FAMILY LIFE AS ZERO-SUM GAME

Rothman, Sheila M.

The first appearance of the new definition of woman was not intended to disrupt family life. The writing of Betty Friedan, the first Statement of Purpose of NOW, the findings of Masters and...

...The more regular sex a couple has, the higher the deliberately contrived peaksójust as the more you cook routinely, the better and the more reliable banquets you can stage...
...Friedan complained in 1970 that Kate Millett's Sexual Politics, which made sexual warfare the moving force in history, was "genuinely dangerous to the movement...
...Committed to a view of woman as competentó fully capable of acting in her own best interestó they were far more comfortable with equal rights than with particular privileges...
...Her energy and activity would make the home a more interesting, more exciting, and more satisfying place...
...The officials were interviewed," she reported, "treated us as attractive women, but without the glint of contempt that so often belies men's flattery of women...
...In the 1950s, as in the 1920s, diamonds were "forever...
...NOW's decision at the same 1967 convention to campaign on behalf of abortion on demand also took the organization in a direction that its founders had not anticipated...
...Hence, women should anticipate divorce as a rite of passage...
...pressure from NOW constituents overrode the objections...
...Psychoanalytic doctrines provided one foundation for the recommendations of Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit...
...On the contrary, they all believed that woman as person would be a better wife and mother...
...program in order to enhance marital life...
...Rather, an expectation of impermanence now seemed normal within a marriage...
...And as we move from the private sphere to the public, the sounds of discord grow more intense...
...The political arena does not take second place to the family as a battleground for competing interests...
...But as such issues as abortion and lesbian rights became prominent, and as the efforts to implement them began, the old view gave way...
...And no sooner did a national organization for women come into being than their education began...
...Copyright© 1978 by Sheila M. Rothman...
...mothers of children below six could only take "an afternoon away" or "half a day away...
...Defining the child as one who changes "constantly, from one state of growth to another," who perceives the world in "an egocentric manner," who cannot maintain "positive emotional ties with a number of different individuals," who can "freely love more than one adult only if the individuals in question feel positively to one another," they elevated, predictably, psychological ties over biological ones...
...The relevant "other" for Friedan remained the man...
...What about those cases where the woman's desire to abort a fetus conflicted with her husband's desire to have a child...
...A few observers like Fraiberg have attempted to revive a traditional ethic, to remind mothers that their grandmothers knew best, that folk wisdom has its strengths...
...An early and important statement on children's rights appeared in a small book written by three psychoanalysts: Joseph Goldstein, also a professor of law at Yale, Anna Freud, director of the Hampstead Child Therapy Clinic in London, and Albert Solnit, a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Yale...
...This shift altered both its agenda and underlying assumptions, particularly its notion that the interests of men and women were ultimately compatible...
...Liberated women were "not battleaxes or manhaters," and she noted with pride that "there are men in our own ranks...
...Where they saw mutuality of interest, we see conflict of interest...
...Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit argued the case in only one aspectóchild custody proceedings...
...What is good for wives is not necessarily good for husbands and what is good for mothers is not necessarily good for children...
...Progressive special protection was one more form of discrimination...
...Relying also on the laboratory experiments of John Bowlby, they stressed the special nature of time to children and the detrimental consequences of prolonged separation...
...They offered their treatment only to couples who had agreed in advance to remain together for five years...
...It was not merely that the technology of birth control (through the advent of the Pill) facilitated family limitation...
...And that survival, Fraiberg argued (along the lines of Bowlby) depended upon "the human qualities of enduring love and commitment to love [that] are forged during the first two years of life...
...In the 1970s, diamonds were "for now...
...To Friedan, the ideal feminist was both a working wife and a mother...
...At the least, "parents who understand these [distress] reactions as signs of love take special pains to see that a sitter employed for the parents' night out, or the mother's afternoon away, will be a person known to the child and trusted by them and their child...
...The writing of Betty Friedan, the first Statement of Purpose of NOW, the findings of Masters and Johnson, and even the recipes in The Joy of Sex did not imagine that an active and liberated woman would war on her husband or her children...
...and they urged that a decision once made by the 395 biological parent in favor of adoption be irreversible...
...Abortion on demand might be in the best interest and within the rights of women, but it was not necessarily in the best interest of husbands or of society in general...
...This pattern was perfectly consistent with career or job interestsówith getting a start in a position, interrupting work for a brief stint at motherhood, and then returning sooner rather than later to the work force...
...Carefully avoiding the use of the term "mother," they referred only to the parent, and in their definition, the fit parent was the one who was actually satisfying the child's psychological needs...
...Thus women's liberation, when examined from the perspective of the child, seemed a dangerous doctrine...
...The new woman reformers had a wider tolerance for various forms of sexual expression...
...So, too, Masters and Johnson translated their laboratory findings into a sex therapy Excerpted from Sheila M. Rothman, Woman's Proper Place (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1978...
...The doctrine of woman as person implicitly suggested that maternal roles might not be consistent with women's needsóand then the case of abortion made the conflict explicit...
...In fact, married couples enjoyed the best sex: "One needs a steady basic diet of quiet, night-and-morning matrimonial intercourse...
...Although few NOW members were homosexual (in a recent survey, 8 percent reported themselves homosexual and 9 percent bisexual), they empathized with the discriminations that these women suffered...
...therefore, we acknowledge the oppression of lesbians as a legitimate concern of feminism...
...A six-month absence might seem short to a parent, while to a two-year-old it was interminable and had devastating effects...
...Because we were and are serious about real equality . . . they treated us with real respect...
...Once constituent pressure began to direct organizational policy, the women's movement became (and to this day has remained) essentially leaderless...
...Conversely, did the poor have the same rights to abortion as they had to medical treatment...
...Ostensibly, programs that benefited women would benefit men...
...Would the right to abortion inevitably lead to infanticide for deformed babies or euthanasia for the senile...
...rather, more women were reluctant to assume the responsibility for rearing several children...
...It is also based on a highly distorted, oversimplified view of our society, men and women, family relations, relations to children...
...q 397...
...Finally, they strongly advocated state adoption subsidies, so that the psychological parents would have full rights to the child without forfeiting financial compensation...
...Where our predecessors saw harmony, we see discord...
...In the mid-1970s the birth rate reached an all-time low of 1.8 children per family (and there is every indication that the figure will not climb substantially higher in the near future...
...Thus, in that terrible and tragic case when Dutch Jews returned at the end of World War II to reclaim children left for safekeeping in non-Jewish households, the children's rights doctrine would have reversed the Dutch Parliament's flat decree in favor of the biological parents and instead upheld the psychological parents...
...Even Sanger's version of "voluntary motherhood" had merely given the women the option to space their children...
...Previously, custody decisions had automatically favored the biological parent: the right of a mother to her child was almost always held paramount over that of foster parents and usually over that of a father...
...Thus, NOW resolved at its 1971 convention that a "woman's right to her own person included the right to define and express her own sexuality and to choose her own life style...
...In 1967, just one year after NOW's founding, the priority that organizers had first given to the enforcement of Title VII gave way to a commitment to pass an equal rights amendment...
...Some of NOW's founders withdrew when new goals conflicted with their personal beliefs...
...instead, women were postponing having children until later in life and then having fewer children than ever before...
...It is an unusual perspective, one that is particular to our own times...
...But Friedan, along with other NOW officers, seemed amazed at the diverse types of women who enthusiastically advocated a liberalized abortion policy...
...the feminists of the 1960s demanded that women have the freedom to choose not to become mothersóor even wives...
...The old-line National Woman's party members made a quick alliance with younger delegates...
...The women speaking up passionately for it," Friedan noted, "were not only the young women from everywhere, but the square, middle-aged housewife types from Indiana and points south...
...men should know that when they want to settle down their wives will want to climb mountains...
...Just when the women's movement was asserting that the role of mother could conflict with the welfare of women, these authors were arguing that the natural motheróor, for that matter, the fatheró would not necessarily promote the welfare of the child...
...Perhaps the social class and income of the Smith alumnae allowed them easier access to medical abortions than most women had...
...When those very old suffragettes sitting in the front row got up to speak on the Equal Rights Amendment," continued Friedan, "I saw that they spoke to those very young women who had never heard of it before and were kindled by it as they had not been by narrow job issues...
...If a woman had the right to abortion, did her decision require the consent of her spouse...
...six months...
...As formulated by Margaret Sanger, these terms reflected the sentiments of the biological parent if the natural mother did not want the child, the child was unwanted...
...NOW's existence prompted women from all over the country to recount the discriminations that they had experienced...
...Their facile optimism reflected a very limited experience...
...Aptly entitled Beyond the Best Interest of the Child, the tract contended that the traditional notion that courts should promote the child's best interest had been a masquerade, cloaking policy decisions that were ultimately made in the parents' best interest...
...Reprinted by permission...
...But why were psychoanalytic doctrines, which for decades had been used to tighten the link between mother and child, now suddenly put into the context of children's rights...
...The critical consideration was to respect the child's attachment to his psychological parents...
...Did the fetus have rights apart from the mother's...
...Alex Comfort's books also insisted that a variety of techniques would help keep sexual interest alive over a long married life...
...Behavior that before had been labeled as sick or corrupting was now protected and sanctioned under a right to privacy...
...Her book, Every Child's Birthright: In Defense of Mothering, was intended "for all those radicals, like myself, who think that our survival as a human community may depend as much upon our nurture of love in infancy and childhood as upon the protection of our society from external threats...
...It was by no means a universally approved strategy...
...Amazing as it may seem more than ten years later, the organizers of NOW in 1966 believed that ending sexual discrimination in the work force and establishing a national network of day-care centers would immediately accomplish the social and economic equality of American women...
...By the same token, the individual needs of women no longer seemed compatible with one lifelong marital relationship...
...The debate over abortion provided one context for the emergence of the children's rights movement...
...And no wonder...
...394 The federal courts resolved some of these issues, generally dismissing husbands' claims and those of the poor but disallowing all restrictions on women's prerogatives before the fetus was three months old...
...although the divorce rate climbed (doubling over the past ten years), so did the number of remarriages...
...As I listened and watched the women all over the hall who spoke," recalled Friedan, "I saw that very few were opposed to taking a stand on the ERA...
...In fact, the very passive title of Friedan's autobiography, It Changed My Life, is an honest indication that she was swept up in the current created by the movementóthat in NOW, members directed leaders...
...If the experts of the 1920s counseled women to find fulfillment in an intensive and all-consuming intellectual and sexual relationship with one man, their counterparts in the 1970s told them that fulfillment was not a unitary, once achieved / always achieved state, that different stages demanded new relationships...
...But by viewing the concept from the perspective of the child, the authors could contend that a child who was unwanted by the parent might well be wanted by someone else...
...For others, an equal rights amendment raised the prospects of NOW becoming identified with the National Woman's party and they wanted to keep the new feminist organization distinct from an old, tired, and ineffectual one...
...Did society have an interest in preventing abortion...
...In essence, these authors were saying that if there were an adult ready and willing to care for the child, for goodness' sake, do not disturb the relationship...
...or perhaps it was a dirty secret that they would not share with an interviewer...
...And so it was with lesbian rights...
...NOW had begun in 1966 as a civil rights organization...
...Moreover, just when the movement was insisting that women's rights should be enhanced regardless of the costs to others, these authors were insisting that children's rights should be enhanced regardless of the costs to others...
...As these figures (and Fraiberg's laments) make clear, women's decisions no longer gave mothering its traditional primacy...
...only after delivery...
...Runnig through all this literature is a contemporary definition of family life as a battleground among members, each trying to gain his or her own personal victory...
...For generations social critics predicted the demise of the family, but their predictions were by way of a lament, an effort to recall family members to their proper duties, to enhance maternal, paternal, and filial responsibility...
...In other words, a career choice was in basic conflict with child development...
...In more general terms Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit questioned earlier assumptions about the meaning of a "wanted" or "unwanted" child...
...I f child advocates like Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit shared a sense of pessimism, others like Selma Fraiberg evinced a deep anger...
...Nevertheless, the determination of most members to speak for the rights of all women in all situations overrode Friedan's objections...
...There is simply talk, anger, and wallowing...
...Friedan was convinced that "no serious, meaningful action emerges from a sexual emphasis...
...The younger women in NOW had little desire for special protection...
...Whatever the precise nature of the advice, one assumption is common to all of it: family life is a zero-sum game...
...The answer rests first in the new awareness of the distinction between the interest of the biological parent and that of the child...
...The role can be fulfilled by a biological parent or by an adoptive parent or by any caring adultóbut never by an absent, inactive adult, whatever his biological and legal relationship to the child...
...From the ages of three to six, "most children can tolerate separation from the mother for a half day . . . without distress when a good and stable substitute care plan is provided...
...Whether any adult becomes the psychological parent of a child," they announced, "is based on the day-to-day interaction, companionship, and shared experiences...
...The adoption of these planks not only marked off the feminists of the 1960s from their predecessors but also pointed to a critical shift in the women's movement itself...
...Unable to anticipate the complexity of a program that would bring equality to women, NOW's first leaders were unable to control the rank and file...
...Friedan and her allies had never thought in terms of competing interests or trade-offs...
...Only women themselves, and no one else, could define and implement their own best interest...
...by 1971, it was a women's liberation organization...
...children should understand, or at least have lawyers who understand, that their own interests will not necessarily be furthered by parental decisions...
...Even the unconventional section on "foursomes and moresomes" urged readers to share sex only with other couples committed to maintaining their own marriages...
...They also favored speedy adoption procedures, compelling a biological parent to decide quickly on custody...
...Around the issues of equal rights, day care, abortion, and discrimination against lesbians, NOW left the precepts of educated motherhood and wife-companion for a model of woman as her own person...
...For the first time,it appeared that women's interests, family interests, and societal interests were in conflict...
...But Friedan notwithstanding, beginning in the 1970s a conflict model, not a consensus model, pervaded the women's movement...
...Either the child is neglected "and so may learn that the world outside of the home is an indifferent world, or even a hostile world," or it is passed from one sitter to another and so "may learn that all adults are interchangeable, that love is capricious, that human attachment is a perilous investment...
...An absent biological parent," the authors maintained, "will remain or tend to become a stranger...
...Although Fraiberg agreed with Goldstein, Freud, and Solnit that social policy should favor psychological parents over biological parents in custody battles, she was much more intent on diagnosing the "diseases of non-attachment," or the ill effects on children when women go out to work and abandon the role of mother...
...Many contemporary social critics also predict the demise of the family, but they are far from certain as to how to rescue it, even whether to rescue it...
...Constituents, in other words, taught the NOW leaders about the real nature of women's experience in the world, and constituents then went on to radicalize the reform agenda...
...Friedan, 393 always intent on keeping the organization at least within range of middle-American values, feared that the "lavender menace" would wreck NOW...
...The very language and passion of the debate, however, illustrated all to vividly the deep character of the controversy...
...But despite this initial conservatism, the women's movement was soon issuing far more radical proposals...
...Some interests must be sacrificed to others...
...Given such disparities, it becomes less difficult to understand the steady decline in the American birth rate over the past decade...
...An equal rights amendment promised in one grand sweep to eliminate not only job discrimination but all discrimination...
...Since the family is a battleground, every member should have, and now does have, its own Clausewitz...
...a genuine concern for the child should promote custody decisions that favored the "psychological" parent...
...The issue of liberalized abortion most dramatically revealed how competing interests affected family relationships...
...It was time, declared Goldstein and the others, to revise this policy...
...Through this dynamic, NOW's list of demands rapidly expanded...
...But others insist upon the futility of such an endeavor...
...Better to have an amendment that would offer a legal basis for abolishing all forms of discrimination than to perpetuate a system that treated women as children...
...But these views did not carry...
...The goal was to gain equality with him...
...The more popular response is to take up the cause of one or another family member and set out the strategy that will most effectively realize that member's best interest...
...Within a few years it was spearheading the fight for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, leading an attack on abortion laws, organizing specific programs to equalize educational opportunities for women, demanding important changes in marriage, divorce, and rape laws, and agitating to end discrimination against lesbians...
...Nowhere did Fraiberg actually come out and tell women to stay at home and not go to workóbut ideal substitute mothers, she noted, are not to be found...
...For a working woman "there are almost no good solutions open to heróat least so farówhich serve the needs of her child...
...In a very short time, it rejected and renounced as harmful to women the social policies built on these inherited assumptions...
...Fraiberg insisted that the child from birth to the age of three could not tolerate "the care of a succession of anonymous sitters...
...This did not mean that more women were choosing to remain childless...
...To some labor union officials, particularly the United Auto Workers (who were actually helping to pay NOW's mailing costs), an equal rights amendment would abolish special protective legislation that they, like the Progressives before them, believed to be in the best interest of blue-collar workers...
...When one could no longer assume that a woman was primarily a mother, that her needs were identical with and indistinguishable from the child's, then child advocacy took on a novel meaning...
...When, if ever, did a fetus take on a life of its ownóafter three months...
...Not that women stopped or were supposed to stop marrying...
...Nor would they allow child welfare agencies to remove a child from the psychological parent except in cases where the child's interest, and not those of the agency or of the biological parent, dictated it...
...So in the first instance, they wanted to upgrade the prerogatives of foster parents, giving them first rights to adopt a child already in their care...
...NOW became a sounding board for grievances that went deeper than anyone had ever imagined or could even immediately 392 comprehend...
...What seemed cruel and heartless from the perspective of the parent was, in fact, in the best interest of the child...
...Indeed, Friedan's new woman would command a respect from men that her predecessors had not...
...If the 396 woman gained independence, the child lost love and stability...
...The others who stayed, like Friedan herself, were forced to accept policies that they had never anticipated or even favored...
...Convinced that lesbians were trying to capture NOW for their own purposes Friedan did manage to force many of them out of the organization...
...Once again, the first-hand knowledge of NOW's members, and not the ideas of its leaders, wrote the platform...
...Even its most passionate supporters recognized that a pro-abortion policy did entail benefits to some at costs to others, that trade-offs were inevitably involved...
...In each instance, it was constituent pressure that brought the organization into these issues...
...More interests will tilt the scale toward leaving well enough alone, than allowing the biological parents to prevail...
...grandmothers do not set (and never really have set) the fashion...

Vol. 25 • September 1978 • No. 4


 
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