Committee Of Correspondence

Women in America

Betty Friedan
9:30 a.m.  Thursday  11/14/96 

       From my feminism as I defined it, man was never the enemy. Some men were the enemy and they had to be fought as such–whether they were bosses, politicians, or bishops. When women broke through the feminine mystique and stopped defining themselves in terms of men, they sometimes took out on their own husbands the anger at the put-down situation that they had been in. But their husbands were trapped in the same obsolete sex roles that they were. And when a man had to carry the whole burden, he didn’t necessarily have so much power either. So to make men the enemy at this point is a cheap trick. On the other hand, we have to watch it, because there is a backlash going on.
       As we move closer to equality, and women and men share burdens and joys and have more freedom, there is lots of evidence that this is good for marriage. However, there are some dangerous signs of backlash. For example, at Mitsubishi in Illinois, some of the only good jobs around were at that plant, and women were getting those jobs. Men were threatened and took it out by the crude, vicious mistreatment of the women. These new revelations about the army are also serious stuff.
       Clinton was elected by an overwhelming majority of women voting for him over Dole. And yet, what do we hear since the election? That he is going to turn his back on liberal values, that he is going to woo the conservatives. He should understand that the fact that women elected him means that women should be given a good, near-50 percent of appointments. Madeleine Albright should be secretary of state.
       Furthermore, the values for which women elected Clinton were liberal values. To ignore those values is dangerous. This says to me, even though women have come a lot closer to equality than I could have dreamed of 25 years ago, our battle is not over; we now have to think about a backlash. While men in general are not the enemy, we can’t, I’m afraid, stop fighting for our own autonomy and our own values. To ignore what women vote for is wrong. Barbara Bergmann
10:32 a.m.  Thursday  11/14/96 

      There are people who hope that women will leave the job market to men (except, of course, for women on welfare). They have put out some mighty funny stories about when that hoped-for event would occur. It used to be claimed that women were forced into taking jobs because of inflation, and that when inflation was cured, they would all go home. Now the claim is being made that it’s taxes that are forcing women to work for pay, and that they would go home if taxes were lowered. If anything, it’s higher taxes that would encourage people to move back to untaxed work in the home and abandon taxed work for an employer. If you remember, the right-wing, supply-side argument was that lower taxes would make people (sex unspecified) work more! Linda and Kate, do you want women to go home enough to favor raising taxes?
       Herb Stein asks how much it would cost to help parents with the expenses of raising children. My just-out book, Saving Our Children From Poverty: What the United States Can Learn from France, suggests a program of vouchers for child care and health care, free to working poor parents, partly subsidized for the middle class, that would cost $80 billion a year more than we are currently spending. This program would allow even parents with minimum-wage jobs to get out of poverty. The money could come out of the defense budget, subsidies for rich farmers, and the $100 billion corporate-welfare program. But for the moment, solving the child-poverty problem has less priority than building submarines nobody in their right mind thinks we need, and showering rich folks with subsidies. Herb Stein
11:16 a.m.  Thursday  11/14/96

The Following data from the U.S. Census Bureau may be of interest:

Median Income of Married Families, 1995
   Husband worked    Husband worked full time    Husband did not work
All Families $52,839    $54,256    $23,205
Wife worked    $57,000    $59,878    $34,658
Wife worked full time    $62,205    $64,283    $40,486
Wife did not work    $39,709    $46,704    $23,205

Linda Chavez
1:21 p.m.  Thursday  11/14/96 

       Herb Stein asks whether we can all agree with Bergmann to “stop repeating the canard that they (married women) are forced to do it (take jobs) by economic necessity and would prefer to stay at home.” Sorry, Herb, but the evidence–as measured by what women tell pollsters, at any rate–suggests that a majority of mothers of young children would prefer not to work full time, even though most of them do so. (One Lou Harris poll last year found only 15 percent of all women would prefer to work full time if they could live comfortably without working.) Most women work for the same reason most men do: work puts a roof over their children’s heads, food on the table, clothes on their back, and provides the money to enjoy, as best they can, their limited “free” time.
       Despite all the feminist rhetoric about giving women choices, Friedan (at least in her early incarnation), Pollitt, and Bergmann don’t believe a word of it. Everything they say implies that real women (as opposed to the Stepford Wives they fantasize are Phyllis Schlafly’s and Pat Robertson’s followers) will always choose to pursue “careers” over full-time homemaking. Funny, the women I grew up with–including my own mother–never had careers, although most of them worked as waitresses, salesladies, and domestics. During childhood, I only knew one woman who had a “profession” (other than the nuns and occasional lay teacher who taught me). She was my best friend’s mother, a practical nurse. As best I could tell from the stories she told us, her professional responsibilities consisted largely of feeding and bathing the invalids in whose homes she worked, and emptying their bedpans. I suspect she–and my mother, whose swollen feet I used to massage after she spent 8 hours in 3-inch heels waiting on customers in a fancy clothing store–would have loved to trade places with the suburban homemakers in The Feminine Mystique.
       Am I for women’s equality, as Barbara Bergmann poses it? Well, I’m for equal opportunity, without which I would not be where I am today. I believe men and women are equal before God and should be equal before the law. But I also believe that men and women differ in important ways, and that men and women should be free to pursue different roles if they choose. Katha Pollitt
2:21 p.m.  Thursday  11/14/96 

       Women work for the same reasons men work–money, self expression, a wider experience of life. Why doesn’t Peggy Noonan, who has a small child, give up her career and live off her royalties and investments? Why has wife-and-mother Phyllis Schlafly spent her life gadding about the country telling other women to stay home? The picture offered by Kate O’Beirne, of women hounded into the workplace to pay their husband’s taxes, is wildly off the mark both psychologically, sociologically, and economically (I suspect mathematically, too). Is she suggesting we abolish federal taxes, and the government along with it, in order to keep mothers home?
       What bothers me about the approach Kate and Linda take isn’t so much even that we disagree about particular issues. I’m used to that! It’s the way they assume women are all alike, all want the same thing, and that Kate and Linda know what this is. The essence of feminism, it seems to me (which we have gotten very far away from in this conversation), is not about marriage or staying home–and it’s certainly not about taxes! It’s about equality, choice, and respect for women as individuals. We are not all the same! I’m all for women staying home with their kids if they want to–in fact, in my more matriarchal moods, I sometimes think mothers should receive the same kinds of workplace advantages army veterans now receive (extra points on civil service tests etc.) just for risking their health and lives in childbirth! But the fact is lots of women don’t want to, lots can’t for all sorts of reasons beside the taxman, and that’s the way it is, here in 1996. I think it’s better than 1896–Kate and Linda seem to feel otherwise. Herb Stein
3:01 p.m.  Thursday  11/14/96 

       The premise of this session is that something can be said about the condition of women in America that cannot be said about the condition of everyone in America. Perhaps that is incorrect. At the risk of being accused again of dealing in obsolete concepts I will set down here what I have learned about the subject from the discussion so far. I do this not with confidence that I have got it right but in the hope of precipitating more precise statements from our panelists on the last day of this program.
       Developments in the economy, in the law and in the culture, have greatly increased the range of choices open to women. Discrimination against women in employment and in education has declined significantly. Although discrimination remains, it will become, if it has not already become, a minor problem.
       Some women are in poverty–meaning an economic condition so poor as to induce the rest of the population to support them. That is also true of some men, but the poverty of women is more serious because it has more harmful effects on children. Whether the recent change in the welfare system is a step backward or a step forward in correcting this condition is a disputed question, although I judge that our panelists who have spoken on the subject regard it as a step backward.
       The great increase in the proportion of women in the paid work force has not been the result of economic necessity. Women have entered the paid work force because of increased opportunities there and because working outside the home has become more acceptable socially. Of course, most women would prefer not to work if they could have the income without working, but working outside the home would not, for most married women, be necessary to maintain the standard of living that their mothers enjoyed.
       Whether parents (mothers and fathers) who are not poor should be assisted in bearing the costs of raising children–as I might put it, whether there should be a transfer of income from people with fewer children to people with more children–is an open question. I judge that in general our panelists favor this transfer, and only differ in whether the transfers should be made by government expenditures or by tax reduction related to the presence of children.
       With the increasing independence of women has come decreasing commitment and responsibility from men. How the causation runs here is not clear. There seems to be no societal correction for this condition. Whether there is a market process at work that will join the more independent women with the less committed men and the less independent women with the more committed men, I don’t know. Probably only an economist would ask.
       Your turn.