Serena Freewomyn

Women in the 21st Century: The Balancing Act

Filed By Serena Freewomyn | November 16, 2007 4:13 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: feminism, women at work, women's movement

This week I had the opportunity of listening to two lectures by Pulitzer Prise winning journalist Anna Quindlen, who visited Arizona State University as the 2007 Flinn Foundation Centennial Lecture Series guest. Quindlen, who currently writes the column "The Last Word" for Newsweek, spent the week delivering public lectures and visiting classes.

In a colloquium that was co-sponsored by the Women & Gender Studies Program, Quindlen spoke to a crowd of approximately 100 students, along with Dr. Elizabeth Archuleta from the Women & Gender Studies Program and Dr. Ayanna Thompson from the Department of English. They addressed the topic of “Women & the 21st Century: The Balancing Act,” and discussed their own personal experience of trying to balance their personal and professional lives.

Quindlen began her remarks by noting that “perhaps there will be a colloquium some day called ‘Men in the 22nd Century: The Balancing Act,’ because it’s interesting to me that women are the ones who are trying to juggle their families and their careers.” Quindlen told the young women in the audience that they needed to start by changing their language. “When men take care of their children, they’re not babysitting. When they do housework, they’re not helping. There should be an expectation that both partners participate equally in the relationship.”

Dr. Archuleta advised the audience “to be more selfish. Start putting your own needs first and don’t be afraid. We as women have been socialized to put everyone else first. But women need to start defining themselves apart from the men in their lives.”

When an audience member asked the panelists if they were concerned that more young women do not identify with the feminist movement, Quindlen replied, “I don’t care so much if people use the word. So long as they walk the walk. Do they believe in equality? Do they believe in equal pay for equal work? Then yes, they are a feminist. Do they believe that men should be equally responsible for caregiving and domestic tasks? Then yes, they are a feminist.”

Quindlen also commented that “the women’s movement is like God. We’re everywhere. Whenever a young girl plays baseball, or a female rabbi performs a wedding, or a female cop pulls you over, that’s the women’s movement. Because these things wouldn’t be possible without the women’s movement.”

Quindlen closed her remarks by telling the audience that, “you have a moral responsibility to the women coming after your. My motto has always been, ‘rise up, reach down,’ because I have always felt that I needed to make it easier for the next generation of women.”

While I agree with everything that the panelists had to say, I can't help but notice the distinctly heterosexual perspective that was presented. The assumption from all of the speakers was that women have male partners and that male partners don't do housework. Where is the lesbian perspective in this analysis?

I'm a young, lesbian professional who is just starting out in my career. I would have liked to hear some advice from an older, lesbian professional about the balancing act she has had to play in order to balance her work life and her personal life. What were the unique challenges she faced as a lesbian? Did her family of origin support her while she was in college, or did she have to support herself? Is she out in the work place? If so, how has the helped or hurt her advancement in her career?

And in terms of personal lives, how do we as lesbians negotiate parity in a relationship? When both partners have been socialized to do domestic labor and both partners have been socialized as women to put everyone else first, how does this play out in a lesbian relationship? If your workplace doesn't offer domestic partner benefits, how have you been able to negotiate taking leave if your partner is sick if your employer doesn't honor that relationship?

These are important questions. In fact, I think there could be an entire conference devoted to the subject, It's really unfortunate that a group like the Women & Gender Studies Program doesn't see the need to highlight the lesbian perspective.


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One thing I read that I disagree with:

Dr. Archuleta advised the audience “to be more selfish. Start putting your own needs first and don’t be afraid.

I think that this exact attitude is one of the major problems with society today. And I don't mean that as "Women aren't taking care of the men," but instead, "Everyone is too focused on themselves."

America needs to regain some of that sense of civil responsibility for our fellow citizens. We need to look out for our neighbors, friends and partners. We need a strong family support system. What we don't need is both subjugation of women as quasi-slaves to males and the Reagan-era leftover of "Me! Me! Me!"

As for feminism being a part of every day life, I totally agree. We wouldn't have gotten nearly as far as a civilization if it wasn't for the women's movement.

I don’t care so much if people use the word. So long as they walk the walk. Do they believe in equality? Do they believe in equal pay for equal work? Then yes, they are a feminist. Do they believe that men should be equally responsible for caregiving and domestic tasks? Then yes, they are a feminist.

That's so one of those "big words", feminist. I mean, I've found that it means all sorts of things to all sorts of people, that it can justify transphobia and lead to love of the T-folk, that it can be both racist and anti-racist, that it can be class conscious and elitist, that it can oversimplify (rarely) or give voice to complexity (more often), and that it can be incredibly queer-friendly, but, at time, queer-erasing.

So it's interesting that Quindlen says that its essence is equality between men and women. How can something with such varied results originate from the same idea?

Or is this where feminism is helpful in noticing that that "idea" isn't singular and can be interpreted in a multiplicity of ways depended on context and one's experiences?