Feminism, Home, and Work
This is a comment I wrote in response to an article by Sally Quinn about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In, published in the Washington Post, March 14, 2013. I couldn’t figure out how to post it there, but I was so angered that I wanted to post my response somewhere.
“The personal is political” was the cry of 20th century feminism, indicating our belief that women’s problems required basic structural changes in society, not merely individuals making new choices. Friedan, Steinem, Sheryl Sandberg and Sally Quinn are not representative of the larger feminist movement that worked for political and institutional change. They were part of a small but vocal minority who had the resources which enabled them to combine work and family in a comfortable balance. Most women then and now have not had that option. By choice and necessity, some of us do not have husbands to split the workload and financial burden. Most women, single or married, are forced into a job or a career and have to make the best of their increased responsibilities. Yes, health and child-rearing are suffering with women’s increased employment, but individual women and their husbands are not the problem. Balancing home and work is a critical problem for both genders, but we need political solutions not personal ones.
We need to stop thinking of women’s issues only in terms of the personal choices that only a few individual elite women can make. We need a new wave of feminism that addresses the obstacles that all employed mothers face. We need to be increasing wages and improving working conditions, childcare, and available health and reproductive choice so that all of us can benefit from a society that nurtures women who must combine motherhood with earning a living. Instead, we face conservative political leaders whose drive for austerity disproportionally harms women and makes it harder for them to meet their conflicting responsibilities. This is not an issue about “Style,” the section of the paper where the original article was published. These are political issues that affect women’s personal lives.