Last night I watched the 2014 documentary “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry” and I found myself in tears. I felt so much pride watching the women who have gone before me fighting our persistent oppression with passion and grace. What I have today is the result of these brave women who went head to head with culturally ingrained patriarchal institutions. They were imperfect and their movement may have possessed a certain exclusivity that third-wave feminism is doing its best to combat, but it can not be denied that these women did so much for us. It is an honor to be taking up their flag.
However, in the same moment, complete frustration and desperation washed over me. There were clips of women in their conscious raising groups remarking on discrimination that struck a very familiar modern day chord with me. Men still wish to control our bodies, whether they be law makers fighting against access to safe abortion, or doctors refusing to sterilize their patients because the woman might change their minds about having children later. The tactics my be more subversive and sly, but make no mistake, the war is far from won.
So I have been thinking, what are some of the things that we as feminists should focus on in the coming years? Obviously control over our own bodies and equal pay for equal work are fundamental to our movement, but we can not let those two ever present goals be the extent of our movement. We must look towards physical institutions we can implement or change that can force a dramatic cultural shift within the United States. I believe that subsidized childcare is that crucial institution, the tipping point for true equality and opportunity for women.
In 1971 a bipartisan bill called the Comprehensive Child Development Act made it all the way to Nixon’s desk. In a devastating defeat against women he vetoed it. This bill would have developed a multi-billion dollar daycare system specifically designed with single parents in mind but accessible to all. To Nixon this smelled too much of communism, because of course giving anyone a helping hand even if it means that people can actually have a safe place to leave their children while getting a job and off welfare, is communism? Misogyny masked in the cloak of sweaty patriotic individualism.
Can you imagine how different things would be? It drives my absolutely bananas that not only were we so close to universal childcare 40 years ago, but that I never knew about it until so recently! Not only would this have given women (and men) a choice to exit the private and enter the public sphere, that unless strongly middle-class they don’t have, but this was a bill that united legislators from both sides of the aisle until Nixon tainted it with the red scare. Enough time has passed that universal childcare could potentially be a uniting force today.
To be honest, childcare hasn’t been something I’ve though about much. I’m turning 30 in August and it sort of hit me that I’ll more than likely be having children sometime in the next five years. I am so excited to be a mother but it is also a terrifying prospect in our current political and economic environment. My boyfriend and I are both hell bent on going for PhD’s in the next couple of years which means we are going to decently poor. I will be doing fieldwork within my community so it’s not like I’ll be traversing the Amazon with a baby slung on my hip, but I honestly don’t know what we will do when we are both busy with work. Perhaps that’s a dissertation: Academic Mom’s and Dad’s and How they Do it All.
If I’m worried about having children and I have privilege out the wazoo I can’t imagine what single mothers go through. Our country loves to chastise the “welfare queen”, or rather the myth of, but we do nothing to change the situation in which she finds herself. You can not work if you have no place to leave your children. We need to invest in our children’s future and that begins by offering them a safe place to stay while their parents work. You want to lower the abortion rate even further (it is already at the lowest rate since Roe V. Wade)? Give mothers hope and the tools to take care of their children. Aside from abolishing abstinence only education and making birth control widely accessible and affordable, this is the other piece of the puzzle.
I understand that beginning this will be an uphill battle. Our current administration would love nothing more than to see public education privatized completely and I’m sure does not look kindly on public childcare. But we need to start thinking about this now. We need to try and make conservative allies who see the benefit of universal childcare now. We need to let our elected officials know that this is an important issue to us now. We need to vote in liberal like-minded thinkers in the 2018 mid-terms.
This is a conversation that has been largely ignored since the early 1970’s but if we are serious about women’s equality we need to begin talking about this. Children are vital to our country and it is to the benefit of all to ensure they all have a great start in life.