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'A New Direction for Feminism'

September 12, 1986

I was impressed with the two articles regarding women. My experience of teaching bright, motivated college women for more than a decade confirms the tensions between family and work that these articles point up.

It also confirms the failure of the women's movement to adequately address the tensions that these women feel. However, that failure is also rooted in the same shortsighted and inadequate analysis of the sources of these tensions that I see in these articles, particularly that of Podhoretz.

Women are not "unwilling to put up with the drudgeries and disappointments of trying to make it in the working world," as Podhoretz says. Nor do they withdraw from it because "they have not wanted to rise as badly as men," as he quotes Michael Levin saying. While sexual discrimination in the workplace is well documented, making it more difficult for women, that too is not the hardest nor most central source of the tensions.

Women who desire marriage and family, which will always, hopefully for our society, be the vast majority, quickly find that the emotional and day-to-day responsibilities remain with them. Even if their partners provide some help, there is almost nothing by way of support that comes from government, society or the workplace.

It is not feminists who first devalued marriage and family but the American government, the job system, and the male value system, which have continually devalued raising children and maintaining families--talk about drudgery and disappointments, the workplace has nothing to compare to that of the homemaker.

Feminists took their stand in order to achieve independence and equality--practically the only two values universally recognized and supported in America. Unfortunately, this caught women, especially educated middle-class women in the middle.

It is a sad irony that mothers are accused of abandoning children for careers on the one hand, and when they succumb to the pressures and guilt they are accused of a lack of genuine desire to work.

Men and women are different. What hurts a mother when things go badly for her children will not usually lead her husband to feel guilty that he dedicated himself to a career; this is simply seen as necessary for men, although some do experience regrets of a different sort and usually later when the children are grown and gone.

When will we realize that both men and women have needs for satisfying work and a satisfying family life? When will the workplace allow both parents to be parents, not just in name but in reality and to the extent that each genuinely chooses? These are such basic freedoms still lacking in the "land of the free."


Los Angeles

Dumont is an associate professor of philosophy and department chair at Mount St. Mary's College.

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