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Back to the Family After All - An Excerpt from The New Feminist Agenda

Back to the Family After All - An Excerpt from The New Feminist Agenda

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Feminists opened up thousands of doors in the 1960s and 1970s, but decades later, are U.S. women where they thought they'd be? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding no. Looking back over five decades of advocacy, Madeleine Kunin analyzes where progress stalled, looks at the successes of other countries, and charts the course for the next feminist revolution—one that mobilizes women, and men, to call for the kind of government and workplace policies that can improve the lives of women and strengthen their families.
Feminists opened up thousands of doors in the 1960s and 1970s, but decades later, are U.S. women where they thought they'd be? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding no. Looking back over five decades of advocacy, Madeleine Kunin analyzes where progress stalled, looks at the successes of other countries, and charts the course for the next feminist revolution—one that mobilizes women, and men, to call for the kind of government and workplace policies that can improve the lives of women and strengthen their families.

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Published by: Chelsea Green Publishing on Feb 01, 2012
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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01/28/2015

 
THE NEW
FEMINIST
 
AGENDA
Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family
MADELEINE M. KUNIN
 
CHAPTER 2
Back to the Family, After All
It may seem a retrograde step to suggest that feminists like me, who strove to liberate ourselves from the limited roles of wife and mother, have come full circle to focus, once again, on the family. At the start of the feminist revolution, we did not dwell on the question of who would take care of the children. We assumed things would fall into place. Child care centers would spring up like flowers and workplaces would be magically trans-formed to meet our needs. The catch phrase became “we can have it all.” Not everyone agreed. Critics like Phyllis Schlafly, leader of the conservative Eagle Forum, pronounced that if women would stay home and fulfill their proper housewife role of serving their husbands, all would be right with the world. Despite the nascent debate between stay-at-home moms and work-ing moms, not many women heeded Schlafly’s advice. The “daddy goes to work and mommy stays home” portrait of the American family is as quaint as a Norman Rockwell
Saturday Evening Post 
 cover. Just 20 percent of young families fit that model. Half the workforce is comprised of women. The 1970s exodus of millions of American housewives from their split-level ranch homes was blamed on the seductive powers of feminism, the revolution that destroyed the family. Today, the culprit is no longer feminism; it is economics. Women are streaming into the workplace because their income is essential; 40 percent are either single working mothers or married mothers who earn as much as or more than their spouse.
1
 Feminism can still take some of the credit or blame. Without access to education, without a cultural shift in the role of women in society, women today would not be qualified for these jobs.Feminism shares another responsibility for our present dilemma: once we got out of the house, unlike our European sisters, we failed to make demands of our government for paid family leave laws, workplace flexibility,
 
BACK TO THE FAMILY, AFTER ALL
 
 7
and quality child care. American feminist groups claim that child care was on their agenda from the start. Others disagree. In
The Second Stage
, Betty Friedan tried to move feminists to focus on issues that are most important to families, and the balance between work and family was one of them. That message, recall some feminist leaders, did not go over well. “People killed her,” remembers Ellen Galinsky, cofounder of the Families and Work Institute, who says she, too, encountered scorn when she raised the issue of child care at feminist conferences. Some feminists argued that the movement’s focus needed to remain narrow for it to succeed. Others simply thought the issue was boring. Says  Janet Gornick, who has written widely on family/work questions, “Child care and family leave was ho hum. I heard this said on a thousand occasions, that maternity leave was a middle-class issue, while they were fighting for reproductive freedom and to be free of domestic violence.” The irony of this, she points out, is that the lack of child care is what stalled progress in the ensuing years for poor women—especially those removed from public assistance—by preventing them from being integrated into the labor market.Muriel Fox, a cofounder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), disagrees that the movement deemphasized family issues. “NOW was a leading force in Congress to get a child care bill passed,” says Fox, referring to the comprehensive child care bill passed by Congress in 1971 and vetoed by President Richard Nixon. “Don’t listen to anyone who perpetuates the myth.” Indeed, NOW’s statement of purpose, which Fox calls “one of the great documents of the twentieth century,” seems enlightened on this front: “We reject the current assumptions that a man must carry the sole burden of supporting himself, his wife, and family, and that a woman is automatically entitled to lifelong support by a man upon her marriage. . . . We believe that a true partnership between the sexes demands a different concept of marriage, an equitable sharing of the responsibilities of home and children and of the economic burdens of their support. We believe that proper recog-nition should be given to the economic and social value of homemaking and child-care.”  A different perspective comes from Eleanor Smeal, a former president of NOW, who today is head of the Feminist Majority. The feminist agenda has

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