Thursday, February 19, 2004

Feminism Old and New

Part of the reason I find this whole childcare debate interesting is that it looks like feminism is swinging off into several different directions.

There's the old school feminists, represented in part by Ehrenreich. Their aim was to get women into the workforce. Here they succeeded. But it also minimized the obstacles that working mothers would face. Their utopian notions of cheap, perfect childcare with fully supportive mates never materialized. They undermined the self esteem of at-home mothers and minimized the importance of their labor. They have also removed a whole set of questions from discussion, i.e. what about the kids?

Now there's the new wave of women. They've given up on their spouses and given up on government sponsored childcare. But they've been taught by the first generation that careers are good and that you could have it all. They are finding it tough.

Some continue down the road of the old libbers, but hire nannies and cleaning ladies to help them. As much men should share in the guilt and the worry over these hires, it does seem to fall on the laps of women.

And another 50% stay home. There are the Ann Crittenden/Lisa Belkin stay at home moms and then there are the more radical La Leche-sling variety. I am very interested in these groups as their become more organized and more radical. They consider themselves to be feminists, too. Though pretty much everybody is annoyed with the old libbers, because they feel deceived by false promises of career and family.

There is a lot of tension between these groups. It came out particularly in those letters in Slate. Sara Mosle says I'm paying my nanny fairly, why should I be guilty. Flanagan says lots of nannies aren't paid well, and don't forget them. Ehrenreich, who didn't even read Flanagan's article all the way through, gets all defensive about her daughter who is a law professor and has her kid in childcare. She thinks Flanagan is attacking her daughter and deriding the feminist legacy. It would have been interesting to see commentary from those who stay home. I like a good fight.

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