After watching a heartbreaking loss in the Elite Eight, my wife and I were “Netflix surfing,” hoping to find something to watch together after a long, hard day. After perusing the “Classics” section, I spotted Cheaper by the Dozen, a 1950 film based on a memoir by the same name. I read the book in school, so I suggested we watch it.
As I remembered, it was a lovely true story about a family with 12 children growing up in the 1920s. This wholesome film full of sweet and humorous anecdotes and a sad ending (my wife cried) is definitely worth revisiting (I’d also recommend the book — very well written). And for Maccabee Society men, the father (Frank Gilbreth) is certainly a model of confidence, discipline, and good humor (not to mention prolificacy).
But what struck me was a scene in which a Planned Parenthood organizer visited the home hoping the mother (Lillian Gilbreth) would be the group’s local spokesperson. Lillian and Frank go along with the organizer, until Frank calls the children to meet her. The Planned Parenthood rep is stunned.
(Apologies for the abysmal video quality — it was the only clip I could find on YouTube.)
There are several great things about this scene. One is how proud and unapologetic Frank Gilbreth is about his large family. He doesn’t care a whit about Planned Parenthood’s disapproval. (Earlier in the film he responds to comments about his large family with similar humor.) Second, while the scene doesn’t dive into the most unsavory parts of Planned Parenthood’s history, it is an important reminder how these organizations were all too eager, even in the 1920s, to provide a solution despite the lack of a problem.
But the reason I am writing this post is that this little episode describes how unfortunately narrow-minded “enlightened” advocates can be. To start, there is a considerable amount of arrogance, assuming that an educated and well-off person *must* be sympathetic to her position. And the genuine horror when she discovers the family has 12(!) children and her expression of disgust discloses deep revulsion about persons who embrace family life. (Reminder: This is a true story and is recounted in the book as well. The reaction is all too common today (except the reaction often happens if you have more than two kids). One can surmise that “enlightened” elites have not changed too much in 100 years. Sad!)
Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this story is the fact that Lillian Gilbreth is not an icon of feminism. The Planned Parenthood organizer assumes motherhood is a millstone around the necks of women, depriving them of a meaningful life. No doubt, this particular agent believed Lillian was yet another victim of the patriarchy. But this popular narrative completely ignores Lillian’s actual life. Lillian Gilbreth was a world-renowned industrial psychologist and engineer. She was the first female commencement speaker at UC Berkeley (yes, that Berkeley) in 1900. She received a Ph.D. from an Ivy League university. She assisted her husband Frank with his time-motion industrial efficiency studies. After Frank’s early death, she continued her work becoming an expert in her field. ALL WHILE RAISING TWELVE (12) CHILDREN!! By all accounts, she was a loving, nurturing mother for her children, because it was something she cared deeply about and well, because she loved her husband and her family. She handled her husband’s untimely death with significant grace and sacrifice, managing to send all of her children to college (and fulfilling Frank’s dream). In short, having a large family was part of what one would assume to be a fulfilling life. Lillian Gilbreth is a feminist’s worst nightmare (at least a “feminist” as perceived by Planned Parenthood).
So if you are challenged by raising strong, intelligent, virtuous daughters in these new dark ages, think of Lillian Gilbreth as a model. Not some moron marching in a pink p#$$y hat.