Is getting married and having a family a political act?
Domestic Extremist: A Practical Guide to Winning the Culture War, by Peachy Keenan, Regnery, 256 pages.
I read this book on my honeymoon. Loyal readers might have noticed my byline’s absence for a couple weeks. Worry not for a wife abandoned even then to professional obligations; I only began Domestic Extremist on our trip. It seemed amusingly fitting, as we celebrated the newest triumph in our own careers of domestic extremism and the merger of our operations. It would at least provide this review a lede.
Peachy Keenan is the pseudonym of a California mother—“living deep behind enemy lines”—who “identifies as a husbosexual.” She writes and tweets prolifically, a Beatrice who found her Benedick and had her kids, and, being comfortable with nonconformity, is now letting the world have it. She begins her book with a quiz, to see if you, too, might be a living affront to the present regime. You get a point for each statement you agree with, such as “I am married or would like to be,” “I want/have four or more children,” “I believe parents are a child’s primary authority and educators,” and “Children can’t choose their gender.” My wife and I each scored twelve points out of twelve—Keenan: “Buh-bye, have fun in the gulags!”
Fundamentally, that means this isn’t really a book for me. That Domestic Extremist was not written for me does not mean I cannot recommend it—quite the opposite. It only means we need to figure out who to recommend it to, so you can buy a copy and give it to them. I’m a man; this book is a loving letter of exhortation from a woman to girls who are now as she once was. Peachy Keenan is telling The Facts, but I already knew them. Our cultural mores and political structures—what makes up the current American regime—are at war with nature, and the biggest front in that war is against the natural family. There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid. Created order has a way of winning, in the long run, and the people who have babies do not die out; God is not mocked.
There are three parts to Mother Keenan’s practical guide to becoming a shield maiden of the future. First, women readers must recognize what has been taken from them by the triumph of a feminism that claims men and women are the same. They have lost their all-too-fleeting fertility, feminine virtues, covenant marriage, parental authority, even their gender. They must reject lies like “abortion is health care” and “children don’t need a father” and “public schools know best when it comes to educating your children and would never indoctrinate them politically or groom them sexually.” Second, women must “explore promiscuous monogamy” by marrying a man whom they love and respect—this takes becoming the sort of gal he’d want to wed, too—and then, to use a Davidic coinage rather than a Peachy-ism, they should happily fill their quiver full of children, which are as arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, and stay home with them. Finally, they should stick at it, till death does them part. (Mother Keenan does not pretend that this part is easy.) In the meantime they can convince their friends to join the victory parade.
I write “Mother Keenan,” but perhaps I’d better say Good Aunt Keenan, a Glinda to the Wicked Wine Aunt of the West. That’s loading the verbal dice a little—wine aunt is almost exclusively a term of disparagement. Yet it does describe a recognizable female type in the American middle class pantheon. The wine aunt is a professional woman who has put her career first. She is successful and independent and lives the yuppy life of boozy brunches and international travel well into her forties. She preaches that life to her younger friends and relations. She is the cool aunt if you like her, a wine aunt if not.
In Domestic Extremist, the Catholic Peachy Keenan is here to be the extremely online anti-wine aunt, bringing old good news. She even prefaces a chapter with a passage from Paul’s letter to Titus, where the apostle writes: “teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children.”
So then, who are these younger women? They must be young enough to take this advice to heart, so let us say they are 17 to 28. They are women for whom a life of career advancement in allegedly rewarding fields seems plausible, and they read new books, so they are college educated and probably solidly middle class. They are, in the end, the very nearly already converted, for Keenan’s appeal to her reader is that she would “trust what you already know to be best in life!” This then is a woman who recognizes her own maternal instincts, but smart and vivacious and femininely agreeable, fears her desires are really as low status as the world around her says.
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If I have a criticism of Domestic Extremist, it is only that the author seems unsure just how almost converted her ideal reader is. Liberal quotation from Peachy Keenan’s fellow anonymous Twitter personalities and other online sources throughout the book suggest a very narrow target audience indeed: the young professional, politically conservative woman who just needs a little auntly permission to set aside her girlboss aspirations for good. But perhaps a less avid reader of online culture war commentary will still find this book funny, provocative, and encouraging.
Is getting married and having a family a political act? That is the curious question raised by Domestic Extremist, and much other contemporary conservative criticism. In its classical conception, the family, as the ultimate pre-political institution, cannot be political. It is a baseline, human beings in community. Political orders are formed with certain families, or for the protection and prosperity of certain families, and marriages and births have political significance reflected in law, but the formation of families in some sort of abstract is not that thing we call politics.
But in a regime that really does seem opposed to the natural family, that weakens the bond between husband and wife and authority of parents over children at every turn, then perhaps something is politically significant in doing the thing most of your ancestors did for a few thousand years. When we remember who it is that actually bears the next generation, then perhaps that is especially true for women.