Have you heard about Friedan’s follow-up book, The Second Stage? It was published in the early 1980s. In it, she wrote,
I believe that feminism must, in fact, confront the family . if the movement is to fulfill its own revolutionary function in modern society. Otherwise it will abort or be put on history’s shelf its real promise and significance obscured, distorted, by its denial of life’s reality for too many millions of women. Locked into reaction against women’s role in the family of the past, we could blindly emulate an obsolete narrow male role in corporate bureaucracy which seems to have more power, not understanding that the power and the promise of the future lie in transcending that absolute separation of the sex roles, in work and family.
Betty Friedan goes on to ponder why feminists who succeeded in passing laws that support women in school and in the workplace didn’t put as much energy and passion into creating support for parents. With 80 percent of American women destined to become mothers, she argued that unless we create workplaces and national policies that support mothers so they can work, we would see women’s advancement stalled.
Philadelphia Gas Works Careers Photo Gallery
She was right. As of this writing, it’s been thirty-five years since she wrote her second book and the paltry numbers of women in leadership bear her out. It’s no wonder Sheryl Sandberg has been driven to call on the next generation to “lean in.” It’s a much-needed and admirable goal, but unless we change how we treat workers with caregiving responsibilities, my guess is we’ll find the movement still stalled thirty years from now.
I believe the conversation around caregiving is at the heart of the next feminist frontier. It’s time we broadened our efforts as feminists from a laser-like focus on advancing women professionally to an expanded discussion of what it means to be an American with caregiving responsibilities. Professional women want it. Under-resourced women need it. And men are ready to join the fight for it.
We need to stop making the notion of caregiving an individual woman’s “choice” and realize it is an economic and political issue. And how do we do that? By recognizing that the personal is political.
It’s time we broadened our efforts as feminists from a laser-like focus on advancing women professionally to an expanded discussion of what it means to be an American with caregiving responsibilities.
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