Two days ago the Conservative Students brought Carrie Lukas, Director of Policy for the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), to my campus. I spent a few minutes debating whether or not to go and hear her out, and in the process of my deliberations went to read some of her policy pieces, mission statement and stuff. The IWF's mission reads:
I wisely chose to stay home and watch the L Word instead.
If I had gone to this talk, I would've asked why she calls her think tank the Independent Women's Forum? In what sense is she using the word "independent"? I read through a few of her articles such as "On Valentine's Day, Let's Celebrate Love and Romance," or "Sex (Ms.) Education," wherein she reveals herself as a staunch traditional values type of gal. She proffers a view that women's modesty is likely to ultimately lure her financial stability from a good marriage by invoking the better angel's of otherwise incorrigible men (see Tierney's latest on that).
Women, according to Ms. Lukas, should be chaste, mysterious, alluring, seductive, coy, and, above all, submissive. On first glance, the title "Independent Women's Forum" appeared to be a blatant contradiction to their message (not that contradictions ever bothered wingnuts). Ms. Lukas' strident admonitions towards young women always amount to a single message: be dependent on a man.
I noticed that Ms. Lukas spent some time as an analyst at the Cato Institute, wherein she crafted her pro-Capitalist, staunch deregulation, uber free-market, libertarian agenda policy expertise. How, I asked myself, can one reconcile such a liberatarian world view with an equally fervent embrace of retrograde, Victorian femininity?
Alas, I think I have figure it out.
Conservative women who dedicate much of their energy, time, and resources to defend the traditional marriage are gamblers. These are, indeed, "high risk, high reward" ladies. The singular focus on finding a rich, straight, good-looking, stable, faithful and uxoriously devoted husband is akin to the kind of insane search-for-the-holy-grail kind of relentless pursuit that is the engine of capitalism. These women are going for the gold. They are pursuing that alluring object of desire, that transient blissfulness that many would not have the balls to bet their security on.
The pursuit for this big pay off is what economists, like Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame calls a tournament. Many shareholders are more than willing to cough up insane salaries for CEOS, like these women, who are willing to go for the big pay off.
Given that I can now give an account of husband-seeking and marriage in market terms, and thereby reconcile the apparent contradiction between libertarian lust for free choice and the stifling straight-jacket of conservative mores, I now have a better grasp of what it is that I find objectionable with Ms. Lukas' message.
She is trying to artificially capture and keep the big pay off. The whole point is that the perfect husband is an illusion. Even when you win the tournament, you are still in the game. You can lose your prize. But, the attempt to persuade men and women alike to play by these antiquated rules of courtship and marriage, and threaten ostracization if they do not subscribe to them, is changing the rules of the game. You can pursue the ideal husband all you want, and at the sacrifice of your own security, happiness, or long-term health. But, if you do happen to snag that prized prey, don't think you won't have to release him back into circulation. Capitalism requires that the winners one day become losers the next.