Unfinished business still centers on work and family issues

Five years ago Betty Friedan, writing in her book ``The Second Stage,'' made an eloquent plea for what she termed the ``unfinished business'' of the women's movement: restructuring the institutions of work and family. She called for imaginative thinking about maternity and paternity leaves, parental time off when children are ill, and flexible work schedules -- changes that would help to reconcile the new demands of the workplace with the traditional needs of the family.

Then she posed a critical question: ``Why, with the majority of mothers now working, haven't feminists put as much energy into the battle for a multifaceted approach to child care . . . as they have put into the battles against sex discrimination or for abortion?''

Today that question remains as urgent -- and as unanswered -- as it was in 1980. Family issues -- Ms. Friedan's ``second stage'' of feminism -- still lag well behind reproductive rights and sex discrimination as dominant issues on the agenda of the women's movement.

``The book was premature, probably,'' Friedan said in a recent interview. ``One of the reasons I wrote it was because I didn't think the women's movement was coming to grips with integrating the choice and value of having a child with new choices and new values. I don't see the organization of the movement taking on the political problems involved here. We have a whole new generation seeing their problems as personal. There isn't the massive campaign there should be on child care, parental leave, reduce d work schedules.'' Setbacks

Just where that campaign fits into the current feminist agenda remains uncertain, despite avowed support from leaders. Setbacks on the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, educational opportunities for women, and comparable worth have stalled progress in other areas, forcing feminists to reorder priorities and return to issues they thought they had won.

``We have in no way secured the gains of the last 25 years,'' Eleanor Smeal, the new president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), said in an interview. ``We have already seen large portions of them gutted.''

To counter this erosion, she says, NOW is launching two emergency campaigns: one to save Title IX (prohibiting discrimination in education) and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1985 (a clarification of previous civil rights legislation, now bogged down in Congress); another to protect birth control and abortion.

``There is no human dignity when women cannot control their fertility,'' she says. ``Wherever you see fertility very high, the status of women is very low. We are not rabbits.

``Birth control is necessary, family planning is necessary. Ten percent of federal research money for family planning research goes to birth control, 90 percent to fertility research. We are more concerned with how to cause fertility than [we are with] contraception.''

Mrs. Smeal's election has signaled the return of an aggressive style on the broadest possible front.

``Our biggest priority is, we've got to decide we're going to fight,'' Smeal concludes. ``We've got to keep on pushing the needs of women whether they're popular or not and no matter what people call us. We cannot wait for better days. I do not believe the country has gone conservative on women's issues.

``It is imperative that we keep the dream of equality before the public and imperative that we push the ERA before it becomes a relic of the past that we would have to resurrect in some future day.''

Mary Landrieu, a state representative in Louisiana, believes that the present regrouping of the women's movement is solidly based on a better informed, more sophisticated constituency.

``I think women are in rank and file getting very sensitive and knowledgeable about issues like teen pregnancy, comparable worth, pay equity,'' she says. ``We've gotten off the single-minded goal of passing the ERA. As the amendment has taken a back seat and other issues have developed, there is hardly an issue that some women can't identify with. The whole women's movement is so broad that everyone can identify with it. When we come back to the ERA we will come back to a much broader base of men and wo men alike.'' Strategies

Beyond the question of redefining goals and general style, there is the matter of strategies. Irene Natividad, the new president of the National Women's Political Caucus, notes that the number of women in state legislatures has tripled in the past 15 years, from 362 in 1971 to 1,103 in 1985. Ms. Natividad says, ``We feel the impact of one woman legislator fighting for women's issues. It is equivalent to having people marching outside. We need the outside pressure, but we also need the inside legislators . I don't see the two efforts as contradictory -- I see them as complementary.

``Political involvement is the most direct route to empowerment. I'm talking about political involvement at the most minimal level -- voting. A lot of professional women hadn't voted before Geraldine Ferraro was on the ticket in '84. Asian women for the most part still do not vote. They have a high level of education and achievement, but they don't vote. We're trying to persuade them that this is their country now'' and they need to help shape it.

``I feel the one major politicizing issue for most American women in the '80s will be economic equity, because of the mere fact we now comprise 44 percent of the labor force, and it's increasing,'' she continues. ``The very benefits we used to take for granted because we were receiving them through men, women are now looking at very closely.'' She cites social security, pensions, and child care.

``Child care is not a women's issue,'' says Natividad, herself the mother of an eight-month-old son. ``A future generation is hurt if you don't have adequate child care. It's a community issue, not a women's issue.'' Similarly, when a woman is underpaid, she adds, ``she's not the only one being punished. Her whole family is affected.''

``Child care is in crisis dimensions,'' Smeal admits. `Yet we have not had the size of campaign necessary because every time we push it someone yells `Communism.' We should not worry what they're going to call us. We need child care. We cannot wait until some progressive government comes in. These kids are growing up.'' Second stage

And so the issues come back to the family -- Friedan's second stage. Gloria Steinem, editor of Ms. magazine, has her own version of second stage.

``The first stage of gaining majority support, majority hopes and dreams, is finished,'' she says. ``We have a base of support. We don't have to prove that women are discriminated against. In general, we no longer have to document the problems. Now we are more able to report on the diverse solutions.

``The second stage involves beginning to change institutions. We now have major support for equal pay, which we didn't have 10 years ago. But we don't have equal pay. We have the idea of shared parenthood, but we don't have the institutional changes that would make shared parenthood possible. We don't have parental leave; we barely have maternity leave.

``We're just beginning to transform institutions so that new dreams will be real, practical choices.''

First of two parts. Tomorrow: The changing constituency.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Unfinished business still centers on work and family issues
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today