Madeleine Kunin: The New Feminist Agenda
A month that includes a holiday saluting our mothers seems the right time to ask: Can you have it all? Thatís the question many of us are grappling with in a new economy.
Women make up 51% of the population. Weíve fulfilled our grandmotherís ambitions and become more self-sufficient. Weíve fulfilled our motherís dreams and achieved college degrees in ever-increasing numbers. But weíre struggling to balance work and family.
Thatís the issue tackled in former U.S. Ambassador and Vermont Governor Madeleine Kuninís new book, The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family.
I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to stay home with my two children until they were in school, working part time doing payroll for a family business while their father kept working full time. I gave up a career track position in broadcast news to do it, but I did it willingly. I was able to transition into teaching once my children were in school, keeping my hours kid-friendly as they grew up. And I was able to get back into journalism full time once they were grown. I took a tremendous pay cut, but I had the satisfaction of getting back into the work that felt like the best fit for me. It was a choice. It was my choice.
I cannot imagine how women who arenít so lucky manage to hold it all together.
Jane Maas, one of the pioneers of advertising, admitted that her success meant work came first. She considered herself blessed to have found a wonderful woman to be her stand-in when she couldnít be home.
Millions of women cannot afford such peace of mind.
I worked with a woman who had three children. She often came in late or left early. One child had asthma. Another got the flu. Another fell off her bike and needed stitches. Her husband was not part of the equation; he made more money, so if someone had to leave work early, it was going to be mom. And it was costing her. Her yearly evaluation had the same refrain: too much sick time, too many personal days. The message was clear; although she wasnít using more than the time allotted her position, but she wasnít supposed to use it. She was keenly aware that only her union stood between her and a pink slip. She had no choices.
Itís even worse for women at the bottom rung of the pay scale. When the recession began, the experts labeled it a ďhe-cessionĒ. Because women made less, men were the first to be let go. That protection evaporated as the economy languished. Itís now an equal opportunity recession.
That makes Kuninís book an essential read.
The two-wage-earner family is the norm. It has to be. Salaries havenít kept pace with the cost of living. But, Kunin writes, affordable, high-quality childcare, paid family leave and equal pay for equal work remain elusive for most women.
She points out the US is far behind other countries on the gender-equity front, with fewer women holding federal offices and leading the nationís top private companies. This isnít just a numbers game. Women leaders are essential to creating policies that are family-friendly. We donít have enough of them.
This isnít about women versus men. This is about the need to put families first. Kunin argues that the USís unwillingness to prioritize its families puts us at risk of becoming a second-class world citizen. Itís the next generation that is paying for our short-sightedness.
What to do? Kunin argues that a coalition must be built. Men, women, organizations that support the rights of workers, of children, of women, should be organizing together. She points to the impact of the Tea Party, the Occupy Movement, the Arab Spring, as examples of potent direction action. She praises MomsRising, the Internet activist site pushing for family-friendly policies. And she says itís time to embrace a comprehensive family-friend agenda, one that can be the flame to which we hold our legislatorsí reluctant feet.
Feminists, she says, were characterized as ďangry women.Ē I think righteous indignation is a better word, and if ever a cause was worth an explosion of righteous indignation, itís the profit-driven policies in the US that put parents and their children between a rock and a hard place. Our families are treated like outside interests by our government and our employers. They should be everyoneís cause. Weíre shaping our future.
Motherís Day is lip service. We should demand policies that honor mothers, fathers and their children.
Madelaine Kunin appears on 51% starting May 31 Ė show 1194. http://wamc.org/prog-51.html
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Barnett is the producer and host of 51%
The Women’s Perspective,
a weekly women’s issues radio show carried nationally on NPR,
ABC and Armed Forces Radio stations. 51% The Women’s Perspective
is part of WAMC
- Northeast Public Radio's national productions. "The View From Outside," Susan Barnett's new collection of short fiction, is available in eBook format at Amazon and Barnes and Noble through Hen House Press. You can connect with her on Facebook.
Photo by DB Leonard.