Excerpt: 'Get to Work'

The result of this was the preservation of the most intransigent of patriarchal institutions in our society. And that's where the trouble lay. Feminism did not lack the resources to recognize the problem. Very radical early writing included Pat Mainardi's political analysis of housework, which is riveting to this day. "Here's my list of dirty chores: buying groceries, carting them home and putting them away; cooking meals and washing dishes and pots; doing the laundry digging out the place when things get out of control; washing floors. The list could go on but the sheer necessities are bad enough. All of us have to do these things, or get someone else to do them for us. The longer my husband contemplated these chores, the more repulsed he became, and so proceeded the change from the normally sweet, considerate Dr. Jekyll into the crafty Mr. Hyde who would stop at nothing to avoid the horrors of-housework. As he felt himself backed into a corner laden with dirty dishes, brooms, mops and reeking garbage, his front teeth grew longer and pointier, his fingernails haggled and his eyes grew wild. Housework trivial? Not on your life! Just try to share the burden."

Instead, institutional feminism adopted a set of formal policies about housework. The National Organization for Women recommended "provision of independent Social Security coverage, including disability, in the homemakers own name, portable in and out of marriage, and continuing as the homemaker leaves and re-enters the paid workforce" and demanded that unpaid caregiving be included in the calculation of the gross domestic product. Such policies, however, never took on the core problem--the conventional assignment of the household to women. Even in 2006, NOW's "family" initiative is all about building caring coalitions and funding child care and family leave in the public sphere rather than taking on the inequality where it lives.

The final step toward choice feminism came as women got to the workplace in large numbers in the 1970s and 1980s and then found themselves doing everything. It turned out they would be allowed to go to work, but at the same time they wouldn't be allowed out of the home. And instead of asking Why do I have to do it all in order to have it all? they decided they really didn't have to have it all, cut their ambitions off at the knees, and reverted to choice. Instead of thinking their way out of the dilemma to the path of status and power, they simply appropriated the language of choice from the liberating choices the movement started. Thus, although it was really a backlash, the language of choice anointed any decision at all about what life path to follow.

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