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How to fix feminism

For the New York Times Sunday Review, Judith Shulevitz writes about the differences between older and younger generations of feminism, particularly when they come to labor and class. The piece is worth the read, but also somewhat complacent in that she’s advocating namely for women who can afford to stay and home and be primary caregivers, seemingly disregarding the scores of women who a.) are not white and middle class and b.) cannot afford to not work. Read the piece in partial below, or in full via New York Times.

Women like me who scale back in the face of impossible expectations feel themselves morphing into caricatures: attachment freaks, helicopter moms, concerted cultivators, neo-traditionalists. These stereotypes are just plain sexist, but I don’t know many mothers whose careers, paychecks and sense of self-worth haven’t been eroded by all the compromises they’ve had to make. Our worlds have narrowed; our bank accounts have dipped below the minimum balance; and our power within the family and the world has dwindled. We’d be quick to tell you that we wouldn’t have done it any differently. Still.

What if the world was set up in such a way that we could really believe — not just pretend to — that having spent a period of time concentrating on raising children at the expense of future earnings would bring us respect? And what if that could be as true for men as it is for women?

We live in an age rich in feminisms. One celebrates our multiplicity of identities: black, lesbian, transgender. Another has effectively anathematized sexual violence. Yet another — I think of it as C-suite feminism — chips away at the glass ceiling that keeps women out of the most powerful jobs, such as, say, the presidency.

But we need another feminism — and it needs a name that has nothing to do with gender. Let’s call it, for lack of a better term, “caregiverism.” It would demand dignity and economic justice for parents dissatisfied with a few weeks of unpaid parental leave, and strive to mitigate the sacrifices made by adult children responsible for aging parents.

Mrs. Clinton could be a champion of caregiverism. She has been blunter this electoral season about family-friendly policies than she has ever been before. She emphasized paid family leave when she began her campaign and again in the opening statements of the first Democratic presidential debate. In May, she said she’d cap the cost of child care at 10 percent of a household’s income, down from what, for a household supported by minimum-wage workers, can now be more than 30 percent.

But she needs to go further. Her focus is on wage-earners; what about the people who want to get out of the workplace, at least for a while? Mrs. Clinton should talk to Representative Nita Lowey of New York, who last year introduced a bill that would give Social Security credits to caregivers who left the labor market or cut back on hours — a public nod to the reality that care is work and caregivers merit the same benefits as other workers.

Mrs. Clinton belongs to an earlier generation, one whose objective was to free women from the prison of domesticity — at least the middle-class women who didn’t already have jobs — and send them marching into the work force to demand equality there. But true equality will take more than equal pay and better working conditions. It will require something more radical, a “transvaluation of all values,” in Nietzsche’s phrase.

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