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FIRST-PERSON: Proverbs 31 at the White House

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–“I want to spend more time with my family.”

As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd points out, this phrase, coming from a man leaving a government position or a political campaign usually means something like: “The 21-year-old has given 8×10 glossies to The Star.” Similarly, The Washington Post notes, a flurry of Enron executives recently expressed the urge to “spend more time with their families,” just one step ahead of the Justice Department subpoenas.

But Washington’s media mavens are now abuzz over a more complicated story. Karen Hughes, one of the three most powerful aides to President Bush, has announced she is trading in West Wing power lunches for Texas T-ball games. She wants to spend more time with her husband, her son and her neighborhood. She wants to go home.

The telecast conversations of the talking heads at this point are revealing. Some wonder why Hughes’ male colleague Karl Rove is not equally concerned about staying home with his teenage son. Others, such as columnist Peggy Noonan, think Hughes’ longing for a home life is a reverberation from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But what if there is more to this story — something that can’t be explained by career stress or political calculations?

Karen Hughes’ decision comes just as Fox television axes “Ally McBeal,” the archetype of 1990s careerist feminism. Could it be that American women are beginning to sour on the notion that “having it all” means co-ed restrooms, anonymous sex, late-night board meetings and lonely evenings at the local pub?

At the same time, Americans are discussing Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s controversial new book “Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children.” Hewlett argues that the feminist mantra that professional women can “have it all” turns out to be what many feared it was all along — an urban legend that makes the “alligator in the sewers” myth look plausible by comparison. Hewlett points out that the push for women to break through the glass ceilings of corporate America often has meant sacrificing the possibility of family life.

There is a reason why the androgynous careerism of the feminist experiment leaves both men and women feeling so hollow. There is a reason why men and women seeking to “have it all” have the inevitable moment of panic when the baby accidentally calls the professional nanny “mommy.” It was not to be this way from the beginning.

The ancient words of Proverbs 31 point us to the picture of a woman joyful in her beauty and dignity in the nurturing of her home. She may or may not appear on CNN. She may not be quoted anonymously as a “senior administration official.” She may or may not see her own face staring back at her on the Newsweek magazine at the supermarket counter. But her children rise up and call her blessed. And that’s more important than the poll numbers of the president of the United States.

Somehow, I think Karen Hughes would agree.
Russell D. Moore teaches Christian theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and is executive director of the seminary’s Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement.

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  • Russell D. Moore