Magazine article Insight on the News

Feminism's U-Turn Leads Down Path of Motherhood

Magazine article Insight on the News

Feminism's U-Turn Leads Down Path of Motherhood

Article excerpt

Feminism is making a sharp U-turn. The tire marks are all over the road. Women won't be going back to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant (unless that's what turns them on), and they'll never give up the choices they've earned. This is not about backlash but breakthrough. It's about the renewed celebration of marriage, children and the family

If Betty Friedan's attack on the "feminine mystique" launched the women's movement in the United States in the 1960s, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese captures the mind-set for the 1990s in her new book, Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life. Fox-Genovese, who founded the Institute of Women's Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, earned her insights as a feminist and a leftist, so the title is no small admission.

The catalyst for this book was a conversation the author had with a friend who had attended a convention of the National Organization for Women a few years back. The friend had been astonished to find that only one of hundreds of workshops and seminars focused on children -- and it was for lesbian mothers. Lesbian mothers!

That evoked a "click" -- a lightbulb flashing on with sudden awareness, as feminists have described their sudden recognitions of male chauvinism. But this click was carved from a different kind of experience. The visitor to the NOW conference was seven months pregnant. Is it any wonder that she questioned why the sisterhood ignored or denigrated motherhood for so long?

Fox-Genovese writes not from the perspective of a mother -- she and her husband wanted children but were "not blessed" with them. She listens to others who were so blessed, and in their stories she recalls her own mother -- and all the jingles, poems, nursery rhymes and biblical verses first heard at her mother's knee.

Click! "Children want mothers to be there, like the air they breathe," she writes. Many pioneering feminists forgot this basic need, having grown up in households with full-time mothers whose influence was in the air they breathed. Or they rejected it, feeling stifled and rebellious. They extended a psychological revolt to spin intellectual theories of what motherhood should (or should not) be.

But the experience of young mothers today often is different. Many grew up with working mothers who spent little time in the nursery Theirs is a counterrevolution, nurtured by the passionate longing for something more for themselves and their children. Just as children of divorce stress how they yearn for solid marriages, young mothers today feel free to express the sheer pleasure of motherhood in ways that their mothers, who were on the cutting edge of change and feminist argument, couldn't. …

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