February 22, 2009

1971 Journal--Doubting Feminism

I was active in the feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I attended 3 separate consciousness-raising groups and read almost all of the early books and literature. I rewrote and edited the first major anthology: Women in a Sexist Society. Although I identified myself as a radical feminist, I always had serious misgivings about the direction of the early movement. I explore them in my journal entry from October 1971. I have not edited this snapshot of a particular point in time. At the time I was a happily married woman working as Editing Supervisor at Basic Books, which pubished social science and psychiatric books. I was a year away from becoming pregnant.
Are men necessarily the enemies? Adopting that logic, couldn't women be categorized as the enemies? Must there be an enemy? Must the movement have a scapegoat? There is a danger of generalizing for all women from a few women's (typical, atypical) experience with men. Perhaps most men are baffled rather than hostile. They have been socialized to believe the myths, so they do believe them. Why does the movement assume that their motives are vicious?

Perhaps the myths are harsher than the realities. Individual women are treated better and respected more than social mythology about women dictates. The movement shouldn't present what seems to be a fatal choice: true autonomy or loving, intimate relationships with men. If all men are despaired of, shouldn't most women be despaired of? Have women tried hard enough to explain themselves? Or would they rather renounce men than fight through to an accommodation?

The movement stresses relationships with women because they are easier (at least for many women). There is no need to confront the enemy directly. Women often have bravely attacked men in coffee klatches, but they then have gone along with their own men, having worked out some of their hostilities with other women. I don't understand; because of my five brothers, I have never had any trouble confronting men. (At that time, NY feminism was rather obsessed with lesbianism. Happily married heterosexual women felt rather defensive about their lives.)

At times Women's Liberation is vulgarly careerist. There is very little speculation on changing the nature of work. There is no recognition that traditional women's jobs, not men's jobs, may be the desirable jobs of the future. Dominant economic values are accepted. A job's value is measured by its pay or its status. There is total denial that raising young children is a uniquely demanding job, calling forth an infinite range of talents and imagination.
Feminists sometimes lack a strong grasp on job alternatives. I am frustrated with so much loose talk about expressing creativity in jobs. Don't women recognize what most workers do, not only blue and white collar workers, but professional and managerial ones as well? Creativity is the value much stressed by woman's magazines. Be a creative homemaker. There is no recognition that post-revolution many, if not most, women might have less creative jobs than they have now. Volunteers are often allowed more autonomy and outlet for imaginative change than regular staff would be permitted.

The emphasis could have been completely different. Feminists need not have accepted the male value that your job is everything, completely determining your social use and people's opinion of you. Alternatives include--more leisure, 25-hour week for everyone, change hierarchical nature of work, decentralize it, recognize that much work is unnecessary. In a more rational society that won't need 100 brands of detergents, toothpastes, and feminine hygiene deodorants. Many jobs now are completely unproductive. Most jobs are not inherently creative. What is a creative job anyway? The solution may be to give people more time, real time, to be creative off the job.
My close friend said almost any job is preferable to staying home with the kids. That is a preposterous statement, particularly from a so-called radical who pays lip service to human values. That is not to say that childrearing as it is now arranged is perfect. We might benefit from more stress on communal childraising, not necessarily so parents can get a "job," but because it may be a better way to raise children from both parents' and children's point of view. I am the oldest of six; growing up in a large family was a positive experience. My parents seemed to have less need to control our direction in life than the parents of my friends with fewer siblings.

The nature of work must change in our society. Women should be at the forefront of the battle for change. Autonomy and self-sufficiency cannot be pictured as depending on capitalist recognition of worth. Rather the economy should be made to value and reward the kinds of work that women do. Men have problems with women's lib on this point. They can't seem to believe that women would want to have equality in men's world. How many men would trade roles if only the objective nature of what they had to do was the consideration and not society's evaluation of it?
Perhaps the major emphasis must be on changing society's evaluation of women. Otherwise, when women enter or take over traditionally men's fields, they would only decline in relative prestige. It can't be difficult or challenging job if mere women can do it. Emphasis should not be on merely putting women in out-of-home jobs. The nature of reward for jobs should change. Money must cease to be the major incentive. The gap between low salaries and high salaries needs to be dramatically smaller. If raising young children had prestige of being a pediatrician or a child psychologist, for example, and it need not be done in social isolation, might not women and men feel differently about it?
You're exhausting me, Mary. I don't have time to read this but of course it looks excellent, so I'll be back. This comment will serve as my reminder on the left side of my blog. :)
This is very close to some of what I was thinking myself back in 1970...I am going to re-read and then comment( in my usual too long, too wordy way) Monday, after I have the house and computer to myself.. I must add that I will be thinking about this all weekend to prove that I am taking this post very seriously...it is actually bedrock material and one of the most substantive , thought provoking things I have seen hit OS since I joined in October!
Ahhhhh, "younger brothers"....the key to why we could not see males as "enemy"......more Monday.
..."the myths are harsher than the realities..." That's a loaded stgatement, Mary.
Outstanding post and persepective from your first hand esperience.
A whole lot of work for a questionable return, yet necessary, tireless effort, none the less.
Like I always way, "Keep on keepin' on!"
Not to get graphic but last night I came across these "male stripper parties" where literally hundreds of women are gathered at a venue and male strippers run around with full erections dancing around and the women are taking turns performing fellatio in full view of the screaming others. Based on the accents they are mostly originating out of UK and eastern Europe. I'd say that's pretty good proof of women's liberation when a bunch of mothers and daughters can get drunk and grab and suck off male strippers and their men aren't clamoring outside to break the doors down and shut the party down. Stripping was once only reserved for females to perform and men to enjoy...not it has progressed to open cock sucking by horny ladies to bad dance music.
Scared grandma, I am looking forward to your response. My mother's younger brothers were closer in age to me than to her--7, 9, and 11 years older than me. I lived with mom's whole family the first two years of my life; I was their much-loved and played-with baby sister.

My uncle Ken, 7 years older, recalled ringing all the bells in the neighborhood the day I was born, boasting to everyone that he was an uncle. They have always treated me as their beloved younger sister. So I actually had three older brothers and five younger brothers. I was 11 and 13 when my younger brothers were born. In pictures I look like their young mother. How could I ever see men as the enemy?
New blog,

That wasn't what we were fighting for.
I would have to hope that my grandchildren won't feel compelled to return to work after a two-month maternity leave when they have children or imperil the future economic security of their families. For someone trying to combine parenting with work, this is probably the worst country in the industrialized world.
That's a huge, always important question, and it looks like you did a good job of attacking it. My (baseless) take on this is that men evolved to fight, or have one "fight," whereas women evolved to do everything else. That clashes with a male-dominated working world, because of the different perspectives alone, not even speaking of the biggest problem, how "Money must cease to be the major incentive." I wonder how things play out in careers or institutions made up of mostly women; if there are some good innovations to be found there or if it's more of the same; strings always being pulled from the top.
The harshest anti male rheroric probably comes from lesbian feminists with a vested interest in seperating men and women. Some seem to have an outright pathological hatred of men. Maybe they were molested or raped, but the large majority of us are not psychopaths. Like them we are products of how we were raised, the images we got from television. In terms of careers, most men don't lke their jobs. Work is being sold to women as personal fullfilment. Basically it was all just to get all women working and paying taxes. Our taxes go to the IRS who gives them to the Federal Reserve, funded by the same people that fund universities, studies and orgs. The Rockefellar, JP Morgan element. Connected to The Rockefellar, Ford, McArthur and Carnege foundations, the guys funding the UN, IMF, WHO, World Bank, etc. Every study is essentially the same, spend more money, have bigger government, men don't want women to work so you have to to get back at them. Which is absurd. What men mind additional income in the home? Lies, propaganda and more bullshit than a stable. A lot of women are learning what work really is. A drag.
Mary, What a pertinent, insightful post. So many valid points. I grew up right on the cusp of expectations of marriage and children right after high school, or continuing education, with equality in jobs of women and men. But you could not have both, and even if you tried, you were treated with a pat on the head and a wave of the hand, dismissed to the world of fairy tales and unattainable ordeals. I remember when I told two older guys that I was planning to join the peace corps, and one of them asked, "Are you a dyke?" I was so naive, but that question angered me so much. Why did the peace corp enrollment make me a dyke, and if I was, so what?
I can feel my blood pressure rising right now! Great post...rated for raising children full time
Three decades later, still the same questions. It's exhausting. Yet we have made progress. And feminism isn't dead, the radical wing had its place but that's the part that's gone.

Men are feminists now too, as well they should be. You'll meet some of them here, full time child-raisers. Lonnie, bbd (Barry), Skeptic Turtle (Derek) and more.

It's sad that growing up in the 50's and 60's we were proud of our mother's full time career but resented her absence from home and our time spent with nannies. I stopped working full time for 5 years when our son was born for that very reason. Best move ever. Found creative ways to use my intellect and energy. Still, I had the luxury. Too many do not.

How can raising children ever achieve prestige when teaching still does not? Hard questions, Mary. Glad you're asking them.
Mary, I think the biggest truth in your post is in your last paragraph. We see care of our nation's elderly and children to be considered low-skill or no-skill jobs. The only conclusion to which I can come regarding this is how these segments of our society are not earning wages, therefore their worth is considered to be nothing. Added into the equation is that these jobs were the traditional domain of women. Regarding the elderly, the majority of nursing home residents of women, many of whom never earned a wage outside of the home. Is it any wonder that we raid 3rd world countries to find people to work for the very low wages these places offer or that these are people who often could not find work anywhere else?

I was born in '71 so I was born to many of the fruits of your labor. Most of my jobs have been in traditionally male-dominated fields, quite simply as that was where the money was. We've seen jobs which were once the sole domain of men now have a majority of women, the result of which is lower pay in that field (the field of psychology is an excellent example). Perhaps the next generation of feminists should focus further on re-defining the differences between "money" and "worth", thus giving the status of "value" to all? Thank you for your post.
I should have also added, "Thank you for fighting the good fight. Thank you for continuing to ask these questions." -- RL

You raise excellent issues. I don't want to overgeneralize. Yes, there were many lesbians in the NYC women's liberation movement. More upsetting is that there were few mothers with children. It became a vicious cycle. Women who insisted they were in happy marriages were too often accused of "false consciousness."Women who stayed home with their children were sometimes derided. Because it was not a movement of mothers, abortion, not child care, became the key issue. Women with happy marriages and children were turned off , left, or didn't join in the first place.

I entirely agree with you: "the large majority of us are not psychopaths. Like them we are products of how we were raised, the images we got from television." You argue: "Work is being sold to women as personal fullfilment. Basically it was all just to get all women working and paying taxes." I would have rejected this statement in 1971. Looking back, one could indeed argue that that the women's liberation movement was co-opted by corporate capitalism. Women went to work in huge numbers, and at the same time one wage earner could no longer support a family. Women's working disguised wage stagnation.

I grew up in a lower middle class community. Most residents were not college graduates; many had solid union jobs. How is it that fathers in the 50s could support much larger families on one income? Yes we lived very frugally, but our mothers were home; our grandmas or aunts helped out. There were no day care centers or nursery schools. we started school in half-day kindergarten that was all fun and games.We were given much more freedom to roam the neighborhood without direct parental supervision. No cell phones monitored our every move. We would have pitied children with overscheduled lives, ferried from one" stimulating" lesson to another. But we didn't know any such children .

By 12 or 13, we were supposed to figure out how to earn some money--babysitting, paper routes, snow shoveling, leaf raking, etc. By 16, we had jobs all summer, from the time school ended to the time it started.
My mother had not been able to attend college because her dad died when she was 17. She attended night school and worked full-time, then got pneumonia and didn't have the energy to continue with college. She went back to college; we both graduated in 1967.

My parents and my teachers always encouraged me academically. No one one discouraged my dreams. My dreams were distorted because I brought myself up to be one of the guys. I didn't investigate female fields like psychology or early childhood education. My mother was appalled when I dropped out of Stanford's Political Science Ph. D. program, throwing away a chance she never had.

The conflicts between love and achievement were in my psyche. Before my first daughter was born, I assumed I would go back to work full-time. But I fell madly in love and found that spending all my days with young children was the most fascinating, rewarding job I had ever had.

You raise questions I am incapable of answering. For most of human history there was not a split between home and work. Women's work was fully as important as men's work. Both parents were around; they were too busy to spend time stimulating their children. But children watched and participated in the work going on around them.

I don't think men evolved to be fighters and women evolved to do everything else. Women did the work that was compatible with pregnancy, breastfeeding, and caring for children. Men were not so tied down to the homestead.

Since I had children, I have worked mostly as a public librarian, a field dominated by women. Crippled by civil service in too many localities, library careers tend to be hierarchical. You advance by years spent on the job, not by innovative talent.
Sally, I appreciate your encouragement and your excellent questions. How lucky your son was for those five years at home! In 1973, when Anne, my first child, was born, I never anticipated that she would be facing the same difficult choices as women of my generation. I have always believed men can be feminists. Thanks for naming some full-time dads; I will add them as my friends immediately.

My mom only went back to work after I had left for college. And I was home for my daughters. I am sad that daughters will not have that time with their children. Agreed, that most parents don't have the luxury of one staying at home with their babies or toddlers. But some have higher expectations of economic security that we did. We always lived from paycheck to paycheck. We lived in an apartment. The kids knew their choice was the State University of NY or a full tuition scholarship. I believe the first few years of life are more important than any college.

In New York, teachers actually do pretty well with great pensions, because they unionized and were willing to strike. Parents can't go out on strike.
Reniassance Lady,

Your excellent comment raises so many more issues. Elder care is a looming crisis. Women my age spend most of their time discussing their parents. As families get smaller, more of the burden falls on fewer children. The need for child care ends; the need for elder are is entirely unpredictable. Increasingly women lose more work time to elder care than they did to child care.

I took care of my mom in my home for the last 3 1/2 years of her life. Because she had long-term health care insurance, we were entitled to 6 hours of a home health aide daily. We might have had an aide a third of the time. So many of the aides' stories were tragic. None of them had their own cars. Agencies would assign them to places without public transportation; many had to take two buses and a subway to work. Many had left young children in the Caribbean with their families. We paid the agency $18; the aide was lucky to get $8. There was a constant turnover. They sent an 4'11 "aide to care for my 5 ' 8" mother. The first time she tried to help my mother up, she fell into her lab.

We are facing a catastrophic crisis in home care as the baby boomers age.. Medicare and private insurance don't pay for the home car unless you are suffering from an acute medical problem. They don't cover help with the activities of daily living that frail and demented adults require, Medicaid only kicks in if you are absolutely impoverished and skimps on home care. Eventually Medicaid is the primary payer for nursing homes. In the NYC area, a year in a nursing home is well over $100,000 a year. Medicaid could bankrupt most states. All the discussion on health care rarely mentions this problem.

Every single aide we employed and every single nanny in my son's neighborhood is a woman of color. A white woman caring for a toddler is recognized immediately as his grandma. At least in areas with a large immigration population, women's liberation has come at the expense of much poorer women with no job security and few, if any, benefits, separated from her own children. If you stay home and take care of your kids, you are not part of the GNP. If you hire someone to care for your kids while you care for someone's kids, both salaries are counted.

Can the question of money versus worth even be understand in today's capitalistic society?
Two points: as we become more and more of a "service" society, rather than producing goods, the evolving marketplace favors women's natural skills, such as relationships and communicating--not the males--so prospects are good for gals.

Second: women still have a much broader base they can use in forming their identity. A males identity is still based on his ability to compete and to win. When he stops competing and winning he loses almost everything--often even that woman he is competing and trying to win for.

Thirdly: (I lied, I have three points) The problem with "feminism" in my view is that it is an "ism" in the first place--an ideology--and like all ideology it is a projection either of the individual who is putting forth their "perfect world," or acting as a spokesperson for the collective conscience at any particular juncture in history.

I have a hard time with ideology. Hugs,
Ben Sen has a point.

When this "ism" is presented in vast, heroic terms within a relationship (and is paid heed with the best of intentions), but the reality devolves into tangled negotiations about the division of labor in the kitchen, some men, even deeply well-meaning men (such as I have been), find they want to go outside. For a while.

Or longer.
... "or longer"...
It's better to eat bitter herbs in the wood shop all alone,
then quibble with a grouchy pard`nerd. I too can wash
a dish, and pat dry, as if the plate was a soft babies butt.
she has a soft behind when she grows older? Shush ups.
Mary King has become a treasure of wealth. I learnings.
Arthur, I agree. This Mary is something.
Hmmm...interesting. I've personally never thought of men as "the enemy." I see our struggle as being against the patriarchy which I see as a system of privilege. It hurts some men and helps many others. But the basics for me: pass the ERA, equal pay for equal work, equal marriage, protection of bodily autonomy, affordable healthcare and affordable quality childcare for all. Many of these things benefit men as well as women. I want men to join in the fight. In countries where women are educated and able to plan their families and control their reproductive destiny, life expectancy and prosperity increases for all. When women make equal pay, the burden of providing for families need not weigh so heavy on men's shoulders. There should be paternity leave as well as maternity leave. Fathers should be free to stay at home if they wish. I welcome men as feminists.
I don't have a lot to add here, Mary. Another great post and set of comments. I find your musings back then prescient or at least indicative of the real issues, then and now. I do think many feminists see men as the enemy, and I have thought that some have taken feminism in a direction that sold motherhood down the river. I saw my first brand new baby as an opportunity to live out every intellectual principle I'd ever learned--and all that on top of the emotional attachment I felt at his birth. Though I too had expected to go back to work immediately--teaching at the business college--I couldn't do it--literally couldn't go through with it and felt lucky to have a husband who could support us.

I've worked part time on and off over the years and feel completely competent in almost any endeavor I embark upon, including grad school, volunteer work, new jobs, social situations, etc. It's always been difficult for me to get on an anti-male bandwagon--how could I? It's antithetical to my life: I've been frankly supported by a loving, attentive, hardworking, and family-oriented husband, and I have lived with and raised three fine boys who are sensitive, funny, and brilliant. What's not to like? I loathe when friends or neighbors generalize in either direction--and it's often male bashing.

All that having been said, I do look for patterns in the genders and see some things that seem more "male" or more "female." I know it's often said that sexuality is on a continuum, and I'm wondering if gender is, too. Do you know? There do seem to be more masculine men and more feminine men and more masculine women and more feminine women and all the types in between. I'd have to think for a minute to figure out if I'm talking about appearance here or including aggression as well. It's hard to say. I know that I'm much more outgoing and aggressive than my husband, who is fairly mild mannered. When I call him passive-aggressive (which he can be), he shoots back that I'm aggressive-aggressive (which I guess I can be).
Good stuff, Mary. I find pushing myself to consistently go outside of the box is the only thing that will really make me happy in the work field. As a single mom of two, I had no choice but to start working at home. This lead me to really get off my ass and find ways to bring in money, while at the same time, be around for the kids at all hours. Yes, sometimes I could scream because I need adult socializing! (Hence, a place like OS), but the opportunities that have opened up for me and the joy I have had helping the kids along their way would have never come along had I thought like a man. :)
Ben Sen,

You make excellent points, and I accept the third completely--your analysis of feminism as an ism, an ideology.

You write: "as we become more and more of a "service" society, rather than producing goods, the evolving marketplace favors women's natural skills, such as relationships and communicating"
You sell men short and underrate the impact of sexist stereotyping.

Let me talk about the fields I know most about. The fastest growing job field in NY is home health aide. If the sexism could be overcome, men's superior strength would make them better caregivers for the immobile elderly. At least half the aides the home health agencies sent us were physically inadequate for the job of taking care of my mom. My husband was absolutely necessary. We always employed a male physical therapist for my mom.

Men are often superb caregivers of young children. The male children's librarians, teachers of young children, and nurses I have known have all been excellent.

You write: "males identity is still based on his ability to compete and to win. When he stops competing and winning he loses almost everything--" You overlook what I consider the most important male role of all--fatherhood. That is the subject for any number of posts.

Your perceptive comments here and your own blog posts have opened my eyes and clarified my focus. I am grateful.

I greatly appreciate the appreciation:) I have seen what you describe in so many marriages, including my first one. I hope I am wiser now and understand what is truly important. "When the reality devolves into tangled negotiations about the division of labor in the kitchen, some men, even deeply well-meaning men (such as I have been), find they want to go outside. For a while. Or longer."

And everyone suffered. And the children, grown, are desperate to avoid their parents' failures.
Arthur, you always astonish me. I learnings too. Thank you.

I wish your intelligent perspectives had shaped the movement. Our struggle was with the patriarchy, which helps some men but hurts many more. But how many of us succeeded in making that distinction when arguing with the man in our life about housework or child care?

In the last 40 years, caring for children has been drastically devalued, increasingly seen as a job for the poorly paid nanny or child care worker. Even the demand for "affordable quality childcare for all" outsources the job, overlooks the possibility of tax breaks, job protection, or other incentives for parents caring for their own kids. Among my daughters' and my nieces' and nephews' highly educated friends, I know exactly one parent who stayed home full-time with her child for 2 years. That strikes me as a tragedy. These people have choices, but seem afraid to make them.

Even if companies have paternity leave, most men are afraid to take it because they worry no one will ever again see them as serious workers. Our brave new world for women has too often become a nightmare world for children.

If we truly valued children, child care workers would be educated and paid like teachers. Often I am shocked to learn what salary very affluent couples deem adequate for their nannies.

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