Under present conditions, the intense consciousness raising about the “rightness” of personal choices that worked so well in the early days of the women’s movement will end up escalating the divisive finger-pointing that stands in the way of political reform.
Our goal should be to develop work-life policies that enable people to put their gender values into practice. So let’s stop arguing about the hard choices women make and help more women and men avoid such hard choices. To do that, we must stop seeing work-family policy as a women’s issue and start seeing it as a human rights issue that affects parents, children, partners, singles and elders. Feminists should certainly support this campaign. But they don’t need to own it.
Historian Stephanie Coontz, author of the indispensable A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, on why gender equality stalled as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s classic treatise.