October 14, 2015

1971, Age 25, Doubts about Feminism

 I was very active in the feminist movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although I described myself as a radical feminist, I always had misgivings. I explore them in this unedited journal entry from October 1971. Talking about a 20-hour work week seems preposterous now, but it seemed a realistic goal once upon a time in the 1970's.

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 many 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 times Women's Liberation is vulgarly careerist. There is very little speculation on changing the nature of work. There is no recognition that women’s jobs, not men’s jobs, may be the desirable jobs of the future. Many 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 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. The movement often seems to accept this definition of creativity. There is no recognition that post -revolution many, if not most, women might have less creative jobs than they do now. Volunteers are often allowed more autonomy and outlet for imaginative change than regular staff would be permitted,

Emphasis could have been completely different. Feminists need not have accepted the male value that your job is everything, completely determining your value and what people think of you. Alternatives include--more leisure, 20 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 woman 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? I seem to be getting away from 20-hour week. If all men and women worked, the work week probably would be less than 20 hours. Low productivity and make work have kept the work week from declining for over 20 years. Even without women’s going to work en masse, it might sink to 30 hours.


cerebralmum said...

This makes me think of something Greer said in - oh, I can't remember which book, my baby-brain. It was along the lines of when feminism is weighed up, Western women will be on the wrong side.

I wish feminism was not such a dirty word these days. i can understand, I think, how radical and reactionary those days were, I and think they were important, but I wish we could find a way to build a more inclusive feminism now, without so much many antipathies, and so much victim politics. What a wonderful thing that would be.

Grandma Mary Joan said...

Often, I think it would be valuable for me to reread authors like Greer, Kate Millett, Friedan, and DeBeauvoir and write about my reactions now. My daughters don't think about feminism, but they do live it. I agree with you about building inclusive feminism. In the last years of my mother's life, I cam to know and admire many home health aides, and I had to wonder what feminism had ever done for them.

Cynthia said...

Mary Joan, may I recommend "The Fountain of Age" by Friedan. I think (I might be wrong) it was her last book. It reflected changes in the movements, or at least as she percieved it, and also changes in our lives as we mature. But more than that it addressed the whole area of the 'oppressed aged'-- people who have had to roll over by virtue of their having diminished health and supports as they grow older, and a youth-based elite. I think that middle-class white women have a better go of aging, but it is definitely difficult for women of color who never get to the place of financial security and who might be hundreds/nay, thousands of miles from any family supports, etc. Friedan, as she aged, was struck by the similarity between the Women's Movement of the 60s and the needs of the Aging in the 80s/90s... similar issues.

Gr3tch3n said...

I love all the observations you make here. As a part-time consultant at home with my preschooler, I feel I "have it all" for now...but life is long and things change. The whole paid-work-as-hold-grail thing somehow took over major swaths of feminism and it's very offputting for me and some of my friends, but it's great to read voices that talk BEYOND that, as I think both moms and dads and all people are getting worn down from overwork in America.

Redstocking Grandma said...

Gr3tch3n, once upon a time in the early 70s, a much shorter work week seemed possible. Instead the work week has gotten much longer. I don't see how excellent day care can be affordable if teachers are paid what they are worth. Free public education probably should start at 3. In an ideal world, children under 3 would be cared for by people who will love them all their lives--parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, close friends.

Shana Xavier said...

Found your blog by a comment you left on "the broad side".. So glad I stumbled here! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I love your comment on communal child raising.

Paul Wilson said...

I'm glad that our conversation this morning proved to be as productive as it was.

In response to your blog post, I think that nowadays there are so many negative connotations that come along with calling yourself a feminist for several reasons. When you introduce yourself as a feminist and the other person is up to date and knows what the modern strain of feminism is all about. They will automatically assume that you support the feminist side of issues such as gamergate. That you think that every possible popularity contest should be shut down. The most ironic thing about feminists nowadays is their inane double standards. This is a movement that should empower women, yet many feminists nowadays think that the idea of a woman showing off her 'goodies' is completely disgusting. I would go as far to say that there are feminists out there that would prefer if every woman in America walked around wearing burkas. Meanwhile they condemn countries in the east for doing this calling them disgustingly misogynistic. They take problems that all of humankind have to deal with such as rape and the objectification and sexualization of people and say that it's a woman problem. Meanwhile the only RATIONAL way to look at these things is that whenever these things are done it's a blow to ALL of humankind. Not just womankind! The whole human race is BLEEDING when someone is raped, regardless of gender. That's why the only rational way of thinking is to be a humanist.

As for what you've said about Hillary Clinton. You even told me that there are many things wrong with her as a presidential candidate. Of COURSE it would be an incredible step forward to have a woman in office. And if Hillary were to win young women would definitely be more empowered as individuals. But that's not how history will see it. If the first female president in America's history does poorly how do you think that will effect women of the future. When we are blessed with our first female president, she needs to do a good job in office in order for the future of womankind to be a positive one. The best possible thing for future generations of women would be for a female presidential candidate to work her way into office because she deserved it.

Just like how affirmative action is bad minorities because we are not supporting them to be innovative and productive. In the same way a woman should only make it into office based on her credentials. Unless you are absolutely POSITIVE that Hillary is the BEST presidential candidate out there right now. Voting for her would go against your good intentions for the women of America.

And I mean she clearly isn't. She has constantly changed her political views based on what is currently the popular opinion. You can't say that she is just "willing to adapt." It's too much of a coincidence that she has 'adapted' to every single opinion that was popular for its time. Someone who has such a weak moral compass in my opinion is very unlikely to follow through with their promises.