Update on Modern Feminism

February 6, 2006

Salon online ran a thoughtful column on Betty Friedan’s passing and what it means to modern feminists. Most refreshing was the writer’s emphasis on the need to respect all women for their choices in life, including those pesky affluent women who choose to leave a fast-track career to stay home with their children.

To try to silence it again, to simply say that staying home, even working part-time, is antifeminist, is a step back, not forward. For all sorts of psychological and economic reasons, the lure of domesticity, which almost ensures a kind of dependence on a partner, remains strong to many women. Sometimes I think it’s that women want more than many men — absorbing careers, but time for their families, too. There’s a socially transformative impulse in their wanting more that we can’t afford to ignore. Ignoring that pull is wrong; judging all women who succumb to it as not feminist is wrong; answering it with “Look at the divorce rate, don’t give up your career,” is at best unpersuasive to someone whose marriage seems fine. We can’t afford a “which side are you on?” approach to these questions in 2006. It’s just a new kind of mystique, when what we need is compassion and clarity.

There is no better way to honor Friedan than to put the “mommy wars” to rest.