Rita Kramer's article (Editorial Pages, Aug. 21), "A New Direction for Feminism, Equality is Giving Way to Working Women's Special Needs," has focused upon vital mid-1980s social issues. Kramer perpetuates, however, some faulty notions regarding the women's movement, its ideal agenda, as well as its impact upon American society.
Even though some harmful unintended consequences of certain changes in the law may exist (Kramer mentions liberalized divorce laws and their deleterious effects on women and their children), most surveys have shown that the majority of women do support the equal rights amendment.
For example, a 1983 national survey of women aged 21 to 35 revealed that two-thirds of them supported the amendment. In fact, far from shifting priority from abortion rights and the ERA--which remain the foundation of women's autonomy--the "disenchantment," which Kramer identifies, represents both an expansion of the feminist agenda and a recognition that it is indeed becoming democratized, that it is finally being embraced by the vast majority of working women, women who work out of economic necessity.
Common to both Kramer's analysis and to Norman Podhoretz's adjacent article (which analyzes a purported return to the home on the part of executive women) is a neglect of the economic and social forces that have tripled the number of mothers in the work force since 1950.
Kramer attributes this getting out of the home to "20 years of feminist progress" when it might be at least equally valid to attribute feminist progress to women's acting on their perceptions of their double-bind status as more and more of them have entered the work force.
For his part, Podhoretz focuses on a few elite women "dropouts" from the job market and then goes on to generalize that these women have "always" known that women's "natures," "needs" and "desires" differ from those of men.
Although the media have swamped us in recent years with stories about "househusbands" and men taking paternity leave, I would blush to follow Podhoretz's example and argue that these men have "always" known that they thereby are expressing the true nature of men.
If some working women are diverting more energy to child care than their husbands, it is not, as Podhoretz believes, because they have a nature-given greater intensity of desire to care for them; it is simply because women have interacted at greater length with their children and are therefore more sensitive to the needs of their children. Of course, the full force of society's condemnation of child neglect falls almost wholly upon mothers, and the definition of what constitutes "neglect" has been continuously expanding.
Moreover, it is beginning to dawn on men as well as on women that a relationship just might exist between quality--and quantity--of parenting, on the one hand, and school test scores, dropout rates, incidence of teen pregnancy, as well as rates of various kinds of chemical dependency in adolescents, on the other hand. Superwoman, Mr. Podhoretz, met her Kriptonite long ago in the form of rising expectations and her two full-time jobs.
The question is not one, as Kramer argues, of abandoning the old agenda of reproductive and legislative rights for women, nor is it, as Podhoretz reasons, one of women's abandoning the quest for vocational achievement. Rather, it is a question of expanding the feminist agenda to include the vast majority of women who have no choice but to work and of transforming that agenda to include the possibility of non-career damaging sabbaticals for both fathers and mothers. Then, and only then, will America become in reality what many view it to be in ideology, i.e., a "child-centered" society.
Morrow is an instructor of women's studies at Saddleback Community College.