The Missing Half of Feminism

Article excerpt

Like many other 1970s feminists, I envisioned a future in which women's roles would include a professional life as men's roles expanded to include responsibilities for home and children. The bedrock of the process would be equality between the sexes; its result would be the enrichment of both women's and men's lives.

Two decades later, it hasn't worked out that way. Women got their careers, but with a few exceptions, men never got an expanded role at home. What went wrong? Here is my theory: Society got the half of the feminist program that was compatible with a social philosophy that was stronger, deeper and more acceptable in this country than feminism - individualism.

Individualism is the legacy of an economic system, a philosophical heritage and a political history that values individual freedom and personal happiness above all else. The individualistic half of the feminist program had nothing to do with men as contributors to the family. That is the social or communitarian half of feminism. The inexorable growth of individualism, with its emphasis on choice, independence and personal development, can be seen throughout our society. Instead of a new balance between home and career for men and women, everyone is working harder (or not at all). Respect for roles and activities that contribute to family relations and family development has sunk to the point where women often feel ashamed of devoting themselves to home and family. At the same time, men who do their fair share at home are viewed as lacking ambition. The communitarian half of the women's movement is dead. The development of an individual's career depends on subordinating family responsibilities. After the Northridge earthquake, the media were full of praise for those who quickly left their damaged homes and shaken families to take up their workplace responsibilities. I saw no laudatory stories about those who stayed home to take care of their families. …