Ruth Rosen: What women talk about when men are not listening





[Ruth Rosen is a journalist and historian, teaches public policy and history at U.C. Berkeley, is a senior fellow at the Longview Institute, and is the author of "The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Changed America." ]

If you think its about sexual prowess, you’d be wrong. If you think it’s about size, forget it. And if you imagine we follow the various pissing contests going on among male liberals, you’re too self-absorbed. It’s about what I call the Care Crisis.

During the last week, I’ve had a series of conversations with intellectual, liberal women who, like most of our male friends, companions and husbands, want to restore American democracy, end the war, and free up our nation’s wealth to support the health and well being of our nation’s citizens.

We care about the common good. We believe in a public good. We agree with Michael Tomasky at the America Prospect that Democrats will have to be more than a “collection of aggrieved out-groups,” to use words penned by David Brooks in his New York Times column of April 27. We agree with John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira that, again in Brooks’ words, “the message voters respond to best is notions of shared sacrifice for the common good…people are read for an appeal to citizenship.”

Multiculturalism and identity politics, gloats Brooks, are dead. Fine by me. Gleefully, Brooks announces that “Democrats are purging the last vestiges of the New Left and returning to the older civic liberalism of the 1950s and early 1960s.

But here’s the rub: Notice the years Brooks chooses as the historical moment to which we should return---before American women began demanding the equality that is essential to their citizenship.

In these conversations you men never hear, this is what we discuss: For four decades, working women have poured into the paid labor force. Yet American society has done precious little to restructure the workplace or family life. The result? Working mothers are burdened and exhausted, families are fractured, and children are often neglected. The dirty little secret, we repeatedly tell each other, is that it is both profitable and convenient to our government, business and many men, for women to wear themselves out trying to do the unpaid work of caring for children, the elderly and the social networks of our communities.
It’s as though Americans are trapped in a time warp, certain that women will still do all this caring, even though they can’t, because more than half are outside their homes working in the paid work place. And so, we have what I call a mounting "Care Crisis."

But somehow male progressives and liberals continue to view these problems as those of a special interest group and part of identity politics. And yet it is the core dillemma faced by most middle class and working class American families, all long the political spectrum.

These are some of the war stories we share with each other:

A distinguished op-ed editor rejects an opinion piece that describes the need for high-quality, affordable, accessible child care because “it’s been written about thousands of times.” He’s right. But nothing’s changed.

A distinguished editor tells a journalist that he doesn’t really want articles about “women’s” problems because he’s more interested in addressing the public good. Hasn't he heard that women hold up half the sky and, then some?

Fortunately, one person may have found a way around these gatekeepers who are so bored with vital changes that have never been addressed and implemented.

Joan Blades, co-founder of the online activist web movement, Moveon.org, has launched a grassroots virtual campaign (http:www.momsrising.org)dedicated to making working mothers's private choices and dilemmas a central part of our national conversation and political agenda.

She and her co-author Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner have just published The Motherhood Manifesto (Nation Books), filled with elegantly accessible stories that reveal the problems faced by working mothers in the early 21st century Without using the F word, they also prescribe such essential changes as paid parental leave, flexible working conditions, after-school programs, universal health care, excellent, affordable and accessible child care and realistic living wages.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll finally hear us. True, it’s boring to discuss the vital needs of working mothers and families, when nothing ever changes. But while you’re talking about the common good, consider this: There is nothing more vital to the common good of our nation than the well being of our working mothers and their families. And that, dear gentlemen, is where the votes are.


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