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“Muting Women”: Like A Sailboat On A Lake With No Wind, The Status Of Women Is Stuck In A Lull

What a surprise. Men are drowning out women in the public conversation, a new report from the Women’s Media Center tells us.

Actually, it is a surprise to learn just how bad it is, as if there never was a women’s movement launched by Betty Friedan’s classic, The Feminine Mystique, 50 years ago, which decried the quiet desperation of domestic suburbia.

Fifty years ago is long enough for a cultural forgetfulness to fall over us and long enough for a hostile camp of enemies to make their living mocking women’s empowerment—and yes, I mean you, Rush Limbaugh, most of all. You are the self-appointed keeper of the patriarchy’s keys. The medieval archbishops of the Catholic Church are vigilant in the war on women. The mean-spirited men of the Supreme Court can be counted on, too, ready to usurp our human rights if the “right” opportunity presents itself. Meanwhile, Michelle Obama has new bangs.

In other words, ladies, things are not getting better for us in the 21st century. The recession has been rough on everyone, but especially for our place in the workplace world. As a journalist, let me share some numbers that show you how the conversational monopoly works. In the 2012 presidential campaign, male bylines outnumbered female bylines by nearly three to one, according to he Women’s Media Center. Newspaper decision-makers are usually male in these tight times, as are the subjects of most front-page stories, even obituaries. Then the echo chamber takes effect, because men are far more likely to be quoted than their female colleagues in public discussions—especially on politics.

The Sunday talk shows, the power listening posts of the Washington establishment, predominantly invite men as their guests. But here’s the thing: only 14 percent of the interviewed guests and 29 percent of the roundtable guests are women, according to the report. The hosts conducting the dialogue are predominantly male. Avuncular, authoritative Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation is by far the best of ’em.

Women protested this state of affairs at the ballot box last fall. Twenty women senators are now serving, more than ever before. Is this a critical mass that will change the conversation, or the conversationalists? Let’s see.

I remember being in a panel cable interview after the State of the Union with two good guys—Howard Fineman and Steve Roberts. I had something sparkling to say but even I was drowned out by these older silver-tongued pros, who later apologized for being “the two biggest airhogs in Washington.” It’s a salty slice of memory. Men are just used to talking over women, just as boys talk over girls, like breathing. It happens all the time in Washington. What made Hillary Clinton’s verbal victory over her attacking jousters in her valedictory Senate hearing so extraordinary was because it was, well, extraordinary in this talkative town. She lifted morale all over for Washington women.

To our rescue comes Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, who is lighting a match to start a “Lean In” movement. More on that another day as it gets underway. Consider the Oscars: Daniel Day-Lewis was honored for playing the greatest president and humanitarian in our history while Jennifer Lawrence won for playing a wifely female stereotype. As I listened to two male critics from the New York Times website comment on every single Academy scene in the show, it felt relentlessly normal. We are such good listeners.

The status of women is stuck in a lull, like a sailboat on a lake with no wind. And we are the ones who have to start speaking our views and telling our stories—to borrow from radical abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison—so that we will be heard.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, February 25, 2013

February 27, 2013 Posted by | Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Golden Age Of Motherhood That Never Existed

One of the most enduring myths about feminism is that 50 years ago women who stayed home full time with their children enjoyed higher social status and more satisfying lives than they do today. All this changed, the story goes, when Betty Friedan published her 1963 best seller, “The Feminine Mystique,” which denigrated stay-at-home mothers. Ever since, their standing in society has steadily diminished.

That myth — repeated in Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly’s new book, “The Flipside of Feminism” — reflects a misreading of American history. There was indeed a time when full-time mothers were held in great esteem. But it was not the 1950s or early 1960s. It was 150 years ago. In the 19th century, women had even fewer rights than in the 1950s, but society at least put them on a pedestal, and popular culture was filled with paeans to their self-sacrifice and virtue.

When you compare the diaries and letters of 19th-century women with those of women in the 1950s and early 1960s, you can see the greater confidence of the earlier mothers about their value to society. Many felt they occupied a “nobler sphere” than men’s “bank-note” world.

The wife of the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sophia, told her mother that she did not share her concerns about improving the rights of women, because wives already exerted “a power which no king or conqueror can cope with.” Americans of the era believed in “the empire of the mother,” and grown sons were not embarrassed about rhapsodizing over their “darling mama,” carrying her picture with them to work or war.

In the early 20th century, under the influence of Freudianism, Americans began to view public avowals of “Mother Love” as unmanly and redefine what used to be called “uplifting encouragement” as nagging. By the 1940s, educators, psychiatrists and popular opinion-makers were assailing the idealization of mothers; in their view, women should stop seeing themselves as guardians of societal and familial morality and content themselves with being, in the self-deprecating words of so many 1960s homemakers, “just a housewife.”

Stay-at-home mothers were often portrayed as an even bigger menace to society than career women. In 1942, in his best-selling “Generation of Vipers,” Philip Wylie coined the term “momism” to describe what he claimed was an epidemic of mothers who kept their sons tied to their apron strings, boasted incessantly of their worth and demanded that politicians heed their moralizing.

Momism became seen as a threat to the moral fiber of America on a par with communism. In 1945, the psychiatrist Edward Strecher argued that the 2.5 million men rejected or discharged from the Army as unfit during World War II were the product of overly protective mothers.

In the same year, an information education officer in the Army Air Forces conjectured that the insidious dependency of the American man on “ ‘Mom’ and her pies” had “killed as many men as a thousand German machine guns.” According to the 1947 best seller “Modern Woman: The Lost Sex,” two-thirds of Americans were neurotic, most of them made so by their mothers.

Typical of the invective against homemakers in the 1950s and 1960s was a 1957 best seller, “The Crack in the Picture Window,” which described suburban America as a “matriarchal society,” with the average husband “a woman-bossed, inadequate, money-terrified neuter” and the average wife a “nagging slob.” Anti-mom rhetoric was so pervasive that even Friedan recycled some of this ideology in “The Feminine Mystique” — including the repellent and now-discredited notion that overly devoted mothers turned their sons into homosexuals.

For their part, stay-at-home mothers complained of constant exhaustion. According to the most reliable study of all data available in the 1960s, full-time homemakers spent 55 hours a week on domestic chores, much more than they do today. Women with young children averaged even longer workweeks than that, and almost every woman I’ve interviewed who raised children in that era recalled that she rarely got any help from her husband, even on weekends.

In the 1946 edition of his perennial best seller, “Baby and Child Care,” Dr. Benjamin Spock suggested that Dad might “occasionally” change a diaper, give the baby a bottle or even “make the formula on Sunday.” But a leading sociologist of the day warned that a helpful father might be suspected of “having a little too much fat on the inner thigh.”

Not surprisingly, these social norms led to widespread feelings of inadequacy and depression among stay-at-home mothers. “The female doesn’t really expect a lot from life,” a mother told pollsters from Gallup in a survey in 1962. “She’s here as someone’s keeper — her husband’s or her children’s.”

Study after study found that homemakers had lower self-esteem than women who took paid employment, even when it came to assessing their skills as parents. They experienced higher levels of stress and greater vulnerability to depression than women with paying jobs. And they had few legal rights: wives had little protection against abusive husbands, and only eight states in 1963 gave a homemaker any claim on her husband’s earnings.

Contrary to myth, “The Feminine Mystique” and feminism did not represent the beginning of the decline of the stay-at-home mother, but a turning point that led to much stronger legal rights and “working conditions” for her.

Domestic violence rates have fallen sharply for all wives, employed or not. As late as 1980, approximately 30 percent of wives said their husbands did no housework at all. By 2000, only 16 percent of wives made that statement and almost one-third said their husbands did half of all housework, child care or both.

Most researchers agree that these changes were spurred by the entry of wives and mothers into the work force. But full-time homemakers have especially benefited from them.

From 1975 to 1998 men married to full-time homemakers increased their contributions to housework as much, proportionally, as men whose wives were employed. And from 1965 to 1995, homemakers decreased their own housework hours more than did wives in dual-earner families. As a result, most stay-at-home mothers now have shorter total workweeks than their husbands.

There also seems to have been a significant shift in the relationship between depression and homemaking. Stay-at-home mothers still recount more feelings of loneliness than working mothers. But in a new Council on Contemporary Families briefing paper, the sociologists Margaret Usdansky and Rachel A. Gordon report that among mothers of young children, those who were not working and preferred not to have a job had a relatively low risk of depression — about as low as mothers who chose to work and were able to attain high-quality jobs.

Mothers who want to work outside the home but instead are full-time homemakers, however, have a higher risk of depression.  This is a significant group: in 2000, 40 percent of full-time homemakers said they would prefer to be working at a paid job. So telling women who want to work that they or their children will be better off if they stay home is a mistake. Maternal depression is well known as being harmful to children’s development.

These findings suggest that it is time to stop arguing over who has things worse or who does things better, stay-at-home mothers or employed mothers. Instead, we should pay attention to women’s preferences and options.

Feminism has also fostered increased respect for men’s ability and desire to be involved parents. So we should also pay attention to expanding men’s ability to choose greater involvement in family life, just as we have expanded women’s ability to choose greater involvement in meaningful work.

While stay-at-home mothers may not have the aura of saintliness with which they were endowed in the 19th century, it’s indisputable that their status and lives have improved since their supposed heyday in the 1950s. On this Mother’s Day, it’s too bad that nostalgia for a golden age of motherhood that never existed still clouds our thinking about what’s best for mothers, fathers and their children.

By: Stephanie Coontz, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, May 7, 2011

May 8, 2011 Posted by | Equal Rights, Politics, Women, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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