This week, two impressive women dominated American headlines. The first was Southwest Airlines pilot Tammie Jo Shults, hailed for her “nerves of steel” after guiding a crippled plane to safety when an engine exploded midair, sending shrapnel into the plane’s cabin and tragically killing a passenger. The second was widely loved former first lady Barbara Bush, who passed away at the age of 92.
At first glance, the two women might seem wildly different. The examples set by both, however, could serve as a master class in what today’s often-wacky brand of feminism should strive to be.
The 56-year-old Captain Shults, the New York Times reports, “learned to fly as one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy three decades ago, piloting the F/A Hornet in an era when women were barred from combat missions.” She was a trailblazer, following her dream in an age when the idea of women flying fighter jets often earned dismissive scoffs. Growing up close to Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, she watched jets in action and fell in love.
“Some people grow up around aviation. I grew up under it,” she noted in Military Fly Moms, a 2012 book by Linda Maloney. She knew, she added, that she “just had to fly.”
And so she did, despite significant pushback. A former classmate, Cindy Foster, told the Kansas City Star that as a woman, Shults ran into “a lot of resistance” in the aviation world. In the Navy, Shults “knew she had to work harder than everyone else,” Foster said. “She did it for herself and all women fighting for a chance. . . . I’m extremely proud of her. She saved a lot of lives.’”
Today’s ‘feminist’ movement tends to tell women there is one way to think — to the left — and certainly doesn’t celebrate pursuing your own path, particularly if that path falls outside preferred ideological lines.
I can’t speak for Captain Shults, who no doubt has her own views on matters political and beyond. But when I was growing up, stories like hers — of a woman pursuing her dreams and paving her own way, no matter what people told her she could or could not do — were what I thought feminism was all about.
Unfortunately, that’s not the stuff of today’s “feminist” movement, which tends to tell women there is one way to think — to the left — and certainly doesn’t celebrate pursuing your own path, particularly if that path falls outside preferred ideological lines. (One particularly amazing Saturday Night Live skit from last year, for example, showed a group of girlfriends’ modern-day feminist horror upon discovering that suffragette Susan B. Anthony was likely pro-life.)
I’ll have more on that in a bit, but for now, let’s talk about Barbara Bush, who had her own run-ins with feminists back in the day. For some, Bush was known primarily as a president’s wife, and later, a president’s mother. In 1990, when Wellesley College invited Mrs. Bush to speak at its commencement — Wellesley, of course, is the prestigious college for women that counts Hillary Clinton among its alumnae — a protest riled the campus. “Wellesley teaches that we will be rewarded on the basis of our own merit, not on that of a spouse,” students noted in a petition. Bush, undaunted, came to speak.
She spoke, interestingly enough, on the topic of diversity, and on the importance of pursuing your own dream, “not society’s dream.” Moreover, she argued, despite our culture’s relentless focus on career achievement, “human connections — with spouses, with children, with friends — are the most important investments you’ll ever make. . . . At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a child, a friend, or a parent.”
One of Bush’s biggest applause lines came from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.”
That line crossed my mind in the grocery store a few weeks back, when an elderly gentleman approached me in the aisle. I was with my kids; he was shopping with a middle-aged man. “I’m eighty-five years old,” he said, smiling, “and I’m here enjoying time with my son. And here you are, right now, enjoying time with your sons!” He walked away, and in my mind, I suddenly saw calendar pages flipping, faster and faster and faster. I knew exactly what he meant. I am proud to announce that I made it through the rest of the store without breaking into an unseemly bout of nostalgic weeping next to a pile of Cocoa Puffs.
This brings us back to modern feminism — and, more importantly, how it does women a huge disservice. In the feminist sphere, after all, the dream of being a full-time mother and devoting time to family is often brushed aside as less worthy than the aspiration to be a scientist or an engineer or a CEO. But what if you really want to be a mother? Moreover, what if you want to be a fighter pilot and a mother? What if you want to be something really weird, like a female political columnist who does not relentlessly lean to the left?
Guess what? All of those ideas are fine! As Barbara Bush pointed out, true empowerment means having the ability to chase your own dreams, not the dreams of other people. True empowerment also means thinking for yourself, not just within some “approved” ideological framework. These are relatively simple ideas, and they’re not exactly new. Unfortunately, today’s feminist movement seems to have a lot of catching up to do.