The recent death of Betty Friedan has once again put the spotlight on the Feminist Movement. There is no question that during much of history, women have been devalued. There is also no question that Friedan and other leaders of the women's movement are owed a debt of gratitude for their efforts.
But there is another side to this story that is too often dismissed as just unintended consequences. The movement did not always free women and give them more choices. Often, women were forced out of the home to work at jobs even more mundane than the ones they left behind. There was not much liberation afforded to the women who were forced to become bean counters for corporations. Many women were transformed from homemakers into widget makers. Leaving the frying pan behind only to be pushed into the fire was how many viewed the liberation movement.
The movement did not help the black mother in Detroit, or the white mother in Appalachia, or the Hispanic mother in Texas, or the migrant farm family in California. Those on the very bottom of the economic scale were forgotten. In many cases they were left worse off than before. Many were forced out of the home, with no transportation, to travel to a minimum wage job. Mothers were sometimes pressured by the culture and the welfare system to leave their children in unsafe conditions to fend for themselves. A generation of latch key children was the result.
In urban centers, many were forced to place their children in less than nurturing day care centers. Mothers left their homes to now work at low paying, mind numbing jobs. Talk to any mother who ever has had to drop her sick child off at a day care center. The myth that a loving parent could be replaced by even the most dedicated childcare worker is still creating havoc within the culture. The parent-child relationship has been compromised by this social experiment. A paid employee can never replace a loving mother or father.
It is easy to figure out who benefited the most from the movement. Just follow the money. Many families are on the verge of financial collapse today. Big business and corporations are laughing all the way to the bank. They are the greatest beneficiaries. With the inclusion of so many more women, the work force almost doubled. The pay scale quickly reflected this. In 1950, one worker with a high school diploma could support a family. Now it often takes two wage earners to support a household. Capitalism got a big boost, two workers for the price of one.
One of the consequences of the movement was the trivialization of parenting. Women choosing motherhood over the work place were viewed with suspicion.
It can be argued that there is no higher calling in life than the care and nurturing of others. Noticeably absent from the feminist movement was any support for families, single mothers, mothers in general, or even fathers. Today, more families are opting for home schooling. That is not an option when both parents are employed outside the home.
Some women, who were papered with college degrees, did benefit with increased choices in the job market. The history of the movement reflected the culture and values of the upwardly mobile female. Today however, many feminists realize that dedicating one's life to a corporation is less fulfilling than promised.
Title nine, equal pay, and abortion rights have always been at the forefront of the movement. This gives the illusion that all women benefit. The stay-at-home Mother has become a second-class citizen. That life style choice should be respected, just as the choice to be childless should be a respected choice.
We need a real women's liberation movement. One that will include all women. One that will give women the choice to stay home, and be financially compensated. That is not as impossible as it might seem. One change could make that possible. Simply treat all income within the family as family income. That would eliminate the unfair burden on the stay-at-home parent when Social Security benefits are calculated. It would also eliminate the harm that comes to children when the wage-earning parent fails to support his/her children. In addition, it would allow more Mothers to stay at home and therefore benefit not only children but also all in the work force. Fewer workers competing for the same number of jobs would increase all wages. It would be a win, win scenario.
The new liberation movement must place less emphasis on gender and more emphasis on the common humanity that we all share. Those who need liberation most are those whose voices are not heard ... the economically disadvantaged, the homeless, the disabled, and especially the children.
Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. She was arrested, tried, and convicted for her participation in a peaceful protest of the war. Currently the conviction is under Appeal in the State Supreme Court. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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