[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Madeleine Kunin certainly knows from women and work. She’s been the governor of Vermont and the Ambassador to Switzerland. Before all that, she did her time as a journalist, a college professor, and an activist. She’s seen the feminist movement go through many permutations, and in her new book The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family, she details out her vision for where feminism should go next. Kunin argues that the movement hasn’t paid quite enough attention to the family, and specifically advocating for policies that allow women (and men) the ability to balance their work lives and their family lives in our hectic, work-focused world.
This book was tailor-made for policy wonks who want to know not just what policies bring the best outcomes, but what political strategies work best for getting those policies into place. Having raised kids of her own, Kunin believes that the current American approach to work forces nearly all women, across class lines, to make compromises and fight unnecessary obstacles to achieve their career goals—or even just to keep food on the table. She recommends that feminists treat the work-life balance issue as seriously now as we have always treated the abortion issue, for the same reason that women’s liberation cannot be fully achieved without finding some way to make sure it can accommodate the demands of family life.
Right now, the United States by and large has abysmal policies when it comes to child care, education, flex time and family leave. Our economic system still assumes workers are men who happen to have housewives standing behind them, taking care of their personal lives and especially raising their children. While conservative forces may support this on the grounds that this is the way they believe it ought to be, Kunin suggests that we instead approach policy with a firm eye towards reality.
In reality, very few families live with the “Leave It To Beaver” lifestyle. Many families are headed by single or divorced parents, for one thing. Even in families centered around a married couple, stay-at-home motherhood is rarely an acceptable solution for their domestic needs. Many families need two incomes to survive, and frankly, many women get a little stir crazy if they can’t leave the house and work a paying job. Our policies need to reflect the world we live in now, not the one that conservatives wish we lived in.
Drawing on the experiences of other nations and of states within ours, Kunin argues that better policies around labor and family can be achieved. The employer class will fight any innovation that gives their employees more power and control, even in cases where their fears of economic loss are demonstrably overblown. Kunin simply believes that we have to go around their objections, and accept that angry capitalists are just the price of doing business when you’re fighting for progressive ideals.
Reading her book makes me optimistic that these are fights we can win, if we’re willing to try. Policies that give more power to employees to manage their family lives may seem initially like a feminist innovation, but since the needs of workers and family cut across many different lines, we can build a strong and diverse coalition. It may even be possible to get some conservatives on board with these ideas, as long as progressives highlight that better family policies help children as much as their mothers.
With that introduction, I’d like to welcome Madeleine Kunin for questions and comments below. Thanks for coming and sharing your ideas with us, Madeleine!