In the past few days, I’ve read the New York magazine “Retro Wife” piece and begun watching the PBS documentary series on the history of the second wave feminist movement Makers: Women Who Make America. Makers begins by explaining the impact of The Feminine Mystique. Friedan’s book on the unfulfilled desires of American housewives resonated with many women, and helped to spark a movement.
The documentary is great, and the actions of these early feminists are truly inspiring. As a man, I appreciate how I have benefited from their efforts to break down traditional gender roles. Though the feminist movement has succeeded in many of its goals, true gender equality remains elusive. The statistics are familiar enough that they are in danger of losing their ability to shock.
In “The Reto Wife,” Lisa Miller profiles women who are opting to leave their careers, and return home to raise their children. Billed as “feminist housewives,” the women in the article are progressive minded, and they leave the workforce for pragmatic reasons. It is hard, apparently, for two people with demanding careers to raise children.
As a man, it is difficult to know what to make of all this. As a self described feminist, I strive to carry out all of my dealings with women fairly and equally. The childrearing issue is particularly difficult to wrap my head around. It seems like a child being raised by two parents with demanding careers is not an ideal option.
Makers explores one of the feminist’s rallying cries “the personal is political.” As it relates to the feminist movement, it means that what happens in the confines of the home or other “personal” places is a vital public issue with regards to women’s equality. “The personal is political” is also why I have a hard time writing or thinking about gender issues. I like to place a healthy intellectual distance from most topics I write about, but gender refuses to conform. It demands of me to place look at things from a perspective that I have little knowledge of.