Rikleen Institute LLC

The Following Blog Appeared in Forbes Woman - Feminism Ruined My Life and Other Cautionary Tales from the Right

April 4, 2011

This Post was written by Lauren Stiller Rikleen, President of the Rikleen Institute for Strategic Leadership.  For the full link to the She Negotiates Blog posting, click here

Just when it seemed that working women and moms at home were finding common ground and mutual respect, Phyllis Schlafly and her niece, Suzanne Venker, have rekindled old wars and made-up stereotypes, to the detriment of women everywhere. Their book, The Flipside of Feminism, capitalizes on the new wave of highly successful women in public life who use their book tours and media interviews to tell other women to stay home and be happy. In their view, it is the feminists, not the hypocrites, who pose the greatest danger to American society.

Their arguments have a vaguely familiar ring. Once again we are hearing about a chasm between the powerful and those “everyday Americans” who Venker described in an interview as politically right of center, receiving their information filtered through the left wing lens of the feminist elite. Has she listened to talk radio or watched political news shows lately? It is hard enough to find a female political commentator, let alone a certified feminist elite.

Venker has stated that her aunt would only agree to co-author the book if it completely condemned feminism. They succeeded in that goal, but one has to wonder: what is gained by trotting out an antiquated notion of feminists as women who want to demean motherhood and treat men as the enemy?

In their unfathomable effort to sweep women back to a different century, Schlafly and Venker offer to “liberate America from feminism’s dead-end road”. Please spare us this form of liberation. And keep us from reverting back to the days of false arguments and hollow choices. Did we not leave the mommy wars back in the “80s? Have we not advanced to a shared vision of a world where choices are respected?

The real debate should be focused on the substantial workplace challenges that both men and women face today. Schlafly and Venker deride the detailed study: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything. In doing so, they ignore the critical data upon which the Report is based. For the first time in American history, half of all U.S. workers are women, and mothers are the primary breadwinners or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families.

Yet even in the face of this new reality, the Report describes workplaces that are woefully unprepared for the evolving American workforce. The Report makes clear that working families need opportunities for more flexibility in their schedules, child care options and policies that ensure the safety and well-being of their children, family and medical leave policies that help them deal with the inevitable crises that occur in their lives, and access to equal pay for equal work.

These are the critical areas of focus today. Instead, Schlafly and Venker want to idealize a way of life that does not exist. They argue that children should be raised by their own parents, disregarding decades of research proving otherwise and a new generation of terrific young adults who happily thrived in homes where both parents worked – sometimes from choice, often from necessity.

It is this same terrific generation that will be forging a new path for the future. The data demonstrates that they will do so as young adults who seek workplaces that respect their desire to be committed workers and engaged parents. And in doing so, they will not disparage those who make different choices.

The two authors have it all wrong. Working mothers are not trying to fit their children and husbands around their careers. They are, however, often overwhelmed by workplaces which are unwilling to evolve with the changing demographics and needs of today’s workers. Babies, toddlers, teenagers, young adults and older parents all need our care and attention – as well as our economic support.

Women today need each other as allies. We also need men as partners in the effort to ensure that the workplaces our children inherit allow them to serve their families and their jobs in a healthy and responsible way. I call that a great feminist vision for the future.