Happily, the solution is near to hand. As any philosopher, including this one, can tell you, the alternative to a meaningless "choice" is value, the value of a flourishing life. People have been discussing what it means to have a good life for thousands of years. The answer, in Western culture, always includes using your talents and capacities to the fullest and reaping the rewards of doing so. Friedan started this movement with such a "values feminism," when she described a good life in The Feminine Mystique: "Down through the ages man has known that he was set apart from other animals by his mind's power to have an idea, a vision, and shape the future to it...when he discovers and creates and shapes a future different from his past, he is a man, a human being."
At this moment, 55 percent of college undergraduates are female--girls who should have a vision and wish to shape the future to it, to aspire to something complex and demanding, which they know they can do well--become a great artist or a crusading prosecutor, own their own restaurant or start the next Starbucks, design the next wrap dress or the next iPod, be a lifesaving nurse, or the scientist who finds a cure for cancer. They may never get there, but however far they go--to the end of their abilities--the path is the path to a flourishing life. "Modern" society still puts roadblock after roadblock in their path. It will take a laser focus for women to reach their ambitions for a full human life. They must even resort to the love that dares not speak its name: love of work.
The world has changed since Friedan wrote, and now mere rhetoric--what we used to call consciousness raising--is not enough. It's a tough world. Women need a plan. Here's mine, for starts.
A Strategic Plan to Get to Work
- Don't study art. Use your education to prepare for a lifetime of work.
- Never quit a job until you have another one. Take work seriously.
- Never know when you're out of milk. Bargain relentlessly for a just household.
- Get the government you deserve. Stop electing governments that punish women's work.
I'll come back to the details later, but as this outline reflects, the changes that will bring women to the positions of power they deserve will come from many places. Change will start when women internalize centuries of hard-won insights into the content of a flourishing life. The next step is for women to stand up for themselves by making and keeping this plan or their own version of it, to lead a flourishing life. Men are not natural villains, but they will not make a fair deal on the home front unless women stand up and ask for one. As the economists say, they never met a man who washed a rented car before he returned it to the lot. It's an old story, but we'll tell it as long as we have to: Only when women make it necessary for men to take on a fair share of the family labor will they do so.