and what?
FULLER: Apple pie.
DOBSON: Apple pie. Well, the flag was burned a long time ago, and motherhood is just continuing to be assaulted by the media and the loony left. Again, I ask people to forgive me. The only thing that remains unscathed from those traditional values is apple pie.
Anyway, those traditional values have all been under assault, and that's symbolic of a lot of other values, marriage itself being under attack. But that's what happened on Good Morning America, on that television show. Diane Sawyer did that interview.
Dobson then segued his broadcast into the February 23 edition of The Albert Mohler Program, in which Mohler criticized Hirshman's critique of stay-at-home mothers. Mohler introduced his broadcast by reading from Hirshman's November 11, 2005, article in The American Prospect, titled "Homeward Bound." He then stated, "Now, what's the real glass ceiling? She [Hirshman] says it's not so much the oppression of women by men. It's not so much the fact that women are being forced to do this because there are choices. It's the fact that too many women want to be moms and want to be stay-at-home moms and see raising children as a profession. And she says, 'This is a harm to civilization.'"
As with Dobson's baseless recitation of Hirshman's alleged comments during her appearance on Good Morning America, Mohler invented Hirshman's claim in The American Prospect that stay-at-home mothers are "a harm to civilization." In fact, the crux of Hirshman's argument in both her Good Morning America appearance and in her Prospect article is that women who benefited from the gains of the feminist movement with career opportunities and first-rate educations, by leaving the workforce to become stay-at-home mothers, are denying society the benefits of their productivity and leadership potential as well as jeopardizing their professional and financial well-being. Liberal feminism, she wrote in the Prospect, has failed to address this problem: "[W]hile the public world has changed, albeit imperfectly, to accommodate women among the elite, private lives have hardly budged. The real glass ceiling is at home."
Besides serving as president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, Mohler is a board member of Focus on the Family. Mohler appeared alongside Dobson as a speaker at Justice Sunday I, a nationally televised rally on May 24, 2005, to engender Christian conservative support for President Bush's federal judiciary picks. Mohler is the author of Dr. Mohler's Blog and host of The Albert Mohler Program, a daily one-hour radio show dedicated to "engaging contemporary culture with biblical truth." It is broadcast on over 40 stations nationwide and syndicated by Salem Radio Network.
Mohler has a history of making controversial statements. During a March 2000 appearance on CNN's Larry King Live, Mohler criticized then-Pope John Paul II's efforts to establish a dialogue with Jews and Muslims. Then he stated, "I believe that the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel...and indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office." And, as Media Matters for America documented, on the March 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Mohler defended 700 Club host Pat Robertson's recent claim that Muslims are "motivated by demonic power," and expanded on Robertson's comments, saying: "Well, I would have to say as a Christian that I believe any belief system, any world view, whether it's Zen Buddhism or Hinduism or dialectical materialism for that matter, Marxism, that keeps persons captive and keeps them from coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, yes, is a demonstration of satanic power."
From the February 22 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:
DIANE SAWYER (host) Well, as we said, the "mommy wars" are back and raging again big-time, but with a brand new gladiator. Professor Linda Hirshman wrote an article called "Homeward Bound" last year for The American Prospect magazine. And it began a ballistic debate and here's why: the number of college-educated women who are leaving the workforce to go home with the kids. In fact, census figures show 54 percent of mothers with a graduate or professional degree are no longer working full-time. And Hirshman says this is a big mistake, that women will pay a large price for it with no measurable gain for their kids. So, today and tomorrow, let the debate begin. She doesn't look like a flame-thrower. Law professor Linda Hirshman, a mother herself, who says women who choose their children over an independent career life are simply wrong. The women argue to you that this is choice, that we are an era of choice feminism.
SAWYER: And that you have to have the valid right to choose for yourself what's right for you.
HIRSHMAN: I think people don't choose by throwing darts at dartboard, OK? What I am saying is when you're thinking it through, think about the consequences of this decision.
SAWYER: Well, and the softer version is they say you're judgmental, that you're judging.
HIRSHMAN: Right. And I do agree with that. I am judging, according to the standards of Western history.
SAWYER: History, she says, has taught us the truth behind these pictures of parallel lives. Two women, each with children. Samantha Jordan, a full-time career outside of home, and Celia DeBenedetti, who works at home. In the morning, both cuddle their children. In the morning, time and hugs all around. But by day, a difference. Home mom is there for every concern, boo- boo, help with toys, a lullaby for an afternoon nap, while the career mom has to try to get it all done somehow by phone.
JORDAN: Did you get to do bubbles, though, anyway?
SAWYER: But Hirshman argues research has now proven that sometimes, it's just fine.
HIRSHMAN: I do know that the social statistics that we have show that children aren't worse off.
SAWYER: There are so many women who say, my child is sick at home, and I have to come into work? My child has a soccer game, I just want to go see the soccer game, but I have to work.
HIRSHMAN: You don't have to be superhuman, you don't have to --
SAWYER: You don't have to be at the soccer game or there when they're sick?
HIRSHMAN: You know, sometimes you go to the soccer game, sometimes you go to the dance recital.
SAWYER: So, you think there is nothing that children gain from having their mother, not someone who takes care of the kids, but from having their mother there every day when they get home?
HIRSHMAN: There are no reliable statistics showing that the children of working mothers do worse than the children of stay-at-home mothers.
From the February 23 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America:
SAWYER: Yesterday, law professor Linda Hirshman argued that there's no evidence that it helps children with grades, happiness and success to have a stay-at-home mom. Well, this morning, the flame-throwing Hirshman, who is, by the way, also a mother, argues that it is bad for girls growing up in America when smart women leave their careers and decide to go back home.
HIRSHMAN: I think it's a mistake for these highly educated and capable women to make that choice.
SAWYER: But are you saying a woman's place is in the office?
HIRSHMAN: I'm saying an educated, competent adult's place is in the office.
DEBBIE KLETT (stay-at-home mom): I completely disagree with that.
FAITH FUHRMAN (stay-at-home mom): I do, too.
DEBORAH SKOLNICK (career mom): Absolutely. I think --
SAWYER: With us again are three moms, the one who stayed as an editor in the workplace and the other two -- one a nurse, one in ad sales -- who left their careers to be home with the kids, though one of them started a magazine at home about just these decisions. These two women think Hirshman is arrogant. But Hirshman answered, how can you quit work when the national divorce rate is 41 percent? And don't these women know that after a divorce, his standard of living goes up. Theirs can collapse.
SAWYER: How are you going to feel a year from now if it is divorce, and suddenly he's making, has a higher standard of living and yours plummets?
KLETT: Yeah, absolutely.
FUHRMAN: You know, you -- I think that the -- that's my point. The women of today are prepared for that.
SAWYER: Prepared how?
FUHRMAN: But I would have a sense in yourself that, you know, whatever happens, I'm gonna be OK.
SAWYER: That some of the women say, "If I choose to be dependent on my husband and risk whatever the divorce rate, then let me choose that without feeling bad about it."
HIRSHMAN: Well, people ride -- choose to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, OK? But that does not stop us from saying it's a mistake. Listen to the risks you're taking before you take the risk. All I have to give is ideas. I can't send someone to jail.
SAWYER: Which brings us to law number three. Hirshman says it isn't possible for interesting, intelligent women to be fulfilled at home. One of the things, though, a number of women have said is, "I am fulfilling myself. I am the most me, I am fully engaged, intellectually, spiritually and every way by working at home."
HIRSHMAN: I would like to see a description of their daily lives that substantiates that position.
KLETT: Walk in our shoes and then you'll understand what we do all day, is what I say to people who say, who ask that question. Because you do, you run at Mach 3 with your hair on fire. And, and you get up in the morning, and suddenly you're pulled in four different directions, and suddenly it's lunchtime, and suddenly it's dinnertime. And you're just constantly moving, constantly challenging yourself, constantly learning and growing as a person.
HIRSHMAN: One of the things I've done working on my book is to read a lot of the diaries online. And their description of their lives does not sound particularly interesting or fulfilling for a --
SAWYER: To you.
HIRSHMAN: -- complicated person, for a complicated, educated person. It's physical, but it's repetitious.
SAWYER And our career mom kind of agrees.
SKOLNICK: The days that I'm at work are more interesting than the days I'm at home. It's true.
SAWYER: But she adds the office is not always fulfilling, either.
SKOLNICK: I don't know what her idea of office work is, like, maybe she's been reading brochures from companies that show like the eager employee raising her hand at the meeting --
KLETT: Yeah. Exactly.
SKOLNICK: -- with the PowerPoint presentation, and you're standing up there. Hello. You know, I'm in front of the Xerox machine. Why is it not working? Where is the paper stack? Like my purse is like a bank of weird stuff. View-Masters, linty lollipops, old tissues, so disorganized --
SAWYER: So, we asked about Hirshman's most inflammatory rule of all, that working women shouldn't have more than one child.
SAWYER: She's also written, "Don't have two kids." That you have one, then you can keep up in the workplace financially, but having two, that it's been shown statistically, it's not her, it's not her numbers.
SKOLNICK: Exponentially more difficult.
SKOLNICK: It almost broke me going back to work after I had my second child. Kids have this tendency of getting sick, like, over two consec -- you know, one gives it to the other. So, oh, I'm sorry, boss, I can't make it today, and I can't make it two days from now because now the other one has the eye infection.
SAWYER: And finally, we wondered how these women would respond to Hirshman's most sobering argument: that women who leave the workplace are ensuring that the hard-won gains made by women will be undone. She said, why would businesses hire or universities give advanced degrees to those who don't use them?
HIRSHMAN: Right. This only makes sense, right? You don't need a law degree to raise children.
FUHRMAN: I think it's not just the universities. It's the executives in the boardroom.
KLETT: Mm hmm. Mm-hmm.
FUHRMAN: In the hi -- you know, hiring --
SAWYER: Yes, I trained you --
SAWYER: -- I brought you along this far, and you're leaving?
FUHRMAN: It's a -- it's a liability.
HIRSHMAN: I think that one could argue that these women are letting down the team. Consider a society in which the entire Supreme Court is male. We may actually experience that in our lifetime. What would it feel like if all -- the entire Congress were male?