This week (or last week… I’m not one to be current…) marked the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, a book that I have not read… yet.
It’s been a great week (or so) for feminist discussions in print & on line. On Facebook, three women I respect raved about one article in particular: “Why Gender Equality Stalled” by Stephanie Coontz. I figured I needed to read it.
The article gives a great overview of the ground we have travelled as a society & where we are today. The picture is a bit bleak:
Today the main barriers to further progress toward gender equity no longer lie in people’s personal attitudes and relationships. Instead, structural impediments prevent people from acting on their egalitarian values, forcing men and women into personal accommodations and rationalizations that do not reflect their preferences.
While I think the Ms. Coontz is right (structural, not philosophical barriers are the problem), I think that she may be wrong that the necessary cultural shift is complete. Of course the fix requires serious structural work, but i believe a cultural shift in expectations is also in the works. Of course, the structural changes cannot come soon enough. The author talks about developing “work-life policies” … This to me suggests more than Congressional action; It suggests individual workplace policies, industry best practices, etc.
We need to engage in that important work but if we focus only on the macro structure, we will disempower many families who are actually in a position to better their lots & push along the bigger changes. So to say we should stop talking about choice is too easy.
Of course, choice isn’t everything (as Ms. Coontz makes clear) but there must be a middle ground where we can acknowledge the choices individuals & families make while also figuring out which policies can most foster gender equality.
Because my question is how can I handle (literally & figuratively) my lot right now? How can my household continue to live according to its ideals about gender equality when push comes to shove (which is what the author identifies as the problem today: these ideals get tossed out the window when they are challenged by the current structural barriers)?
I am not waiting for Congress or CEOs to pass legislation & policies limiting the work week or offering paid maternity/paternity. (Admittedly, nor am I working for such structural changes right now.)
My family’s answer for now: Less, less, less.
If we need less, we can better manage how we live, not only financially but also in terms of values. The decision to live smaller is a choice & unlike family-supportive policies, I don’t see much on the horizon in terms of a cultural shift away from consumerism.
Bucking the consumerist trend is a choice only individuals can make at this cultural juncture. And I think it’s a choice worth making.
Less car usage, no cable, eating out only sporadically, living in a smaller space, fewer things & activities.
Freeing up your family’s resources will foster more happiness & fulfillment. It will also open the door to some real choices. Smaller living has given me a not insignificant amount of freedom to pursue work I consider valuable, even though it pays less. I also feel empowered to simply not seek out those jobs that would prove too much of a strain on my family. Shaping a satisfying family life for us is a work in progress.
Smaller living also serves as a supportive example to others who may feel pushed toward the “values stretch” Ms. Coontz discusses in her article.
I realize that in talking about choice I have to be very careful. But to be clear, I am not talking about the choice to work or not work. I am talking about a lifestyle choice.
I also realize that even this choice is riddled with problems. Some families cannot choose less; less is their default. All I can say is that I readily admit that family-friendly policies, not chatter about choice, is likely to help all families. That, I can admit.
But for those of us blessed with some autonomy, we can start the change today.