Weekly Digest: How I Met Your Mother
Messaging on motherhood, conservative columnists, Protestants at Harvard and more in this week's roundup
Welcome to my weekly digest for December 15, 2023, with the best articles from around the web and a roundup of my recent writings and appearances.
Some of what I’ve been reading: The Helios Disaster by Linda Boström Knausgaard, The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism by Tim Alberta.
Don’t forget, please pre-order my book Life in the Negative World, which will be released on January 30, 2023. This is one thing I am definitely asking all you to do, because pre-orders are critical to the book’s level of impact and success. If you pre-order, you will get some free goodies, including early access to the first two chapters, a free e-book copy of my modern English translation of John Owen’s Puritan classic The Mortification of Sin, and brand new graphic showing my three worlds model in historical context.
If you haven’t already, please pre-order today!
Ross Douthat as Exemplar
In my piece this week about not criticizing the in group in the out group’s forums, commenter Sprouting Thomas cited NYT columnist Ross Douthat as an example of someone who is getting it right:
Ross Douthat seems to me a pretty good model for how conservative Christians can maintain a presence in a hostile space without losing themselves. Douthat to my best recollection is always circumspect about criticizing fellow conservative Catholics in the pages of the NYT. Honestly, he's circumspect even about criticizing evangelicals. He has positioned himself as anti-Trump, and presumably to the left of some portion of traditional Catholicism and integralism, but I can never recall him just unreservedly bashing them and giving the NYT audience the red meat it's really looking for.
Yes. Ross Douthat is a legitimately conservative columnist who is respected by the broad base of conservatives. He can speak to conservative Christians and even critique them at times, and he can also explain conservative Christians to the typical Times reader - but does both of them without flattering the liberal sensibilities of those readers. He’s a good model of how to conduct yourself, and has good content too.
Millennials Who Dread Motherhood
Last week there was a viral longform essay in Vox on the various messages around motherhood and how they have affected the Millennial woman. Very worth reading. Here are some excerpts:
In 2014, the heroine of Jenny Offil’s novel Department of Speculation drew praise for presenting “an unflinching” and “more honest” portrait of modern motherhood, while author Sheila Heti made waves in 2018 with her bestselling Motherhood, narrated by a 36-year-old woman who fixates on the boredom and unhappiness of moms around her. “I feel like a draft dodger from the army in which so many of my friends are serving,” Heti’s protagonist muses.
Such portrayals, often written by and about well-off, straight white women, are now more commonplace. When Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s 2019 novel Fleishman Is in Trouble was made into a popular Hulu miniseries, critics noted the deep resonance women felt for the show’s two leading moms. (“Fleishman Is in Trouble Knows Motherhood Is a Drag,” read one New York magazine headline.) Meanwhile, Olivia Colman received an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2021 film Lost Daughter, playing a professor who abandons her kids when the weight of motherhood overwhelms her. (Vulture later dubbed that year “the year of sad moms at the movies.” )
Or survey recent titles of mainstream nonfiction on the topic: Mom Rage: The Everyday Crisis of Modern Motherhood; Screaming on the Inside: The Unsustainability of American Motherhood; Ordinary Insanity: Fear and the Silent Crisis of Motherhood in America; All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership. (These are also almost always written by white, middle-class authors.) And then there are the anxiety-inducing news stories, like “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” (2012), “The Costs of Motherhood Are Rising, and Catching Women Off Guard” (2018), “Mothers All Over Are Losing It” (2021), and, of course, “These Mothers Were Exhausted, So They Met on a Field to Scream” (2022).
Should we stumble across moms on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok who do seem to be enjoying the experience of child-rearing, we’re taught to be very, very suspicious. Assume they’re “pitchwomen.” Assume they’re ridiculously wealthy. Assume, as Times columnist Jessica Grose put it, that they’re mostly peddling “pernicious expectations.”
The positive messages young women hear today about starting families come almost exclusively from the right. Democrats haven’t abandoned pro-family messages wholesale, but the rhetoric they use to muster support for family policies nearly always emphasizes crisis and precarity, not strength, stability, or happiness. “The way to get people to care, to get people to have the most attention, is to frame things as ‘people will die,’ or ‘this is an emergency,’” one progressive lawmaker from Minnesota told me. “You can’t just say it would improve people’s lives.”
Moreover, in response to attacks on abortion rights, most progressive politicians, writers, and activists stress the real risks of pregnancy and the toll of parenting that no one should be forced to experience against their will, rather than any upsides to having children. This makes sense, but the result is that for many, the very act of becoming pregnant sounds harrowing, and giving birth less a choice than a potential punishment.
Enter “tradwives” — short for “traditional wives” — a trend that picked up steam over the last half-decade, mostly on TikTok and Instagram, which depicts young moms expressing joy and contentment in caring for kids, a husband, and a house. Tradwives, who are mostly though not exclusively white, extol the safety of their contained worlds and portray liberal, professionally driven women as pitiful and lost. Of note are their almost leftist-sounding critiques of work and hustle culture. As Zoe Hu writes in Dissent, “The twist that makes tradlife a phenomenon of our times is that it also includes earnest criticisms of life under capitalism.”
It’s not difficult to reject the tradwife, with her insistence that female dependency is the ideal social arrangement. Still, there’s something nice about these women’s rather untortured commitment to the people they love. It’s refreshing to see people enjoying caring for their family — even if, yes, we ought to remain vigilant about ulterior motives.
If the seeming winsomeness of “tradwives” offers appeal, so do its cousin trends on social media elevating ideas of self-care and the rejection of chaos and ambition: people “quiet quitting” their jobs, taking “hot girl walks” and living a “soft life.” Many of these videos share the cozy aesthetic of the tradlife, only without the kids, the husband, and the religious doctrine.
Click over to read the whole thing.
How I Met Your Mother
There was another viral image about how couples met that circulated on X this week.
Yikes! As Salim Furth noted, “Until 1970, about 1/6 of marriages were between people who met in grade school.”
Online is the dominant way couples meet today. As I previously wrote, the dynamics of online dating are very unfavorable to men who are not at least six foot tall and in the top 10-20% in looks.
I personally decided to avoid using online dating and met my wife at church. A man who is confident and competent in interacting with women in real life is at a huge advantage in the current environment.
Best of the Web
The Atlantic: America Isn’t Ready for the Two-Household Child - Joint custody is a growing reality—but the country’s systems for supporting families aren’t built to accommodate it.
Carl Trueman/First Things: The Desecration of Man
Walter Russell Mead is one of the great independent minded commentators out there. I view him as very establishmentarian as well. So it was interesting to see him post this very harsh Tweet that could have come from a dissident figure.
The Economist: When the New York Times Lost Its Way - Former opinion page editor James Bennet tells his side of the story about being fired, and what it says about the Times today.
There’s a lot of stuff here that is worth some exploration. The most likely response option chosen by Harvard freshmen? Agnostic. The second most likely? Atheist. In total nearly half of Harvard’s freshmen chose one of those two options. That’s insanely high. For comparison’s sake about 12% of the general population identifies as atheist/agnostic. So, Harvard is four times higher than that.
But that’s not the only thing that jumped out to me. Maybe the biggest surprise was that just 6% of all Harvard freshmen identified as Protestant. That’s insane. In the Pew data from a general population sample in 2022, 43% identified as Protestants. The average America is seven times more likely to be a Protestant than a Harvard freshmen…At Harvard you are twice as likely to encounter a Buddhist freshmen as you are to meet a Protestant one. [emphasis in original]
Harvard apparently has the lowest share of Protestant students of any college surveyed part from the sectarian Mormon BYU.
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New Content and Media Mentions
I was a guest on James Poulos’ Blaze TV show Zero Hour, talking about my three worlds model and more.
On the podcast this week, Brad Littlejohn and Chris Castaldo joing me to discuss their book Why Do Protestants Convert? It is about why evangelical intellectuals often convert to Roman Catholicism.
Paul Vanderklay did an interesting commentary video in response. I’ve got to embed this so you see the image he made.
Paul makes a very important point. Evangelicals get a ton of the blame and hate over conservatism and the Republican Party - angry screeds about “Christian nationalism” and whatnot - when in fact Catholics are more influential and have more power within that movement. Somebody just this week was complaining to me about evangelicals being a threat the future of the nation and cited the Supreme Court. I had to remind him that there isn’t a single evangelical on the Supreme Court - and he still kept arguing about it.
New this week:
The Spread of College-Town Cool - My latest column in Governing magazine about how the “coolness” of college towns is no longer unique.
Don’t Criticize Your In-Group in the Out-Group’s Forums - Where you say something can be as important as what you say
If They're Not Cryin', We're Dyin' (Paid Only) - Children should be seen and heard