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Feminism gone awry??

Some of you might know that I was, briefly, a Women Studies major in college.  Actually, the major was called Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies.  Suffice it to say, all though the major required a lot of critical thinking, I just felt completely out of place.  I disagreed with a lot of the biases the professors had and pretty soon I had hightailed it back to the Government department.

One of the things that always bothered me about feminism – and I’m talking about 2nd wave, classic feminism as most people think of it, which came to a fore in the 1960s and 1970s – is the contention that equality for women meant women achieving what men were achieving.  Climbing the corporate ladder, equal pay for equal work, entry into any profession, pushing the Equal Rights Amendment and so on.

Now while, of course!, I champion equality in the workplace, what I didn’t like about this theory (and still don’t) is that there isn’t appreciation for women being women.  And the movement didn’t work on creating space for women to pursue whatever life goals they had – just the ones that were career oriented.

One recent event and one blog entry demonstrate this pretty clearly.

First, in a “This Week” article, which my dear friend Audrey brought to my attention, Natalie Portman (a fellow Harvard alum, just a few years behind me) was criticized in cyperspace and the real press for her Oscar night acceptance speech where she called her impending motherhood her “most important role.”  WHAT? This seems so strange…. Woman reaches pinnacle of career, receives Best Actress award, expresses appreciation for the ability to bring life into the world and nurture it – and some fellow women are claiming this “undermines her achievements?”

Oh you classic feminists you… aren’t the hoards of women affected by your movement now in their forties and trying desperately to have the children they postponed to pursue their careers enough evidence for you?  While every woman is entitled to decide whether they want to have a child or not, should we not embrace the next generation’s insistence on pursuing both tracks and loving it? Isn’t feminism really supposed to be about creating opportunities for women to pursue whichever (or both) path(s) that they desire?

Which brings me to my next point.  The Motherlode blog, one of my faves, on the NYTimes website, recently had a post about a study which equated the lack of paid maternity leave in the United States to a gross human rights violation.  Now while I probably wouldn’t have gone that far, the statistics Lisa Belkin brought to bear from the study are pretty astonishing…

“at least 178 countries have national laws that guarantee paid leave for new mothers, and more than 50 also guarantee paid leave for new fathers. More than 100 offer 14 or more weeks of paid leave for new mothers — including Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The 34 members of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), among the world’s most developed countries, provide on average 18 weeks of paid maternity leave, with an average of 13 weeks at full pay. Additional paid parental leave for fathers and mothers is available in most OECD countries.”

We are 178th on the list??? I mean, I knew there was something wrong… but that bad?? Whoa.

Which makes me think back to my classic feminists… While they were agitating for equal right and equal pay, the work/life balance women are struggling with today wasn’t really considered.  Granted, women needed to first be able to have careers and be freed of the guilt to also have children before we could deal with this problem…

But then, maybe it’s time for the next wave of feminism to take hold?  The one that demands that the State recognize the importance of family and motherhood (and fatherhood) and support it?  Yes, there are questions about financing such a program and that’s probably particularly an issue these days… but how much longer should women have to fight to be able to take paid leave to stay home with their children.  I know I had to go back to work after only THREE weeks because my organization had no official maternity policy and they scoffed at the idea of paying my entire salary for someone who was just sitting home with a baby.  And this is supposedly a family-friendly organization.

What about the women who can’t afford to take unpaid maternity leave?  I believe that brings in a whole socioeconomic issue.  Is that situation contributing to the downfall of the lower classes?

These are all just questions, but good questions I think.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Categories: Me
  1. March 7, 2011 at 1:13 am

    In Sweden, a place I have visited several times, it is the couple’s choice whether they prefer to take maternity or paternity leave. They also have decent working hours which allow parents to see their families in the evenings rather than just have time to put kids to bed.

  2. May 19, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    This is not so much about classical feminism is it is about uncritically obeying the corporate system. It would do both women AND men good if there were more options to stay at home, work from home or work less hours. Feminism should not be the yardstick to measure corporate success but access to equal opportunities and personal fulfillment. I am grateful for feminism’s gains but also know that the story doesn’t end here. When done right, gender equality can liberate both genders: because it gives people CHOICE. And once people have choice, they can truly COMMIT to what they are passionate about.

    Bivrachah,
    This Good Life

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