Dr. Barbara S. Lindemann Lecture
THE GREAT AMERICAN reformer, William Jennings Bryan, once said, "Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved." Like reformers before them, feminists of recent decades assumed that, through united action and by conscious design, they could shape their own destiny. In contrast, historians assume that destiny in the form of social and economic structures has a life of its own, limiting and directing our designs in ways we cannot anticipate. How did destiny and design intersect in the feminist movement?
Destiny & Design:
An Historian Views The Feminist Movement
Barbara S. Lindemann
Professor of History
AS I LOOK OUT on so many familiar faces, I am acutely aware of how much I owe to you in this room and to others who could not be here today. My colleagues at City College have supported me, stimulated my work and taught me much. Several graciously read and commented on drafts of this lecture. My friends inside and outside the feminist movement have sustained me emotionally over many years, and encouraged me to move in new directions. And my students, past and present, have been a constant source of challenge and satisfaction.
The subject of this talk indeed grew out of a most interesting class, Psychology 6, "American Women and the Social Revolution." I teach this course every few years, and last spring we had a group of students that seemed to me special-and yet it was quite characteristic of our community college students. The students ranged in age from young (recent high school graduates) to middle-aged. They included a student with a B A. degree, and another with an RN. Others were near the end of their community college programs, and others were just starting out.
Most of them were women, and all were struggling with questions of work, health, child bearing and child rearing- perennial human demands. The single mothers among them were feeling poor, overburdened-and even trapped. The young single women were working out relationships with men when there are few commonly accepted rules to guide them, making career decisions when work opportunities for women are shifting, and experiencing the sexual revolution in the full awareness that they may well be obliged to deal alone with the responsibility of conceiving and raising a baby.
They were a hard-working group. They read challenging selections in psychology, anthropology, sociology, feminist theory and literature. Intellectually, they came to understand the new currents, but personally they were suffering, and they kept asking, "But how much has it really changed for women, and what can an individual do?" I was not fully satisfied with the answers I provided, and so was born the topic for this talk.
Those of you who are 18 year olds in college now were not yet born when the National Organization for Women was founded in 1966. You were toddlers when major companies were writing affirmative action plans, and six years old when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its famous abortion decisions. You take for granted-as is natural-opportunities that we of your parents' generation struggled to achieve.
We who were part of that variegated phenomenon known as the feminist movement remember the vision and the joy of working in closeness with other women to create a better world for our daughters and sons. We remember also the pain of strained relations with the men in our lives. We were confident that our efforts could change the economic, political and social position of American women. We operated in the faith which finally every activist must hold, so well expressed by the great American reformer William Jennings Bryan. "Destiny," he said "is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved."
All the effort-the endless meetings, the street demonstrations, the long nights of reading, writing and discussion, the long days in court, the weeks spent lobbying legislators, the months devoted to political campaigns-was spent because feminists believed that they could fashion-or design-a different destiny for themselves and for the next generations.
The vision of those years has become somewhat blurred by images from the '70s, images of women in low-cut gowns enjoying the "good life" of the sexual revolution, or women in business suits with briefcases enjoying the heady exercise of corporate power. These images are far from the cooperative, human-centered, egalitarian vision held by many feminists of the early '70s. Seeing these media images of women living like men in a substantially unchanged society, and knowing firsthand the reality that many young women face in struggling to juggle a full-time career outside the home or school with child rearing, many feminists have come to fear that something has gone wrong, that the dream is growing dim and the movement faltering.
At the same time, feminist and traditionalist alike recognize that a "new world" exists for women today. We are well aware of the flood of women into the paid work force, the swelling numbers of women in jobs formerly considered male jobs, the changes in masculine and feminine roles, as well as the rise in divorce rates and the sharply increasing numbers of female-headed households. We are concerned about the great increase in teenage pregnancies, the concentration of poverty among women and children, and the significant percentage of older women living alone in poverty.
The average American today praises or blames the feminist movement for this "new world" of women. Like William Jennings Bryan and the feminist activists themselves, most people assume that destiny is a matter of individual choice, that destiny can be "created" through design and effort.
Accordingly, the conventional wisdom today about the feminist movement is that it has accomplished a lot on the one hand, while, at the same time, it is responsible for many social ills. The feminist movement, most people believe, has drawn women into male jobs, given them the same sexual freedoms as men, provided them full and free access to education, legalized abortions on demand, and drawn public attention to such sensitive and destructive facts as rape, child abuse and wife beating. On the negative side, the feminist movement has allegedly caused the breakdown of the family, increased the numbers of female cigarette smokers, heart attack sufferers and criminals, created a male backlash of rape and violence against women, forced more women into poverty because they must support their children alone, made it harder for men to get into professional schools and skilled trades, and caused men to doubt their sense of self and place.
Conventional wisdom sees these changes as emerging from the turbulent 1960s and the designs or ideals of the activists of those years. The 1970s, in contrast, are considered a time of selfishness and unbridled individualism, when women were striving no longer to reform American society, but simply to get their piece of the American pie. Now, so the reasoning goes, the backlash has set in-forceful religious and conservative minority groups, made up mostly of women, are reversing the gains of the feminist movement, using the conservative forces in the government to help them in this effort. Clearly we are ready for an assessment-an historical assessment-of the feminist movement that will enable 18 year olds, feminist activists and the rest of us who have lived through these years to understand some of the forces that have shaped our social relations. As Lewis F. Powell, Jr. once commented, "History balances the frustration of 'how far we have to go' with the satisfaction of 'how far we have come.' It teaches us tolerance for the human shortcomings and imperfections which are not uniquely of our generation, but of all time."
The popular explanation of recent developments that I sketched out a minute ago contains some truth. It is also flawed, most seriously in that it attributes too much to the women's movement. I am reminded of the story of the Englishman who asked a Burmese why women, after centuries of following their men, now walk ahead. The Burmese man replied that "there were many unexploded land mines since the war." The conventional wisdom has concentrated too much on the woman out in front, the leader. It has assumed that the woman is out in front through her own efforts. The historian, in contrast, wants to know more about the "war," to look more carefully at the underlying structural-to use a word much in vogue among historians-nature of the changed relationship between man and woman. As to the land mines, I think we can also identify some that have already exploded in women's faces.
I, like most contemporary historians, assume that destiny is as important as design (or conscious effort) in explaining the changes in our lives. As a wit once put it, "If you are on the merry-go-round, you have to go round." You may be able to catch a brass ring, but only by going round and sitting on a horsie. When we look at the "destiny" that shaped the work and play, family lives, and masculine and feminine roles of people in the 1960s, we are examining structural developments, or impersonal forces, that are not the direct result of conscious planning by reformers, or government leaders, or corporate executives. Rather, these are changes that occurred as millions of men and women within a particular cultural environment acted from day to day-making business investments, getting married and having children, changing jobs, opening businesses, electing particular politicians, etc.
Looking back over several generations, one detects patterns and direction that, in retrospect, are quite significant. Much of what our generation perceives as a social revolution occurred in just this way, before the feminist movement. The contraceptive and sexual revolutions, women's influx into the work force, and rising divorce rates were all part of structural developments that predate the feminist movement. The feminists did not bring about these changes through their will or agitation. The reverse is more nearly the case-these conditions fostered the feminist movement.
As the title of my lecture-"Destiny and Design"-indicates, I do not think of myself as a hard-line determinist. I am not one who believes that great impersonal and uncomprehended forces of destiny, rather than free will, rigidly determine our fate. I tend to agree with Ignazio Silone, that the cowardly and resigned invented the concept of destiny. Therefore, it makes sense to ask, if the major changes just mentioned predated the feminist movement, what has the movement accomplished? What changes, if any,can we attribute to the conscious efforts of activists, to their will, their design? Jawaharlal Nehru once commented, "Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will." (This of course is a variation on the merry-go-round theme.)
I want to examine first the hand of cards the feminists were dealt, in other words the "destiny" that shaped their world. Then I will discuss their own game plan, the goals they consciously designed in the expectations that they could choose their destiny for themselves. Finally, I will explore how destiny and feminist design together helped to shape the attitudes, the laws and social conventions we live under today.
What were those patterns that, in retrospect, seem significant enough to be labeled a social revolution? In terms of our metaphor, what was in that hand of cards that was dealt the feminists? Several closely linked developments most profoundly affected work and family relationships.
First is the gradual shift from a producer to a service-based economy. That shift steadily drew more women into the work force. When columnist Ellen Goodman spoke at the University of California at Santa Barbara two weeks ago, she asserted that the "women's movement" is the movement of women into the work force. That is a most suggestive-if not particularly precise-definition of the women's movement, but it does emphasize that, when mothers and wives routinely work outside the home, all of our social arrangements, values and attitudes are called into question. The movement of middle-class women into the work force began in the early decades of the twentieth century. (Large percentages of poor women, we should not forget, worked for pay throughout the nineteenth century. )
Middle-class women were pulled into the work force because the service sector of the economy was expanding, and fields already defined as women's work expanded more rapidly than men's fields-elementary and secondary education, medical care, library work, social work, offfice jobs and, more recently, restaurant work. Already by the 1920s, most middle-class young women expected to work after they finished school-whether high school or college-and before they married. Some even worked until their first child was born. Already by the mid 1960s, the need for women workers became so great that even married middle-class women easily found paid work, part-time while the children were in school, and full-time when the children were gone.
A related long-term or structural development that profoundly affected work and family relationships, even before the feminist movement, was the continued increase in the standard of living of the vast majority of Americans, which gave them more leisure, longer lives and new material comforts. The famed productivity of American industry brought a steadily improving standard of living to most Americans in the twentieth century. The years 1900 to 1929 witnessed a phenomenal growth in the sale of such consumer items as electric lights, indoor plumbing, indoor water heaters, electrical kitchen appliances, cosmetics and mass-produced copies of Paris fashions-to say nothing of cigarettes, radios and automobiles.
As the production of consumer goods increased, it was not only possible, but economically desirable, for Americans to learn to relax and enjoy themselves as they had never done before. The advertising industry gave them a lot of advice, devising ever more ingenious ways to encourage people to buy. In the process, Madison Avenue spread new values, carrying by radio, billboards, glossy magazines and television the promise of self-fulfillment and freer sexual expression to all. So, more leisure and more material abundance naturally led middle-class people to put less emphasis on work, and more emphasis on pleasure. They put less emphasis on self-restraint, and more on self-fulfillment, self-development and self-expression.
In other words, along with changes in material conditions of life went fundamental changes in values, and these occurred not with the "me" generation of the '80s, but with the "me" generations of the 1920s and after.
Related to these developments of women going into the work force, new material comforts and new values was the growth of a professional and managerial middle class. They served as leaders in defining new cultural and social values. The early twentieth century saw the growth of corporations that were already too large to be run by family owners. Teams of business executives, technicians, engineers, lawyers, chemists, accountants and similar professionals ran the great corporate bureaucracies of industry and the media.
Their numbers grew as govemmental and educational bureaucracies expanded with the New Deal, the World Wars and the Cold War. As it grew in numbers, this new middle class, whose power lay not in property but in specialized knowledge, also grew in power and influence through the ever more sophisticated mass media of newspapers, radio, film and television. By the 1960s, they were firmly established in communications, government, industry, universities and the military.
The middle class held in common basic assumptions and values that have become our dominant national values. In the public area, the middle class assumed that the national economy would continue to grow through proper management, improving the standard of living of all Americans. They also assumed that technology could solve the problems of waste, pollution and poverty created by industrialization. They further assumed that the American system of constitutional and electoral democracy generally provided social justice. When corruption and injustice did occur, the system provided means of redress.
Today, some of the assumptions of the managerial middle class are coming under attack. Nevertheless, their attitudes still shape most of our public and economic policy and our private behavior.
In the private realm, personal gratification and personal fulfillment came to be valued. By the late 1960s, the middle class also advocated open communication with others and tolerance for diverse opinions and for individual lifestyles. The sexual revolution that most of us would date from the early 1960s actually began decades earlier among members of the managerial/professional middle class. They were the first to use birth control devices in the 1920s. From the 1920s to the 1960s, the sexual revolution meant more freedom for experimentation among young unmarried people, although promiscuity was still condemned.
The sexual revolution also affected marriage. Middle-class marriages were no longer simply economic arrangements for rearing the young, maintaining family lines and securing inheritance. Husbands and wives were to be companions in all of life's pleasures, including sex.
One of my favorite historical documents is a 1959 bestselling book written for women by a psychiatrist, Dr. Marie N. Robinson, titled The Power of Sexual Surrender. It marks just how far advanced the sexual revolution was by that time. The book is designed to help frigid women, and a constant theme throughout is that, in order to overcome their malady, frigid women need to understand and accept their own altruistic feminine nature and the aggressive nature of men. In an early chapter, she sketches out the "Not Impossible She," the ideal woman all women can become-and mustbecome-if they are to be mentally healthy. This "Not Impossible She"
. . . takes the lead from him about whether they are going to make love-the kind of love they are going to make is also usually his decision-and, in pure delight, she follows him completely. If he feels purely lusty, soon she does too. Does he feel gentle and tender? Then she picks up that mood. Experimental? Let's, by all means, experiment. Passive? She'll be active. . . . Despite her very pronounced wantonness with her husband, however, [she goes on to assure her readers in the next paragraph] she has no promiscuous urges whatsoever.
As early as the 1920s, sex began to be separated from procreation. In the 1960s, it was increasingly presented as separated from marriage as well,not by Marie Robinson, but at least as Playboy portrayed it and as college students and the counterculture experienced it.
This, then, was the destiny of the feminist movement. These were the conditions which had developed for them quite independent of any person's or group's conscious plan of change-a middle-class climate of national prosperity, smaller families, longer lifespans, new work opportunities, more years of school and changed sexual mores.
The feminists, in other words, held many good cards. Most had attended at least a few years of college. They enjoyed a level of prosperity that made "self-fulfillment" a reasonable goal. Child rearing, and by extension homemaking, although still stressed everywhere as giving central meaning to women's lives, in fact took up only a part of adult life. Working outside the home, many women enjoyed a measure of economic independence even within marriage. The opportunity to support themselves also gave them alternatives to marriage, even if the alternatives involved a poorer standard of living. The sexual revolution had separated sex from procreation, and, in the 1960s, conception could be controlled almost completely. Women had more sexual freedom than ever before.
As is often the case in reform movements, the women who profited most from these structural changes-the women whom destiny had favored-were the first to decide they needed to take destiny into their own hands. Thus the feminist movement began under the leadership of middle-class housewives and professional and other working women. They took for granted the strong cards they held.
We will look first at their goals. What destiny were they choosing for themselves? Stated in the broadest terms, the feminists wanted rights and responsibilities to be distributed equally among men and women according to individual talents, not according to traits simply assumed because of gender. Fundamentally, the feminists believed that, in most areas of life, the interests of women were considered secondary to the interests of men. They hoped, simply, to end this secondary status based on sex.
Were I to spell out all of their specific goals, and the differences among various groups of feminists, we could be here the rest of the aftemoon. Instead, I want to mention several of their central goals. Then we shall examine two of these goals that they have largely achieved and one that they have not to understand how destiny and design worked together in shaping the world we live in today.
The feminists were relatively successful in achieving their goal of ending discrimination in education and the work place. They wanted full access to professional schools and to all jobs, even those defined as male fields, and equal pay when they did the same work as men. They were even more successful in their goal of reproductive control through access to legal abortion.
The third feminist goal we will examine, the one which has not yet been accomplished, was to have men share equally in the private world of domestic work and care of children and the aged.
Let us look first at the question of ending discrimination in the work place. A handful of laws designed to end discrimination against women in education and work passed relatively easily between 1963 and 1972. In fact, the two most important laws, the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, passed because of the actions of a few reformers concemed about working women-before there was an identifiable feminist movement. Backed by these laws, feminists encouraged women to apply for jobs formerly inaccessible to them, and they brought successful discrimination suits under the new laws when they found access blocked.
Today, there is virtually no field that does not employ some women, and some fields that were 95 to 98 per cent male 15 years ago today have significant percentages of women, most conspicuously law, medicine and business administration. Admittedly, most fields still hire a majority of males or a majority of females, and women still face opposition and hostility in manyjobs considered male work. Nevertheless, the speed and the extent of the change in 20 years' time are remarkable. This change probably would not have occurred without the feminist reform actions of setting goals and working systematically toward them. This change would not have occurred without feminist design.
Destiny, or structural forces, was also important, particularly those I discussed earlier-middle-class women had been pouring into the work force through most of the twentieth century at rates much higher than the increase of men going into the work force. In the expanding economy of the 1960s, employers wanted female workers. Feminists wanted better opportunities for female workers.
In working toward their goals of opening up male fields to women, feminists effectively appealed to widespread values, those values mentioned earlier-equality before the laws, freedom to advance economically without artificial restraints, and the opportunity for each individual to develop his or her full potential. Girls as well as boys had been raised on these values. However, until the 1960s, most people considered it proper that these values applied to women differently than they applied to men. Equality before the laws for women meant their husbands managed the property once they married, and, as workers, they needed special protections because of their physical vulnerability. Women's economic advancement was to be through their husbands. A woman developed her full potential by pleasing her man and through motherhood.
Another of my favorite quotations from the 1950s-a companion to the passage I read earlier from Dr. Marie Robinson's book-is from an editorial in Look magazine (that devoted its Oct. 16, 1956 issue to the American woman). This quotation illustrates the extent to which the double standard was beginning to wear thin. It also is one of those statements that pulls us back sharply into a quite different mind set. The editors wrote that the American woman
. . . is winning the battle of the sexes. Like a teenager, she is growing up and confounding her critics. . . . No longer a psychological immigrant to man's world, she works, rather casually, as a third of the U.S. labor force, less towards a 'big career' than as a way of filling a hope chest or buying a new home freezer. She gracefully concedes the top jobs to men. This wondrous creature also marries younger than ever, bears more babies and looks and acts far more feminine than the 'emancipated' girl of the 1920s or even '30s. . . Today, if she makes an old-fashioned choice and lovingly tends a garden and a bumper crop of children, she rates louder hosannas than ever before.
Once women were in the work force in critical numbers, devoting fewer years of their lives to child rearing and able to control conception somewhat effectively, as they were in the 1960s, it was harder to justify treating women workers differently than male workers. Legislators and judges, steeped in the tradition that persons equally placed should be treated equally under the law, had to agree that, if women had the skills and capability, they should be allowed to train for and engage in any line of work. And when women did the same work as a man, they should be paid equally.
And gradually public opinion also agreed. Having accepted the value that each individual should be able to develop his full potential, it was hard for people to dispute the feminist contention that women, too, were individuals. Seeing women competently doing paid work, it was hard to deny that women had potential, not only as wives and mothers. And so the feminists successfully built on the destiny they inherited-new work roles and widely held values-to choose their destiny in education and work opportunities.
Destiny and feminist design intersected in a similar way in making legal abortions available to women. "The Pill" hit the American market in 1960. It and earlier contraceptive methods made family planning more effective than ever before in human history. The sexual revolution spurred the demand for even more complete reproductive control. At the same time, advances in medicine enabled physicians to detect fetal abnormalities and to perform abortions that carried very low risks to the pregnant woman. Physicians and feminist reformers, alike, shared middle-class beliefs that technology-skilled knowledge-could and should be applied to give people more control over their lives.
Thus advances in medicine and faith in science behind those advances, new sexual mores and the desire of women to decide reproductive matters for themselves, all came together in the movement for legal abortion.
The abortion issue is one now firmly identified with the feminist movement. However, it was male physicians, along with a few attomeys and politicians, who initiated the effort to legalize abortions in the 1960s-before the feminist movement emerged. (The law at that time in Califomia was being interpreted differently in each hospital and by individual physicians, and physicians wanted the law clarified. Specifically, they wanted a therapeutic abortion law which permitted abortion in cases of rape, incest, or deformed fetuses, and, if necessary, to save the life or health of the mother.) Women reformers thereafter took up the issue and made it their own. Their goal, their design, was not to liberalize abortion laws (which is what reforming physicians wanted), but rather to repeal all laws governing abortions.
Widespread national support developed for their position in a remarkably short time. When the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton cases came before the Supreme Court in 1972, major Protestant churches, as well as the largest national medical associations, filed friend of the court briefs or advertised their support for the repeal of abortion laws.
The Roe and Doe decisions evoked immediate and deeply felt opposition. Since 1973, a highly committed and well-organized minority of activists has succeeded in limiting access to abortion. Pro-choice activists fear that abortions once again will be outlawed. I do not think that efforts to ban legal abortions will succeed. These efforts, I predict, will fail for the same reasons that feminists succeeded in making legal abortions available-because economic and social forces reinforce the ideal of access to legal abortions.
Who is most likely to support access to abortion? Those women for whom an unplanned pregnancy presents a major crisis, women in school, or women working for pay outside the home. Their numbers are growing. Since 1973, a generation of young women has come of age with the assumption that their reproductive decisions are private-not social-decisions. They have matured in a society that increasingly values and protects individual sexual expression and, consequently, they face a high risk of unplanned pregnancies. They expect to work for pay many years of their lives, and want to be able to plan their pregnancies around their educational and work demands.
My students over the years have discussed their decisions to have abortions. Their moral reasoning is similar to that described by Carol Gilligan in her recent influential book, In a Different Voice. Although they may be against abortion in the abstract, when they have to weigh the interests of all the people involved in their own pregnancy, they often decide that abortion, while always a difficult choice, is also the moral choice.
The campaign to legalize abortion paralleled the campaign to end job discrimination. It, too, succeeded because it built on changes that were occurring before the feminist movement fully mobilized in the late 1960s. Since reproductive control serves a useful function in a society that encourages free sexual expression and in an economy that relies on the labor of women, feminists succeeded in winning enough support to change the laws.
This brings us to the third issue I want to discuss today, what I consider to be the major area where feminists have not yet achieved their goals-having men share equally in child care and domestic work.
Although probably all of us in this room know at least one couple who share child care and household tasks, all the studies of recent years show that women, in spite of these exceptions, still carry most of the burden of homemaking and care of dependents. More and more women are raising children without husbands and without even financial support from fathers. Here I come to the image of Burmese women walking in front. This area of single parenting is one of the land mines that has exploded into the faces of American women walking out in front.
Many young women, including my students of last spring, are suffering from being caught in the middle of change. They are in between "no longer" and "not yet." They no longer can take for granted that a man will help support them and their children, and they can not yet expect an individual man, nor society collectively, to share responsibility of daily care for dependents.
Feminists did not only want women to have opportunities in areas formerly closed to them. They also intended for men to share equally in the domestic realm formerly closed to them. In the process, they argued, men would acquire some of the values traditionally associated with women-nurturing, self-sacrifice, patience, cooperation and sensitivity to the needs of others. In time, they said, these virtues would transform the work place and even government policies. Resources would be shifted from needless consumer items like iced tea spoons and from armaments like missiles and spent on such human needs as education and child care.
Having men share in household tasks seems like a simple enough goal, but, when we begin to examine how this might be done, we see that it is the most complex issue of all. The simplest change would be for working parents to use professional services for cleaning, laundry and child care. Some middle-class families are doing just that, but for families used to the "free" services of a wife, it is hard to face paying the high price of such services. More seriously, many women and men cannot eam salaries high enough to pay for professional domestic services. The second least disruptive solution is for employers and the government to subsidize good quality child care centers. We are seeing some movement in this direction.
Some couples have tried sharing paid work and domestic work equally. Holding two full-time jobs and raising children, many couples have discovered, is exhausting and demand-ing. High-powered professional careers and 9 to 5 factory jobs, alike, sap parents of their energy for child rearing.
Feminists recommend that employers make available part-time work with fringe benefits for men and women raising children, as well as extended child care leaves for men and women. For these to work, women's jobs would need to pay as much as men's jobs. Otherwise, it would not pay the couple for both to eam an income, because the couple loses more income when the husband works part-time or takes a leave, versus the wife doing so.
It soon becomes evident that, for men to share equally in child care and domestic labor-emotionally and physically as well as financially, it would require a major reordering of our work arrangements, pay structures and even of our values. It involves a move away from competitive individualism in the work place, a redefinition of career, the recognition that human needs are as important as profits, and that proper care of dependents is as important as recognition and success in a career.
No wonder little change has occurred in this area! Furthermore, these proposals of feminists were new in the 1960s. Earlier generations of feminists anticipated almost all of the complaints and demands of contemporary feminists, but even the most radical of them did not suggest that men should share fully in homemaking and child care. And destiny is certainly not working in tandem with feminists. No powerful social forces or economic pressures have served to break down the custom whereby women take care of the home and children. On the contrary, social and economic forces reinforce that custom.
And lastly, even today, qualities valued in women and important for good child care-cooperation, self-sacrifice and nurturing-are not universal national values, but values considered appropriate for women only.
In sum, then, women have moved into the work force where jobs are still structured around the old domestic arrangements. Employers still expect full commitment from workers, assuming they do not have to concem themselves with child care and housework. They still expect their workers to spend years of expensive training, if necessary, and to work without interruption until retirement. Consequently, women workers, like men, have adapted to the requirements of the work place. They value professional achievement, put their commitment to education and work first, and try to make personal arrangements for family and child care that will not interfere with their education or jobs.
Access to legal abortions has helped women to meet these requirements. By meeting these requirements, they have broken through many of the barriers of discrimination that existed 20 years ago.
As many of you know, I would like to see the changes in values and domestic arrangements I have just described, so this assessment sounds pretty bleak. I mean to accomplish the contrary, however-I intend it to be reassuring. Perhaps it is my stage of life, or perhaps it is my years of reading history, but I have come to recognize that meaningful social change takes a very long time. That these changes have not occurred yet is no cause for despair. They may still occur, but it will take time.
As I said in my opening remarks, I am not a hard-line determinist, and, as many of you know, I am an incurable optimist. Optimist that I am, I think that women can still choose or design their destiny in this area by influencing the men they live with, by putting pressure on their employers and unions to make adjustments necessary for working parents, and by publicizing their ideas. They need to build a constituency for changes in corporate and government employment practices.
I see parallels in previous movements for labor legislation, Social Security and Medicare. These reforms, too, faced initial widespread opposition. However, a national constituency in their favor was gradually built up, and higher industrial wages, retirement insurance and health care for the aged are now accepted parts of our capitalist system.
We have looked at key areas where the women's movement has touched our lives-in work, parenting and control over reproduction. In two of these areas, material conditions and values of the middle class had already changed, and feminist reformers worked within the social and economic structure to remove the disadvantages women still experienced in comparison to men. They were successful insofar as they appealed to middle-class concerns and values. They were successful insofar as they appealed to dominant American principles of fairness and adherence to law. And they were successful insofar as they did not challenge deeply entrenched economic interests.
Reformers are different from ordinary folk in that they try to shape their destiny-not simply in the personal choices they make, but by changing society. They think in grand terms of ways the world could be improved and then act on their vision. When a reform movement has been successful, the changes wrought are taken for granted. The goals not accomplished loom in high relief, and we underestimate the achievement.
I want to end by enumerating a few of the things that 20 years ago were subjects of bitter dispute and today we take for granted. Because of the feminist movement, today we take for granted that young women in their twenties will choose whether to have children or careers or both. We take for granted that an Alice Walker and an Ellen Goodman win Pulitzer prizes for their writing. We take for granted that history texts include women's history and psychology classes discuss research on gender differences. We take for granted that 40 year old women attend school and begin new careers. We take for granted that junior high school students take courses in "practical living," not shop for the boys and home economics for the girls. We take for granted the capabilities and rights of women to be astronauts, Supreme Court justices, sportscasters and backhoe operators.
This is the destiny that the 18 year olds among you have inherited. This is the destiny that the feminists of the 1960s chose.