I do encounter one negative sentiment over and over, and that's this notion--this myth, if you will--that Ayn Rand was somehow hostile toward children, mothers, and families. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I would like to do my part to counter this rumor. This is important to me because I've encountered a lot of crazy misinformation about Ayn Rand and Objectivism over the years. (I first read Atlas in the summer of 1989--twenty years ago!). But this particular piece of misinformation is especially critical to me--because of my chosen career.
I have, as you might not know since I hardly ever mention them (!), three gorgeous children. A boy and a girl and a boy. Their production was the result of a joint venture on the part of me and my husband, and the whole thing began about eight years ago. :o) Not only do I have these little humans living at my house and eating my food, I am "staying" (that word always cracks me up) at home to raise them. And we are homeschooling them.
I am a Career Mommy (for the time being) and I love it. I traded another job that paid actual money for this current job, which rewards me in other ways. This trade off was not a sacrifice on my part; that is, I did not give up a higher value in favor of a lesser one. After Ryan came, Brendan and I knew that we wanted to raise him ourselves if we could pull that off financially. And we could, so we did. So far, it's worked out pretty well financially (although Brendan's between contracts now, so if you have any leads, let me know!) and I have been pleasantly surprised at how happy I am at home with the kids. Not that it's not hard sometimes, or frustrating, but I seem to recall hard and frustrating days (months, years) in my "real" jobs, too.
So, enough about me. I really want to talk about Ayn Rand and these anti-children rumors.
Here is a quotation from a recent article in The New York Times, which was mostly positive but unfortunately contained many factual errors:
Really? Says who?
She had little time for women who stay home to raise children.
Here's a couple quotations from Reason Magazine back in March 2005 (the same month my daughter was born, emphasis added):
Politically, too, Rand's insistence on de-emphasizing, or even denigrating, family, community, and private charity is not a particularly clever tactic for capitalism's defenders. [RJ: I won't even get into the two other issues in this statement, but they are worthy of being addressed.]
Family fares even worse in Rand's universe. The virtual absence of children in her work has been noted by many critics, starting with Whittaker Chambers in his infamous roasting of Atlas Shrugged in National Review. Actually, John Galt's private utopia in Atlas features a nameless young woman who makes it her career to raise rational children; but this brief passage comes across as little more than a pro forma nod to motherhood. In her 1964 Playboy interview Rand flatly declared that it was "immoral" to place family ties and friendship above productive work; in her fiction, family life is depicted as a stifling, soul-killing, mainly feminine swamp.
HUH? In particular, that last paragraph contains quite a few amazingly incorrect notions. Are there tons of children in Pride and Prejudice, A Room with a View (there's one I can think of, but she's a very minor character), or Moby-Dick? Has the "virtual absence" of children in Shakespeare been long noted by critics?
And an oldie-but-goodie from the Wall Street Journal:
After all, blood relationships are involuntary, and parents with any interest in rearing and educating their children are unlikely to look for guidance in "Atlas Shrugged." Ayn Rand was predictably wary of kinship ties and, like radical feminists, saw the family as a soul-killing prison.
Again with the soul-killing. Oh, look at me! I wrote not one, but two responses to this article back in 2007!
Le sigh. And you don't even need to search very hard to find even more of this stuff, especially among bloggers. I'll let you look yourself; I have linked quite a bit already.
Allow me to counter the above statements with Ayn Rand's own words.
From her interview with Playboy in March 1964 (via the Ayn Rand Lexicon, emphasis added):
PLAYBOY: In your opinion, is a woman immoral who chooses to devote herself to home and family instead of a career?
RAND: Not immoral—I would say she is impractical, because a home cannot be a full-time occupation, except when her children are young. However, if she wants a family and wants to make that her career, at least for a while, it would be proper—if she approaches it as a career, that is, if she studies the subject, if she defines the rules and principles by which she wants to bring up her children, if she approaches her task in an intellectual manner. It is a very responsible task and a very important one, but only when treated as a science, not as a mere emotional indulgence.
Once more: "It is a very responsible task and a very important one. . . ."
Is she saying that homemakers are immoral? No. What she's saying is that if a woman intends to pursue homemaking and raising children as a career, it's not practical to expect to do it after the kids go off to college. I agree with this. I've changed careers a couple of times in my adult life.
The difference between my past jobs and my current career--and I DO approach my job as a career--is that I know for certain that it will end. Actually, I even have a pretty good estimate of just when that might be--I've got about 17 years at the most left. And I really have many fewer years of this intense hands-on work. Since we are homeschooling, my Mommy Career will last a bit longer than women who choose to put their kids in school. It will be less easy for me to take on the additional responsibility of another job until the kids are much older, since I need to be around to answer zillions of questions. But I fully intend to find another career, and I will (and have) begin working productively in other areas, even while my children are small.Are these the words of someone who has no respect for the " job of being a parent? (Again, from the Lexicon):
As I have said before, parenthood is an enormous responsibility . . . .
The task of raising a child is a tremendous, lifelong responsibility . . . .
Are these the words of someone who is anti-child or anti-family? (More from the Lexicon):
I will ask you to project the look on a child’s face when he grasps the answer to some problem he has been striving to understand. It is a radiant look of joy, of liberation, almost of triumph, which is unself-conscious, yet self-assertive, and its radiance seems to spread in two directions: outward, as an illumination of the world—inward, as the first spark of what is to become the fire of an earned pride. If you have seen this look, or experienced it, you know that if there is such a concept as “sacred”—meaning: the best, the highest possible to man—this look is the sacred, the not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone.
Think about the children who lived in Galt's Gulch, from Atlas Shrugged:
The recaptured sense of her [Dagny's] own childhood kept coming back to her whenever she met the two sons of the young woman who owned the bakery shop. . . . They did not have the look she had seen in the children of the outer world--a look of fear, half- secretive, half-sneering, the look of a child's defense against an adult, the look of a being in the process of discovering that he is hearing lies and of learning to feel hatred. The two boys had the open, joyous, friendly confidence of kittens who do not expect to get hurt, they had an innocently natural, non-boastful sense of their own value and as innocent a trust in any stranger's ability to recognize it, they had the eager curiosity that would venture anywhere with the certainty that life held nothing unworthy of or closed to discovery, and they looked as if, should they encounter malevolence, they would reject it contemptuously, not as dangerous, but as stupid, they would not accept it in bruised resignation as the law of existence. p. 730 (Paperback 35th Anniversary edition)
Consider what the mother of those children said about her career:
"They represent my particular career, Miss Taggart," said the young mother in answer to her comment. . . . "They're the profession I've chosen to practice, which, in spite of all the guff about motherhood, one can't practice successfully in the outer world. . . . I came here, not merely for the sake of my husband's profession, but for the sake of my own. I came here in order to bring up my sons as human beings." p. 730
How about some of the scenes from Dagny's childhood? What fun adventures those (free-range) children had together, exploring the world, figuring things out, living their lives!
Are those the words of someone who viewed stay-at-home mommies and their children with dismissiveness or contempt?
No. Not at all. Just because those were things she did not choose to do doesn't mean that she thought no one should choose them. (By the way, search on the word "children" on the Ayn Rand Institute website for numerous Op-Eds and Articles by Objectivists that are quite pro-family and children.)
The reason children are not featured in Atlas Shrugged or in any of her other novels is quite simply because those books were not about children. They were about grownups doing grownup things. The character Dagny Taggart was a woman who chose not to have children (a very minor detail among the great many important things she did choose to do in that book). Many women in real life choose not to have children. I don't consider that to be such an unusual thing. Many women authors chose not to have children. Yet I don't hear too many people accusing Jane Austen or Margaret Mitchell of believing that families are soul-killing prisons.
Ayn Rand portrays several dysfunctional family relationships in Atlas Shrugged and her other novels. The Reardens are the most complete example of how families ought NOT to behave toward each other, but there are many more. I always feel so for the Wet Nurse, and that passage where Rand talks about how his mother must have cared so much for him, to ensure that he grew healthy and strong, but then neglected to monitor the unhealthy ideas that he took into his mind--it never fails to make me tear up. That passage is tender and heartbreaking all at the same time.
Yes, there are many, many examples in Atlas Shrugged of terrible families who share misery instead of love and happiness. Those are minor parts of the story, but important ones nonetheless. Just as she demonstrated the damage caused by businessmen who make business decisions against the principle of what is best for their companies (rational self-interest), she illustrated what happens in families when duty and self-sacrificial standards are upheld instead of selfish, life-loving, happy ones. Those story lines are included to support the main theme of the book, and are bold examples of what NOT to do.
I wonder if some of this "soul-killing" stuff comes from those who simply cannot understand the truly selfish joy of having children. So instead of trying to find out what Ayn Rand actually wrote or said about the subject, they focus on the Reardens and see how nasty they were and conveniently blank out the fact that it's obvious in the novel that these were not people Rand wanted her readers to admire. Or they cling absurdly to the fact that she personally didn't have children, and that her novels did not feature too many children as characters, as if their diminished or absent role somehow constituted "proof" that she abhorred family life.
Getting my little people started in the world has been the most rewarding, most interesting, most soul-fulfilling, happily selfish productive endeavor of my life. The life I have chosen and am happily living is fully consistent with my values as an Objectivist.