for Discussion: What are some
major problems women face trying to
balance their jobs and family in the late
1900s and early 2000s?
Reading: Hymowitz, pp. 361-373; Painful
Faludi "Blame it on Feminism" (web)
The Backlash against Women
the 1980s and 1990s
The Struggle for Women's
Women's Lives in the 1990s
Women and Poverty in the
1. Women's Lives in the 1980s
1. What are the major problems facing black
and working-class women in American society?
2. How did consciousness-raising groups
affect the women's movement in the 1970s?
3. What does Hymowitz mean when she argues
that "the underlying message feminists communicated was the
women's liberation 'is as much a state of mind as a movement'"?
4. According to Hymowitz, how has women's
lives and attitudes changed in the last ten years?
5. Do you agree with Hymowitz that one of
the remaining obstacles to women gaining full equality is that responsibility
for the home and children still largely rests with women?
6. If men are unwilling to share equally with
women the responsiblity for the home and children, can women ever
achieve full equality with men in American society?
7. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, what are
some of the major obstacles professional women face in developing
8. Why is being a woman all too often seen
as an obstacle to advancement by American corporations?
of equality for women is supported in the abstract,
but the institutional changes needed to make
that idea a reality still meet with great institutional resistance.
"Women's place in the family and her position
in the labor force remain the cornerstones of her oppression.
While feminists have encouraged women to reject traditional
sex roles at home and on the job, there has
been little change in public policy to bolster women in this effort.
Child care and household labor are still
viewed as 'women's work.'
".....[T]here must be public recognition for the factthat
the responsibility for home and children belongs
equally to both sexes." (p. 372)
"Americans in general remained hostile
to feminism. Other reform movements
embraced abstractly; they called on people to change
the world. The women's rights movement made people angry
because it asked them to change themselves.
the most personal relationships in people's lives. Feminists asked
men and women to think of themselves in new ways and to relate
differently to each other. If wives, mothers, daughters
changed, husbands, fathers, and sons would be called upon to change
as well. Home and family would be altered." (Hymowitz,
change in the nature of male and female roles
thus automatically affects the home, the economy,
the school, and perhaps above all, the definition of who
we are as human beings."
......William Chafe, A History of Our Time
The larger question we still need to
answer is this: What is it about changing roles for women that threaten
the larger American society and make it resistance to granting women
full equality with men? Despite the passage of laws protecting women
from social and economic discrimination, women still face widespread
discrimination that tries to force them to accept their second-class
status in American society. Chafe raises this very question in his
survey of the changing roles and opportunities for women:
"But social change did not mean
social reform, nor did it signify intentionality on the part of
those with power in the society. As we have seen, all the structural
barriers to equality remained in place. Women were still paid less,
even in the war when government policy said otherwise; they were
segregated--increasingly--into "women's work," especially
in the clerical sales, and service fields; and to an ever growing
degree, they bore the brunt of the country's social problems, whether
divorce, impoverishment, teenage pregnancy, or domestic violence."
Chafe concludes that despite the fact
that more women were working, and it was now acceptable for women
at any stage of their life to work outside of the home, women's
"status has deteriorated rather than improved. Average wages
went down, poverty rates went up, discrimination remained."
So how do we explain this deteriorating social status for women
despite some of the major victories of the women's movement?
First of all, we need to recognize
that as a result of these successes, the women's movement and women's
rights have come under attack by both conservative men and women
and religious fundamentalists. Susan Faludi refers to this conservative
counterattack against women's rights as the "Backlash."
For a good summary review of her book, Backlash, see Review:
Backlash, The Undeclared War Against American Women, by Susan Faludi.
Faludi argues that in the 1980s and 1990s conservatives and American
business and economic interests worked to undermine the gains that
women had won in the 1960s and 1970s.
The larger irony of this cultural and
political backlash against women is that women are the majority
of the population; women are about 52 percent of American society.
So clearly, despite conservative claims to the contrary, women aren't
a minority or a special interest. How, then, can economic and political
forces attack women without fearing their political and social retribution
because of their large numbers? The answer, as Chafe argues, is
that women are not seen and do not act as a single political force.
American women are divided by race, class, cultural, and religious
lines. Many women of color and working-class women suspect, and
are sometimes even hostile, to to goals of the larger women's movement,
which they often see as white and middle-class. But these race and
class and cultural divisions can't explain the real political and
cultural weakness of women in late twentieth-century American society.
We need to now look at women's larger
role in American society and ask this question: What is it about
women's roles that makes changes in their role so threatening to
powerful economic, political, and cultural interests in our society?
We can answer this question, in part, by looking at the handout,
"Painful Choices," and the video, Hillary's Class.
The larger dilemma that women face is that despite their increasing
economic opportunities their success is limited by the traditional
roles that American society still expects that to carry out. In
the 1970s, some advertisers were telling women, "you can have
it all." Many young women in the 1970s believed that they could
go out and compete with men in the business, political, and cultural
world and have successful careers while at the same time being successful
wives and mothers, raising healthy children, having happy, loving
marriages, and finding personal satisfaction and happiness. Many
middle-class women in the 1970s tried to have it all; and the media
scornfully referred to these women as "supermoms," the
implication being that you would have to be a superhuman woman to
manage all these competing conflicts and needs.
By the late 1970s and early 1980s,
partly as a result of the conservative Backlash against the women's
movement, cultural and political leaders were accusing women of
being responsible for the increasing divorce rates, rising drug-use
and delinquency, undermining family values, and threatening the
true role of women, which was to be nurturing, caring, supportive,
other-directed, self-effacing, and loving. Critics charged that
in trying to become like men, women were undermining society and
their true natures as women. In fact, some critics charged that
if women would stay at home, their would be more jobs for men, who
really needed the money to support their families.
But these criticisms in some way miss
the larger problem: How had women's entering into the workforce,
struggling to have successful careers and play larger roles in society,
changed or threatened the traditional roles of men? American men
traditionally have been able to rely on their wife's support for
their careers, caring for their children, families, and marriages,
and work maintaining the household. Relying on their wives' support,
men were then free to sacrifice their children, their families,
and their marriages for their careers. If men didn't have supportive
wives, or were forced to play a larger role with the children, family,
and marriage, they wouldn't be able to achieve success and status
in our competitive, hierarchical, status-conscious society. Faced
with increasing demands by their wives and girlfriends in the 1970s
and 1980s, many men felt threatened by women's equality and women's
changing roles. As a result, many marriages ended in divorce, families
were torn apart, and men divorced their aging wives for younger,
more submissive wives. But this still isn't the whole story.
In the 1970s and 1980s, as some women
tried to successfully compete with men for high-status jobs and
careers, they were confronted with a serious dilemma. If men's success
was in part based on their ability to sacrifice their children,
families, and marriages to their careers, how could women compete
with men except by adopting the same strategy. This often meant
that successful women didn't marry, didn't have children, or didn't
have successful relationships with men. Because women had always
played the supportive role that allowed men to be competitive in
our larger society, who was now going to support women? But unlike
men, many women realized that they weren't willing to sacrifice
their children, families, and marriages to their career. So would
could these women do?
Faced with this dilemma, many women
chose to have children and support their families and marriages
at the expense of their careers. Even after companies had spent
thousands and thousands of dollars training and helping professional
women climb up the corporate ladder, they would let them go when
these women asked to be given flexible working hours in order to
better support their children and families. At first this doesn't
seem like a wise economic move, but think about it. Companies can
always find both men and women who will work long hours and sacrifice
their own lives, children, and marriages to their career. As long
as women, like men, put their companies and careers first they will
be able to climb up the corporate and social ladder.
The larger conclusion is that it is
not just men's fault for refusing to accept women's changing roles.
As long as the dominant American economic and social institutions
pressure both men and women to sacrifice their families and lives
for their careers, women will not be able to reconcile their competing
desires for successful careers and and a happy marriage, children,
and family. But the same holds true for men. Men won't be willing
to spend more time with their wives, children, and families if doing
so will threaten their careers and social status. Faced with this
larger economic and social dilemma, women are now bearing the brunt
of our society's lack of support and concern for children, families,
and marriages. Raised to think that women are the ones who should
always be the first to sacrifice themselves for others, professional
women are more likely to quit their jobs to support their children
and their husband's careers. And if they don't, their husbands and
societies tend to blame them for juvenile delinquency, the breakdown
of the family, divorce, drug-use, and every kind of social and cultural
Women will not achieve full equality
with men in American society until our society changes its understanding
of the importance of marriage, the family, and children. By not
valuing and supporting both women and men who care for and nurture
their marriages and families, American society is in part responsible
for the breakdown of family values, divorce, juvenile delinquency,
and other serious social and cultural dysfunctions. Faced with the
results of society's lack of support for these growing problems,
women are still the ones to sacrifice their lives and careers for
the good of their families, marriages, and society. As a result,
despite women's increasing legal equality, American women are seeing
their economic and social and political status decline. As the American
standard of living and the quality of life has continued to decline
since the 1970s, women, children, and families have bore the brunt
of the suffering and misery. How American men and society will respond
to these problems in the future is still anyone's guess. Too often
today, American men and society try to ignore women's, children's,
and families' suffering. And this is a real tragedy for men, women,
children, and the larger American society.