Feminism After Friedan

I do think it’s very important to understand that your congressman, and your boss, is just another guy whose wife is doing seventy percent of the housework.

Linda Hershman on Open Source

[Booked for Thursday February 9]

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

[She was] a name-giver, one…who sees something we all see but goes one step further and defines the phenomenon, organizes it and tells us what it is called. Because so many women identified with what she described the relief from having it named and explained was enormous. No longer did individual women feel all alone, vaguely disgruntled, worried about their mental health or their perfection as a loving wife; instead, it was possible to discuss this condition and that was the first stage of doing something about it.

Echidne of the Snakes, Echidne of the Snakes, 2/6/06
Mom

Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? [Edge of Dementia / Flickr]

The problem that has no name has a thousand new definitions since Betty coined the phrase forty years ago.

We’ve been reflecting this week on the recent death of feminist great Betty Friedan, whose manifesto on “the problem” gave voice to the dissatisfaction of a generation of women confined by their limited roles as housewives and mothers. As feminist blogger Echidne of the Snakes put it, Friedan’s landmark 1963 book The Feminine Mystique was so powerful precisely because it “named names.”

Tonight we’re thinking about 40 years of feminism, and the unfinished business still at hand. We’d like to try to name and parse through the major issues and struggles around women’s rights and gender equity. What is the fight now? And how are you fighting it?


Linda Hirshman

Former Allen/Berenson Distinguished Visiting Professor at Brandeis University

Author, forthcoming Nothing But Your Chains

Author, Homeward Bound, The American Prospect December 20, 2005

Luwana Marts

Nurse and professional nurturer in Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes, LA, Nurse Family Partnership

Rachel Fudge

Senior Editor, Bitch Magazine

Lonnae O’Neal Parker

Author, I’m Every Woman: Remixed Stories of Marriage, Motherhood, and Work

Style Reporter, Washington Post


Comments

32 thoughts on “Feminism After Friedan

  1. At the showing in NYC of Agnes of God, I met Judy Collins who introducede me to Bella Ab.,Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. I missed Bette. I wish nBette had lived to see the first woman in the whitehouse be it Conde or Hillary!

  2. After feminism?..how about l.b.g.t. rights..and an end to power stuggles. Please look up my book on Amazon.com.. — The End of Gender: A Psychological Autopsy (Routledge, 2005)

  3. It’s no secret there is a struggle between the working and stay at home moms. To some I am considered a non-feminist because I am chosing to stay home with my kids. I say that the feminist movement has given me the choice and I am grateful. I take exception to the certain brand of feminist who feel they can and should judge me as a “traitor” for my decision.

  4. My wife and I met in grad school. We graduated and went to work. When we had our first child she stayed home to take care of him. 5 years later she’s taking care of our 2 children at home while I’m bringing home the proverbial bacon. This traditional role playing IS NOT A PROBLEM. I think having a full time mommy is a great good gift to my young children. I’d like more income but I’m proud to be able to support them. Could I have been the stay at home dad? Yes, however, “the breast is best” and I was not equipped to deliver the milk.

  5. It’s no secret there is a struggle between the working and stay at home moms. To some I am considered a non-feminist because I am chosing to stay home with my kids. I say that the feminist movement has given me the choice and I am grateful. I take exception to the certain brand of feminist who feel they can and should judge me as a “traitor� for my decision.

    This is part of the problem, and it has an odd basic reason: We assume that all women are the same woman when it comes to mothering, and that there is only one good way of mothering. This makes any other mother’s choice look like a condemnation to mine if it is not the same. If I’m at home and she has a paid job then I’m living off someone. If I’m working at a paid job and she is at home then I’m neglecting my child.

    We don’t expect all men to be, say, engineers, or even all men to father in exactly the same way. But we do expect this of mothers, and we treat all women as if they were part of the same amorphous mass of womanhood.

  6. y wife and I met in grad school. We graduated and went to work. When we had our first child she stayed home to take care of him. 5 years later she’s taking care of our 2 children at home while I’m bringing home the proverbial bacon. This traditional role playing IS NOT A PROBLEM. I think having a full time mommy is a great good gift to my young children. I’d like more income but I’m proud to be able to support them. Could I have been the stay at home dad? Yes, however, “the breast is best� and I was not equipped to deliver the milk.

    It is not a problem. But it does have its negative sides. For example, your wife will not be earning the same retirement benefits as she would if she were working, and if something happened to you she might find it very hard to earn as much as you are earning.

    Then there is the wider societal problem that Hirshman refers to: that if it is women who largely stay at home, why should we educate women to be lawyers or physicians at equal numbers with men? After all, college education is highly subsidized by the society and I have already heard some argue that we should impose upper quotas on women in colleges. I don’t share this opinion at all, of course.

  7. Hurray, Echidne! On a slightly different tack, it seems to me that almost all these conversations that focus on “wasted educations” take no note of the TIME element, and the fact that parenting is a short-time, TRANSIENT job, at least insofar as the basic nurtering and raising phase is concerned. (I find that we are ALWAYS “parents” in one form or another, and that is not a bad thing.) But, in my personal case–OUR personal case– my wife paid for our groceroes and rent by her nursing career work while I was in dental school and starting a practice, I paid the rent while she went back to school to become a nurse practitioner, she went back to work and we co-raised the then-high-schoolers, and now she is a stay at home stock trader, having discovered an affinity and skill in that department. TIME is the dimension so oversooked in these discussions. Just because a law grad doesn’t use that immediately, the learning is not lost, it may just be “banked” until later!

  8. Robin asks:

    “What is the fight now? And how are you fighting it?�

    I suggest that ‘the fight’ now is that of reiterating, against the deliberate misunderstanding, bias, and misinformation of feminism’s entrenched foes, that feminism is the assertion that the lives of women and girls are of equal value to the lives of men and boys.

    This may seem no longer relevant, but I see its relevance constantly, and so do many actual women.

    Here’s one way to fight the fight in words:

    “Equality, by definition and simultaneously, liberates EVERYONE.�

    Those of my gender (male) who resist the loss of their cultural gender-privileges might better themselves and the lives of their daughters by thoughtfully evaluating the statements above.

  9. I went back to work as a physician six weeks after my first child was born and have continued to work full-time while raising my three children. After my eleven years of post college education and training, I could not imagine not working. While medicine as a field has some components that are inflexible, in particular during training, I have found that as a profession there are more choices available and flexibility than some other the other professions. I feel that I have been in a fortunate circumstance that I have been able to combine parenting and a career. I believe that some women do not have as much choice in working after they have children as much due to societal pressures and limitations as it is one of oppression in one’s marriage/relationship as was implied by Professor Hirshman. Workplaces and academic institutions do little to support part-time employment and provide adaquate childcare. Moreover, we live in a time in which children are expected to be involved in multiple time-consuming extra- curricular activities that require person power to organize and execute. The issue will only be resolved and women will only have real choice when our society works towards providing adaquate childcare and viable part-time employment opportunities.

  10. As a young woman, there are many points in this discussion that actually offend me. I am a feminist, have a degree in women’s studies, am on a path towards a rewarding career, AND I plan on staying home with my future children. I do agree that there is a problem with corporate and governmental policies surrounding daycare/ parenthood/ etc, however, this does not distract from the fact that some women may simply (and legitimately) choose to stay home. If we are to have real options, then those fighting for real solutions, have to respect all choices. The author can not dismiss or judge the women who “opt out”, nor can she say that they are “wasting” their education by staying home. Education is not an ends sum game. It is impossible to “waste” something that has already fostered personal and intellectual growth.

  11. Women who “opt out” of the workplace particularly if they are raising children and creating and maintaining a home life are not wasting their education. I also object to this notion that if you have an education you owe something specific back to society. Who is to say what your contribution should be? Your education becomes part of who you are, an adult, a parent, a mate, citizen etc. Maybe the lawyer caretaker Mom ( or Dad) will run for selectman in his/her town at some point.

    The workplace is the workplace. It is an artificial atmosphere. This is true especially if you happen to work in a cubicle at a desk for 8 hours and commute in traffic or on the metro both ways for hours. And I don’t think you can raise children for 2 or even 6 years and go back to work and think your job raising kids is over or that they, your home (even if you can afford to buy help) will be cared quite the same with less of you there. This is especially true with two working parents. The kids invariably feel it. Society feels it. It is the women also who feel the emotional split and responsibility not men because ( I say) of a million years of evolution. It’s that million years we are trying to change a little after all.

    In some ways this show, at the end especially, is part of the race -class series too. A black woman’s situation and vantage point on all of this is so different. The last speaker on the show was terrific.

    I know a Mr. Mom and he seems quite happy at home raising 3 kids and working at his carpentry while his wife does well at bringing home the bacon. I think the revolution of the sixties helped to make this possible, even normal. I’ll bet there is more of this going on than you think.

  12. Women who “opt out� of the workplace particularly if they are raising children and creating and maintaining a home life are not wasting their education. I also object to this notion that if you have an education you owe something specific back to society. Who is to say what your contribution should be? Your education becomes part of who you are, an adult, a parent, a mate, citizen etc. Maybe the lawyer caretaker Mom ( or Dad) will run for selectman in his/her town at some point.

    Quite true. But consider this: The actual costs of a medical school degree to the society at large is a lot larger than the tuition the student pays. In some medical schools the student pays less than ten percent of the actual costs of turning him or her into a physician. The rest is paid by the taxpayers via funding for research and various grants. It is not realistic to assume that these taxpayers would not care about whether the students so expensively trained end up practising medicine or not. Note also that if many parents stop practising medicine for several years we need to train many more physicians to satisfy the needs and this is more expensive.

    The reason why medical schools used to have maximum quotas on the number of women in the past was this exact argument: that the women would be less likely to practice than the men, due to the sexual division of labor.

    As I pointed in my above post, I don’t want to see such quotas coming back or any other kinds of restrictions on what men or women want to study. But this effect is something that exists.

  13. We have made a lot of progress in the past 50 years but there is still a long way to go. There are obvious things like getting equal pay for equal work, staying home with children by choice not by restriction and having safe available birth control and health care. There are however plenty of perhaps more subtle things like how often men interrupt when a woman is speaking, things that are a matter of respect and require awearness in order to impliment change.

    I do worry that the fundamentalist backlash against modernism/feminism will continue to be very bad for women. We absolutly can not give in. It will turn out lilke Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale if we let it. The recent supream court appointments indicate we are headed that direction. We would be well advised to remember Susan Anthoney’s words, “Failure is Impossible”.

  14. Re: Echidne

    I think criticizing a female doctor for taking time off to spend with her family is ridiculous. If you want to talk about wasting taxpayers money let’s look at Bush’s budget and his big tax cuts for the rich.

    If we would quit spending massive amounts of money on things like illegal wars, a new generation of nuclear weapons and spying on US citizens we would have plenty of money for all women and men to go to school and no one would have to work full time.

  15. I guess I’m not in the typical situation…my husband stays at home w/ our two small children, both under three. I work full time and am the sole bread winner. We are happy w/ our situation, but it is not ideal. We struggle every day w/ who is supposed to do what. But I am working my tail off to get my career to a point where I can teach online full time over the Internet (I’m in education) so I can be home and earn a living.

    The commentator who said that work is important–I agree, but it is not more important than life. And right now my husband and I are 100% responsible for our children’s lives. If we screw this up, we have failed as people, parents, and citizens. If I screw my job up, there is always time to make that up. We don’t get a second chance at parenting. Anything that is worth while takes time, commitment and sacrifice and I can’t think of anything better to sacrifice for than my children. If that means my resume isn’t as great as it should be–oh well. If my kids don’t grow up to be educated, empathetic, productive citizens than we (my husband and I) have failed miserably.

    To chastise women who choose to “opt out” while thier children are small is the wrong approach. Life matters more than work, period. When I think back of my childhood memories of my parents, it is of them spending time with us as a family. I don’t recall my mother and father’s professional accomplishments. I don’t think back on the size of our house, the cars we drove, how nice our clothes were…I remember the family dinners, the baseball games, snow days, things that truly matter.

  16. Echidne: I doubt there are that many doctors that do not practice or use their training in some way. The nature of the training and the committment necessary to go through it all is formidable. This is not the kind of education I am speaking of. Still, it’s up to a Dr. to decide whether to proceed with this career path once trained as this is a difficult life and not everyone is suited to it.

    Some may choose to be poets like William Carlos Williams.

  17. Peggy Sue, I was not chastising a female doctor who takes time off for her family. I was not chastising any women for what they do. I was trying to make that very clear in my comments but I failed.

    I was just telling something that people will say, something that does exist. It is not something that I support or advocate or use to chastise people with. But it is one fact to think about, to take into consideration. If you like, I was the thermometer, not the fever.

    This relates to also Potter’s second comment above. Yes, it’s up to all of us to decide what we are going to do with our lives and careers, within the ethical limits, but it’s up to colleges and universities and the government to decide how to finance most of higher education, and how it is used will affect how it is financed.

    Let me make it very clear that I find the major culprit to be the way the labor markets work. Firms still expect all workers to be “ideal workers”, with no dependents to worry about (children or elderly parents), and firms still expect that these “ideal” workers have a support team at home who will do all that other stuff. Women, especially, don’t fit that pattern, and neither do many men these days. I think that we need to change the way we work in general. I also believe that most people need both work and time with their families and that this combination should be made more possible.

  18. Echidne: well said. Before your reply, I wanted to give a sound ‘right on!’ to peggysue, but refrained because I suspected just what you’ve detailed in the post above.

    One of tonight’s revelations for this listener was that even forty years on, the business of balancing education + employment + family is tricky and best and diabolical at worst.

    As a topper, women have to contend with the Cro-Magnon ‘family values’ crowd that excoriates and demonizes the brave women seeking to walk the tightrope. As if walking the damned thing isn’t hard enough by itself! Let them find others to jeer, for cryin out loud.

    And thanks to ROS for the show. It was a vintage week.

  19. hirshman is whats wrong with old guard feminism. she’s so hostile. motherhood is wasting time? well a movement that believes that dies out doesn’t it? self defeat. she sounds like the stereotype of a bitter old feminist.

    she’s not realistic about seeking mates either. would a powerful smart woman really want to settle for a less attractive mate? why would an attractive man want to choose a hirshman type woman? he could find a less militant woman that will have his children and stay at home, and why wouldn’t he? so the militant woman has to settle for a spineless less actractive man that she can make into a house husband, will she actually be happy? would that really last? the fact is educated women are attracted to men with atleast the same educational status and generally higher financial status. men on the other hand care much less about such things, they care more about youth and beauty.

    the point is to give people a choice. women now have the choice. they can choose to persue success. but militant feminists want a utopia where choices have no costs and so can never really be happy. they’ve also undermined themselves by being unfair. now women are starting to become the majority in some educational institutions shouldn’t they be fighting to help the men falling behind? or is it simply about revenge and supremacy?

    i don’t see whats wrong about going to college and then choosing to be a mother. higher education is supposed to be about expanding the mind as well as preperation for a job. it is also something one can fall back on if it doesn’t work out.

  20. On the last Album that Yoko Ono and John Lennon made together John wrote songs about being a house husband. At the time I remember reading an article where he talked about the joys of making bread and raising with his son. Yet, I doubt if many people would call John Lennon a “spineless less attractive man”. It seems to me that many intelligent creative attractive men might enjoy staying home for a while just like many attractive, intelligent, selfrealized women do. For creative people time out from jobs is often ESSENTIAL to realizing fullfilment. There is a big difference of course between a “job” and a “career” it can be very difficult to pursue a creative career when you have to go to a job every day just to make rent.

    And yes! I agree, it is the miserable attitude our culture has toward labor and lack of family support that is a major culprit. In a tribal system there is much better family support. Few Americans even have extended family nearby for help.

    Also, in the academic world, feminism still has a long way to go. Just check out who is getting tenue. It is still mostly men so I wouldn’t worry too much about helping the “men who are falling behind”.

  21. A Gary Larson cartoon has three cows in a field grazing. One picks her head up and says:

    “Hey wait a minute! This is grass! We’ve been eating grass!”

    This is the workplace and a “career� relieved of false glamour. Being confined to the work cubicle from 9-5 and the rush hour commute both ways, plus dealing with work relationships, guilt about shortchanging your children, anxiety about performing, keeping up your responsibilities and relationships on both ends, and physical exhaustion do not necessarily lead to happiness and fulfillment. To counteract this one needs the perfect situation and a sense of purpose which I would bet few have.

    Linda Hirshman on the show ( I believe it was) represented staying at home as drudgery but never mentioned the drudgery one often can encounter in the workplace.

    I agree it’s about choice and enabling that choice. Any choice requires sacrifice and has it’s downside.

  22. “On the last Album that Yoko Ono and John Lennon made together John wrote songs about being a house husband. At the time I remember reading an article where he talked about the joys of making bread and raising with his son. Yet, I doubt if many people would call John Lennon a “spineless less attractive manâ€?.”

    i’m not saying the men that stay home are spineless. they are percieved as so, esp by women. they are lesser men. lennon is rather an exeptional example being fabulously rich and famous making him extremely desirable no matter what he choose to do. most housewife men are not going to be rich famous hippies. if hirshmans goal is for women to find such a creature, well…happy hunting is all i can say.

  23. How about a show on what we are opting out of when we run off to the workplace instead of doing what needs to be done for living? Having run a successful business for twenty years with my husband until we sold it four years ago, I have a very long list of the things we neglected while we did the very important work of running tailspins around our projects and clients:

    1) Regular medical check ups, mammograms, teeth cleaning, flossing

    2) Healthy diet

    3) Cooking

    4) Exercise

    5) Seeing the kids after school

    6) Hobbies

    7) Life insurance

    8) Investments

    9) Music

    10) Reading

    11) Helping our neighbors

    12) Knowing our neighbors

    13) Recycling

    14) Grandparents

    Does Ms. Hirshman know you only live once? I’m sure glad we didn’t wait until we were 65 years old to start. This is not to say that we did not have great lives, and sure, I would do it again. But I have no criticism for the woman (or man) who decides to drop out and pursue something besides a career. When we sold our business, we took the kids out of school for a year and hit the road. It’s been the greatest thing we ever did, opting out of the workforce. Who is Ms. Hirshman to rank all the things there are to pursue in life and give the holy number one spot to whatever earns a buck. Let’s talk about all the wasted energy, servitude, and absurdism unleashed in the name of ‘running a business’ (read “repetitious, socially invisible, and physical tasks�). I applaud every woman (or man) who decides to just “hang� and explore the multitude of dimensions in loving life as a human being. If Mama wants to serve meatloaf every night so she can be with her kids and raise young people who have confidence, self-esteem, and great values, more power to her. Don’t even get me started on all the bad things going on with latch-key kids out there. Have you met the newest generation? It’s scary!

    So, what I’m really saying is, let’s hear a show on how this society can go on having everybody at the office (or commuting to the office) and take care of living life too. I don’t think it works to have every adult in the household tearing around in fifth gear for a career and I don’t think our economy should be calibrated to that. If there’s never anyone at home, than there is no “home� to return to. Sure it would be great to have the alpha male do his half too, but I don’t hear Ms. Hirshman talking about how that could be arbitrated. That’s because she would have to get down into the trenches and talk about all the petty stuff that women are struggling with everyday. Her lofty talk about just charging off to the business world and leaving the rest of life at the curb shows callous indifference to women who want human meaning in their lives.

  24. And speaking of Doctors who are wasting taxpayers money and their own educations by not practising medicine what about Bill Frist and Howard Dean? Or are men exempt from this criticism?

  25. To preface this commentary, I’m a 26yr old hispanic male. My wife and I both work full time jobs and don’t have any children.

    My curiousity drove me to listen to this topic. I thought I would listen to 10 minutes of the show and feel alienated. Was I wrong.

    After my mom’s divorce from my dad, + the hispanic family + community connected to him, was trully a devastating period for us. Yet she managed to get a BA and MS, while working and raising a family of 4 and is now working in the social services to help women who are in her position. She is currently working on getting her Phd part time, while working in Mass.

    I heard the discussion, and it trully hit home when I heard Lonnae O’Neal Parker, and Luwana Marts speak. I remembered that while my mom was getting degree’s, several families from our new church, from the pastor on down, pitched in to help us through our rough patch.

    A great side topic could be how cost of living is influencing the number of stay at home mom’s over time versus career mom’s versus career women.

    This discussion could support several sequels and not be dilluted.

  26. I wonder if one of the reasons working mother guilt in African American families is so much less of an issue is because more African Americans use extended families for child care.

    I don’t think it has so much to do with feminism, and I have restrained from saying anything for decades because I don’t want to be considered judgemental of working women. BUT I do think that babies and young children should be taken care of primarily by family. It doesn’ have to be mother. It could be father, grandparents, aunts or uncles. Members of the family can afford to invest love, day care providers can’t. Day care providers can care and provide good care, but they can’t very often afford to love the children they care for.

    Long ago I worked as a pre-school teacher in a day care center. It was great for the kids who were there part time, but over half of the kids were there full time. I saw more of them than their parents did. I did not, and could not love them like I love my own children.

    I wonder how many people in our society have “attachment disorder”. One of my daughters spent her first year in an orphanage with limited resources. This was more extreme than most children face here, but its really made me think about how important attachment is to a human.

  27. Well finally something I’m an expert in. I’m a stay at home mom and I am totally against feminism. I am feminine and proud of it. I can’t really call myself a housewife because I’m not married but I do have a boyfriend so maybe I can call myself a housegirlfriend. Rush calls feminists feminatzi and I say ditto to that. I think most feminists are just frustrated and lonely. Some seem to be a bit on the plain side, I’ve noticed, perhaps a visit from your Avon Lady could change your world. I say bring back the saran wrap.

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