She recalls heated discussions with her roommate and friends about their expectations for their adult lives.

"I knew that feminism was a farce all my life," she says. Part of that attitude came from her family, she realizes: "I try to think about contemporaries of mine who didn't have [traditional parents]. If I had a baby-boomer mother, if they had a different position..."

Venker worked outside the home before her kids were born. In that regard, she followed the example of the women in her family: "Phyllis, but really my mother and their mother — my conservative, matriarchal grandmother — everyone had degrees, careers, kids." But not, she's careful to note, at the same time.

Jennifer Silverberg
Conservative author Suzanne Venker at home with her raison d'etre: Emma, eleven, and Henry, eight.
Jennifer Silverberg
Conservative author Suzanne Venker at home with her raison d'etre: Emma, eleven, and Henry, eight.

Indeed, after Venker had her children, she never considered day care. She was certain that no career outside the home could ever be as important as the one inside it. She even chose what she did — teaching — to allow maximum flexibility and to let her prioritize raising a family.

She's convinced that too many young women fail to plan for motherhood because feminism tells them it's something to be shoehorned in around a career. When the kids actually arrive, young families are in for a shock. And while a hyper-material culture has convinced families that they need two incomes, simple arithmetic takes the wind out of that argument, she says. A second income is mainly gobbled up in child-care and the incidental costs of working anyway.

But even outside the context of motherhood, feminism is a lie.

"Feminists only want the victims in the spotlight," Venker says. The so-called sisterhood, she sniffs, is "empowering for weak people. It's not going to get you forward. It's just banding together and yapping."

Indeed, she says, American women have the easiest, most spoiled existence of any human society ever to walk the earth. There is very little to complain about — thanks to men.

"Women do not owe feminists for their opportunities," she says. "They owe men. It is men who have developed the technology to allow women to pursue other opportunities. All these things we take for granted have freed us to ruminate on our place in the world and have careers. Technology and the Pill came about before the feminist movement — they were made by men. They are the most obvious reasons women have the cushy lives they have today. So how could they be the oppressors?"

Venker says she'd never deny that there are sexists and misogynists out there, but she's convinced they are rare.

"There are all kinds of ways people will dismiss you because of who you are. There are cads, but it's not like you have to sift through them. Sexism happens. There's all kinds of buttheads in the world. There's a more empowering way to face up to the buttheads of the world."

Many of Venker's claims sound awfully familiar to folks who've been following the debate about working mothers for the last five decades. In fact, aside from words like "butthead," she's often speaking from the same script as her mother's sister — the Eagle Forum's 86-year-old founder, Aunt Phyllis.

"Everything you've learned in college is gearing you toward a career in the labor force," Phyllis Schlafly tells Riverfront Times. "There isn't any space for men, marriage or children in the way you've got your life planned. Many young women find they'd really like to get married or have children after all."

It's worth noting that Schlafly herself started a political think tank, ran for office and earned a law degree — and raised six kids. She's said that it was all in the timing; when her children were home, so was she. She might have been a major public figure in the '60s culture wars, but she was Mom first.

"It's a dogma of the feminist movement that there really isn't any difference between men and women, that the differences you think you see are a social construct. The book is a very strong bid to change the conversation and to tell young people what they've been hearing is wrong and not helpful," Schlafly says.

Schlafly and Venker aren't all that close even today. Schlafly says that she and Venker are busy with their own lives. They mainly keep in touch over e-mail. But they're definitely on the same page philosophically.

"Look at the feminists," says Schlafly. "Most of them are unhappy."

As long as there have been feminists, of course, there have been anti-feminists: Even as feminists have argued that women should have the right to choose a life outside the home, anti-feminists have struck back, saying that choice is the downfall of civilization. And though it might be tempting to anyone dreaming of "sisterhood" to think of women as feminists and men as their opponents in this discussion, that's simply not the case: For every Betty Friedan, there's been a Phyllis Schlafly.

When it comes to individual women and their choices, it's even more complicated. Plenty of liberal women—feminists, even—are torn on what's best. In 2003, Lisa Belkin wrote an endlessly discussed (and blogged about) article for the New York Times Magazine, "The Opt-Out Revolution." In it, Belkin explored the phenomenon of highly educated and formerly career-focused women who drop out of the rat race to stay home with their children.

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