Sarah Isgur is a lawyer and a law professor at George Washington University. Isgur is also a commentator on CNN whose hiring caused controversy back in 2019 due to her conservative politics. Isgur is an anti-Trump conservative feminist who worked on Carly Fiorina’s campaign in 2016. Her politics appear to be firmly centrist with some conservative and some progressive elements.
Isgur and conservative columnist David French collaborate on a very good podcast called “Advisory Opinions.” Both Isgur and French are legal experts Their podcast episodes mostly deal with the intersection of politics and legal issues (a very large intersection) and some cultural topics. If you are a political wonk, Isgur and French’s podcast is fantastic. Being an anti-Trump conservative who is clearly knowledgeable about the law, Isgur’s analysis tends to be a refreshing change from the Democratic doom-and-gloom commentary and the GOP complete-denial propaganda. Isgur, in my opinion, is the main strength of the “Advisory Opinions” podcast.
On October 15th, David French and Sarah Isgur aired an “Advisory Opinions” episode called “That Hunter Biden Story.” The bulk of their conversation was about the infamous news story concerning a mysterious laptop that was purportedly chock full of salacious emails and sex photos belonging to Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son. French and Isgur’s opinions on the Hunter Biden story were not what truly captured “Advisory Opinion’s” audience’s interest, however. Towards the end of the episode, French and Isgur discussed Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. Both French and Isgur are great admirers of Barrett. French talked about how Barrett showed that women in 21st century Christian America were now no longer stigmatized by fellow Christians for having a career outside the home.
French: “I think the premise that- certainly in educated devout Christian circles- outside of a really narrow slice of that world that focusses very much on what I would call either Victorian leading up to the…. “Leave It To Beaver” era gender roles…. In professional life, outside of that very small slice, the parents I know would look at Amy Coney Barrett and say ‘I mean, I’m not gonna try to pressure my daughter to be a Supreme Court Justice with seven kids! That’s kind of a burden to put on somebody!’ But (Christian parents) are very pleased- very pleased!- when their daughters go to law school, go to medical school, and have marriages and kids. … There is a very strong- especially in educated Christian circles- bias towards adopting what I would call the general secular world’s view of ‘At the very least you’re going to finish your education before you get married!’ It may even be preferable to ‘Finish your education and get started in your career before you get married.’ And yeah, we might be more accepting than some other communities in saying ‘Well, once you have children, staying at home is a good choice or a viable choice.’ But even that pressure to stay at home after marriage (has) really dramatically loosened. Very much so. Even in my own lifetime. In fact, if anything the dynamic may have suddenly flipped to an assumption that you’ll keep on working. … And it’s one of the reasons why so many young Christian women reacted so favorably to Amy Coney Barrett. Not just her nomination but her family story. They were like ‘Yeah! You can do this! You can do this!’”
There was nothing particularly offensive in what French said, in my opinion. I was surprised, therefore, when Isgur pounced.
Isgur: “And that, listeners, is David’s very optimistic take. And I’m going to disagree with it strongly.
French: (uncomfortable laugh) “Okay.”
Isgur: “I think we are LYING to young women. We hold up Amy Coney Barrett and say simply: ‘She worked hard. She’s really smart, and that’s what made this possible.’ I do not believe that. I believe something my mother told me, which is the most important decision you make in your life is who you marry. There is no decision that even comes close.”
At this point a lot of feminists listening to the podcast probably started bracing for impact. Oh Lord, here comes conservative Republican Sarah Isgur saying that the highest achievement that any woman can attain is a good marriage. Isgur is gonna rewind the clock back a hundred years just when male conservatives like David French were finally just starting to get it. Ugh. It’s always our own people- women!- who end up sabotaging feminism.
But that is not what Isgur says at all. Quite the contrary, Isgur delivers some sad, hard truths (and some hope) about feminism. What she says next is devastatingly honest.
Isgur: “(The person you marry) will control so much of your destiny from that point forward. When you look at Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O’Conner and Amy Coney Barrett, there is a throughline. And it is their husbands. In a way that it is NOT the case for men. Men can marry many different types of women. They may be happier or less happy depending on their own personalities. But its effect on their careers is simply not as PROFOUND as it is on a woman’s career.
“Now, some of this is that maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s simply my friend group, whatever it is…. But I have obviously very brilliant, high-powered, wonderful female friends. Two of them got married when they were the lesser or equal partner in their relationships and became the more high-powered partner (like) a Amy Coney Barrett, a Sandra Day O’Conner or a Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In one of them the marriage simply fell apart due to infidelity on his part, because he said he was not longer being appreciated in their marriage. I one hundred percent attribute that to him feeling — not no longer sexually appreciated but no longer appreciated because he was not the primary bread-winner (and) also not the primary-”
Isgur: “Alpha! Yeah! The other (marriage) became abusive. And uh, y’know, that has been really hard as a friend to watch. And I do think it’s related to the same idea…. That we have trained our women so well…. ‘Anything guys can do girls can do better. You can be anything you want to be. You want to be a doctor? A lawyer? An astronaut? Ladies, you are your own limitation as far as that is concerned.’ But what we have not done is trained our men to feel okay with that. And so what you see are men being a little confused, befuddled by these relationships where the woman is the one who is interesting at the cocktail party and people are walking up to her.”
It is a powerful speech and a very true one. There is something so resonant with the way that Isgur says that- contrary to the inspiring, well-meaning propaganda that is fed to girls daily- women are STILL tied down due to their choice of marriage partner. In a way, the inspiring propaganda is backfiring. Women, pumped full of inspiration, are wondering five years into marriage why the hell they haven’t succeeded in their careers. If you can be anything if you work hard enough, then the fact that you’re a failure means you haven’t worked hard enough. That’s plain logic. You and only you are at fault here. A woman’s failure has nothing to do with her marriage dynamics. Her failure is due to her character flaws alone.
It’s a poisonous conclusion. And false.
David French deflected after Isgur’s speech (“We’re kinda talking past each other a little bit”) and said his point had to do with modern American Christian culture.
French: “My argument is about what is the background culture of American Christianity and women’s careers, which is-”
Isgur: “Yeah, but my point is that you can’t have that career unless you have the partner because- yes, these marriages are breaking apart. In the abusive marriage… thankfully, that marriage is going to end. But for a lot of women, they sense it early on and so they throttle themselves back because they realize that their marriage can’t last if they continue to push ahead of their husbands’ careers. So yes they’re hearing on the one hand ‘Go get that education! Go be a lawyer! Go be great!’ And on the other hand, they’re SENSING that that’s not gonna work out well.”
David French at this point appears to agree with Isgur.
French: “You’re describing a background cross-cultural, cross-religious male-female marriage dynamic that is a very real thing…. I’ve heard it many times, especially as women advance. They go to Harvard law School. They go to Yale. They get a Phd. Whereas a man advances the pool of eligible women grows.”
Isgur: “Exponentially! It’s like going to Harvard Law is like being six feet tall as a woman. There are still men out there who you can date who are taller than you. But man that pool just shrunk, and you’re gonna have to potentially make some compromises on the other end. I obviously did not because (my husband) Scott is perfection. And six-three.”
French: (laughs) “But yeah I think you’re 100% correct about that. As a woman grows more accomplished, her pool — the reality is — … My question for you though Sarah is: Are there a lot of women from your Harvard Law students who would be totally cool with marrying a guy who was a CPA, has a BA from a mid-level state school, making a good living as a CPA but it’s very clear from the get-go that her career … She’s got the dynamic career. She’s gonna be the breadwinner. How many-”
Isgur: “I’m so glad you asked! No, no David. I will tell you about my friends… One friend married a lawyer who went to a local college. And that marriage ended in divorce. One friend married a police officer. That also ended in infidelity and divorce. One friend married… a CPA. That marriage has not ended but it is not a particularly happy one. So yes, many of my female friends have married quote-unquote ‘beneath their station.’ Whatever term you want to use. But again, I don’t think we’re preparing MEN for that. And so I don’t think it’s working very well. Because all these women were trying to find their Marty Ginsburg.”
Isgur: “And, you know, God bless Marty Ginsburg and Judge Barrett’s husband. There just aren’t that many of them out there who are that self-secure in their masculinity and their role in the household. (The majority of men) don’t have the emotional tools to deal with that. And I think we should be more honest with women about that because I think that by NOT being honest, they end up in bad situations. … It’s not that I think those women shouldn’t go pursue their educations but if we’re more HONEST with them I think they will have a better time discerning which men to marry. And which ones probably will not produce a successful marriage. Because as we have discussed marriage is hard and it’s full of compromises and people change and that’s both the fun of it and the drawback of it. (laughs) And we don’t talk to young people enough about marriage choices and instead we just let Hollywood show these romcoms. If you fall in love with someone, that’s gonna be enough to sustain the marriage. That’s obviously not the case! But we then don’t tell them how- what factors should they be considering? What are the trends in successful marriages v. the trends in not-successful marriages. Simply telling women to go follow their hearts’ content is only half the message.
David French seems to mostly agree with this. He also says that in his long experience and his wide circle of friends, he only knows of one man who willingly gave up his career to look after his kids while his wife’s career took off. Their marriage, according to French, “has thrived… But that’s one example.”
Isgur: (laughs) “So I just think when we look at Amy Coney Barrett, and we see seven children, a successful marriage, and being nominated to the Supreme Court….. Instead of saying ‘Look ladies! You can have it all if you shoot high and try hard and are smart,’ I would like to see a little more breakdown. And yeah, the message isn’t gonna be as sunny. But you can’t have it all at once. Your marriage is the most important decision that you will make. If you want a successful career and a family, the MARRIAGE is what makes that. Not you. Not your IQ. Not whether you went to Harvard Law. So do some studying. Do some reading into the types of marriages that make that work and the types of people in those marriages who can make that work.
Isgur’s speech on marriage is not perfect. Her privilege is a little glaring. She bemoans the not-very-common problem of how a woman attending an Ivy League school has difficulties finding a husband who is accommodating of her intellect. She talks about telling girls to research carefully and choose who they marry, not realizing that marriages don’t often occur quite like that. Marriages can be hasty because of a pregnancy or because a boyfriend is about to be deployed to Iraq. The bones of Isgur’s argument, however, are very real. Women, unlike men, are at the mercy of their marriages when it comes to how successful they will be in their careers. This is only true for women, not men. And Isgur was absolutely right when she said that woke society is lying to women by saying that only intellect and hard work and sheer willpower was necessary for a woman to reach the highest offices in the land. Women need good husbands if they want to succeed in their careers, or women need to simply not marry at all. Find that rarest of rare men willing to marry you, or make peace with the fact that you will never have a family.
Isgur’s speech comes at a very poignant and unhappy time for women. 2020 has been devastating for so many people but women had an extra dollop of misery. Even before the COVID19 pandemic the scourge of a lack of daycare and a generalized acceptance of misogyny after Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 crashed down on career-seeking American women like a ton of bricks. Already for decades most women looking for jobs have been expected to drop their own careers and move out of state if their husbands got transferred. After COVID19 hit, women left the workforce in droves, giving up careers to stay home with the children while their husbands continued to work. PBS called it the first female recession. Jessica Valenti plainly stated the cause of widespread female unemployment in her article: “The Pandemic isn’t Forcing Moms Out of the Workforce- Dads Are.” When school was cancelled, husbands simply told their wives to quit their jobs to stay with the kids all day. Women found themselves in career limbo, unable to work a full shift because they were working around shortened school schedules. They were working around daycares with no pick-up service from school. They were working around their husbands who worked until eight and then were too tired to watch the kids over the weekend. And through it all there are the girl power slogans that Isgur rightfully calls lies: that women can be ANYTHING if they just possess the smarts, work ethic and drive. Women sit at home with their kids as the months pass by and they are unable to scrabble back into the work force. “This is my fault. I’m being lazy. I don’t have the drive to make this work.”
Isgur’s conclusion that we have to stop counseling women so much and start counseling men to respect their wives careers is a bit optimistic. She is not off-base, however… and perhaps being an upper-middle-class law professor with a loyal husband and a new baby has made Isgur a little too rosy when it comes to how possible it is to change male society’s conception of the unimportance of women. Isgur, however, for all her privilege, is not wrong. Men must adapt to the new reality that their jobs are not more important than their wives’ jobs and they need to sacrifice too to make sure their wives can keep working. More men need to accept that they must stay home and take care of the children, sometimes full time. Taking care of children does not emasculate men any more than being a lawyer or a doctor de-feminizes women. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two children and this world desperately needs more Marty Ginsburgs to take care of them.