How To Fix Feminism (?)

Author and contributing opinion writer, Judith Shulevitz, shares her woes of working motherhood and the mixed messages of our society and government over the last century in this week’s New York Times Sunday Review with an article titled: How To Fix Feminism. There is no actual fix brought forth, but an interesting list of movements and arguments that have swirled around for years, in addition to what some working women have chosen to extract from all those swirling opinions in hopes of constructing a viable personal philosophy and work ethic that might gain them success and respectability … while allowing them to raise successful, respectable children.

Hillary Clinton stands center of Shulevitz’s summation of her own confused experience and decades worth of debates. Clinton was, after all, a working mother in the 80’s — not to mention First Lady of Arkansas, then the nation as her child moved into young adulthood.

Clinton seemed to do the very thing so many women struggle to — simultaneously being a caregiver and a career woman earning a decent wage in her own right. During Clinton’s past and present campaigns for presidency, she has also been the “champion” of working (and non-working) mothers, proposing paid family leave and a cap on childcare costs according to family income.

There are several important statements made within this article, beginning with the author’s description of her own emotional turmoil. She had career obligations, financial obligations to juggle while toiling through societal judgment about being a working mother, all while attempting to pay close attention to the demands of raising healthy, happy kids. And she did so without the weight of poverty pushing at her back. There is also an important implication made — that the government is responsible for helping to raise children of working mothers. The only reasoning offered for such an expectation is that (according to capitalist tradition) children are future workers, therefore, the government is obligated to, in some way, “pitch in”.

Numerous times it’s mentioned that stay-at-home moms are ultimately prisoners, if not slaves. It is implied that our society, and thus, our government is responsible for shaming women into making impossible choices and therefore should be responsible for funding our way out of difficult results. This is somewhat confusing to me. The government has had a hand in shaming and imprisoning women, but now it can be given the responsibility of making that all better?

On this I agree — our society has so many variations of double standards it’s hard to keep up. And yes, working mothers earn about 24% less than male coworkers. And yes, childcare facilities are overpriced and too often of inferior quality in spite of all the reams of government regulations and subsidies decades of “reforms” have piled on. Here’s my observation: The government has been actively involved in helping single and/or married working (and non-working) mothers tend to and afford healthcare and school for their children since the FDR administration and every decade since has brought about more complications to questions of equality than actually bringing about equality. Can the government really be relied upon to simplify these complications even if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency?

Bureaucracy, historically speaking, has brought simplified solutions to no problems ever.

What we can count on, administration from administration (proven, thus far) is more regulations, amendments, and laws being piled on top of defunct, inefficient regulations, amendments, and laws of old. It’s getting to be one large smelly layer upon layer of a compost heap. As those of you who enjoy organic gardening might be aware, a compost heap does nothing to grow good healthful veggies if it’s left in a heap.

There are so many dissenting theories, opinions, studies, and sociopolitical movements in our recent history, it’s becoming obvious that the “experts” have lost complete touch with the actual dilemma. Is this, at the heart, a feminist issue? In part, yes. The feminist movement has been vital to our nation’s progress. Should all the complications — emotional, financial, and otherwise — working and non-working mothers face be left to be solved by politicians? And if so, how does that validate feminism?

I like Shulevitz’s article because, in my opinion, it brings to light (intentionally, or not) the uselessness of depending upon “political experts” to solve problems. The article, in my opinion, ultimately turns back toward the individual choices of its author, and reveals her personal experience has aided in opening up a dialogue with her young daughter about the future, about choices, and about what each person can glean from their own desires for their own future.

I have no confidence that Hillary Clinton as POTUS, or in any other political office, can ease the burden of women who want to be mothers and workers, or stay-at-home moms. Nor can she immediately ease the crushing poverty of single mothers on welfare by offering more (or taking away) welfare benefits. Why? Because she’s a politician surrounded by a slew of politicians. If politicians could solve poverty and the problematic expectations of gender roles, there would be no need for further conversation.

Pulling the tangled strings of government will never “fix” feminism … or anything else. History has proven that depending upon the government for solutions only rears more problems. The truth is politicians have personal agendas. Those personal agendas rarely involve genuinely improving the plight of such people as caregivers.

Who can make a difference? Civil servants. Perhaps most politicians begin their careers as civil servants. Unfortunately, most end up as self- or party-serving bureaucrats. Make no mistake, it has been bureaucrats that have priced us out of affordable anything, including affordable childcare, healthcare, and education. Who can make a difference? Moms. The people. Eventually.

If they rid themselves of expecting government to fix everything from those cushy seats on Capitol Hill.

Real solutions can only come from the people who live in the midst of real problems, who understand what it’s like to decide between promotion or taking a few nights off to help a fifth grader with math homework, because even as a full-time worker paying a tutor is out of the realm of possibility. Those who understand the anguish of leaving their little ones at home with the thirteen year old and a TV, because summer childcare costs 80% of their weekly net pay; when even cutting the outrageous cost of cable channels from the budget and buying the generic mac-n-cheese won’t leave enough cash in the bank for summer camp, or new school clothes. These are the people who bring some reality to situations typically left to Ivy Leaguers simultaneously suckling the taxpayer tit while being wined and dined by lobbyists from Big Tobacco, Oil & Gas, and whatever else is lurking around D.C.

Whatever Hillary Clinton has accomplished to date, and whichever working women look to her as a beacon of Feminist Hope, think on this: it’s doubtful she ever struggled to make ends meet while sending her daughter to the best schools taxpayer money could buy.

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