The New York Times Book Review
The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Familyby Madeleine Kunin
Feminists opened up thousands of doors in the 1960s and 1970s, but decades later, are U.S. women where they thought they'd be? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding no. Surely there have been gains. Women now comprise nearly 60 percent of college undergraduates and half of all medical and law students. They have entered the workforce in record numbers, making
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Feminists opened up thousands of doors in the 1960s and 1970s, but decades later, are U.S. women where they thought they'd be? The answer, it turns out, is a resounding no. Surely there have been gains. Women now comprise nearly 60 percent of college undergraduates and half of all medical and law students. They have entered the workforce in record numbers, making the two-wage-earner family the norm. But combining a career and family turned out to be more complicated than expected. While women changed, social structures surrounding work and family remained static. Affordable and high-quality child care, paid family leave, and equal pay for equal work remain elusive for the vast majority of working women. In fact, the nation has fallen far behind other parts of the world on the gender-equity front. We lag behind more than seventy countries when it comes to the percentage of women holding elected federal offices. Only 17 percent of corporate boards include women members. And just 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women.
It's time, says Madeleine M. Kunin, to change all that. Looking back over five decades of advocacy, she analyzes where progress stalled, looks at the successes of other countries, and charts the course for the next feminist revolution--one that mobilizes women, and men, to call for the kind of government and workplace policies that can improve the lives of women and strengthen their families.
The New York Times Book Review
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If You've Come a Long Way, Baby! was the rallying cry for the 1970s feminist movement, then But Not Far Enough could be the vanguard's chagrined chant now. From salary equity to corporate and civic leadership positions, the goals of the second wave of feminism are still far from being met. Pegging any advancement of the feminist cause to the substandard condition of the family, Kunin cogently examines myriad instances where feminist goals and family needs intersect. A former governor and U.S. ambassador, this working mother of four knows whereof she speaks. If a society is only as healthy as the least among its members, then the U.S.' paltry record vis-a-vis child care and employment programs that protect rather than penalize working parents of both genders has shown how those concerns are apparently of no concern to business executives and government leaders. Citing countless examples of how the U.S. compares with other industrialized nations on women's issues, Kunin offers reasonable advice for correcting an unreasonable situation.
As the first female governor of Vermont and a lifelong feminist, Madeleine M. Kunin brings a wealth of knowledge and authority to her latest book, The New Feminist Agenda. Convinced that feminism has not lived up to its potential, Kunin seeks to infuse the movement with new vigor by redirecting its focus. And so she asks: ‘Can we mobilize under the banner of Feminists for Families?’ And by ‘we,’ she pretty much means everyone. ‘We need a revolution,” writes Kunin. ‘But women cannot lead it alone. We have to broaden the feminist conversation to include men, unions, the elderly, the disabled, religious groups, and the unaffiliated.’ What she suggests is that feminists broaden their ranks so that they may ‘snatch back the words ‘family values’ and redefine them as the work/family policies necessary to sustain strong families.’ In particular, Kunin calls for the institution of work flexibility across the board, for all men and women, wealthy and poor. … the work Kunin is doing here is important. She’s not only framing the conversation, but also bringing a new generation of feminists into a discussion in which they may have never before played a part. Though, at its heart, this is a feminist manifesto, it’s not a polemic. Rather, The New Feminist Agenda reads like a practical guide, loaded with case studies and examples, all of which invite even the casual reader to consider that the ‘next revolution’ may be not only definable but also attainable.
The former governor of Vermont takes the women’s movement to task for failing to push for crucial changes in family-oriented policies. On the front line of the women’s movement in the 1970s and ’80s, Kunin (Professor at Large/Univ. of Vermont; Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead, 2008, etc.) expresses her still-simmering anger at the lack of progress made in basic gender equity—e.g., U.S. Congress is still only made up of 17 percent women, and women only earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. Mostly, however, Kunin is deeply concerned about the lack of meaningful progress enacted for struggling parents and young children in the areas of maternity leave, affordable child care and early education, flexibility in the workplace and elder care. While the early feminists were locked on hot-button issues like abortion and violence, they disdained to push so-called middle-class issues like maternity leave. The result has been a disastrous ‘Social Darwinism’ approach to the family agenda over the last few decades, and America now has the world’s highest teenage pregnancy rates. Kunin looks at comparative policies in the Nordic countries, which all have advanced work/family policies and strong gender equality but extremely high taxes; in France, which offers universal early daycare but has a big gender-equality gap; and in England, which has implemented a ‘right to request flexibility’ feature for workers that might be a good match for the U.S. Some states, like California and Oklahoma, have recently passed promising family-friendly policies, though the author stresses that businesses must be converted to the far-reaching benefits. Kunin sounds the need to incorporate fathers in the push for these policies, in nurturing women leaders and mentors and in joining forces with labor unions, retirement groups and businesses. A vital, useful, nuts-and-bolts manual for change.
Kunin (Marsh Scholar Professor-at-Large, Univ. of Vermont; Living a Political Life), the former governor of Vermont, here catalogs the areas in which the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s failed to achieve its goals, with the consequence that families must still negotiate the demands of work and home on their own. Comparing the United States to other Western democracies, Kunin concludes that citizens can resolve these problems by creating an inclusive movement of women and men ‘of all classes and backgrounds’ to demand changes. She proposes diverting resources into early childhood education and paid family leave and encouraging private employers to permit flexible work schedules. She argues that more women are needed in public life and corporate management and that home responsibilities must be divided more equitably so that employers understand that both men and women workers have family commitments. VERDICT: While the problems Kunin describes and the possible policy fixes (and obstacles) are well known to both academics and advocates, she seeks here to reach and mobilize an interested lay audience. This is a good primer on policies for ameliorating the work/family conflict, however unlikely their implementation may be in the near term.
American feminism gets family-oriented marching orders in this data-laden call-to-arms. Vermont's first female governor, Kunin (Pearls, Politics, and Power) argues that a revolution in work-life balance is good for women, families, and even the world economy. In a genteel tone, feminists are urged to abandon ‘patience, silence, [and] politeness’ in favor of anger, imagination, and optimism in a multi-pronged battle for family-focused workplace flexibility and benefits. Kunin compares U.S. work policies and attitudes with those ranging from heavily subsidized Nordic laws, to the more measured approaches of the U.K., Canada, and Australia, arguing that reform makes good business, social, and political sense. The book backs up facts with sober voices from business, politics, and education, but it is Kunin's account of her journey from ‘original earth mother’ to helming the Green Mountain State that crackles. This fiery septuagenarian (‘I'm still angry,’ she tells her friends at lunch) maintains that equity and justice for families and children, particularly those living in poverty, will keep America competitive and advance the struggle for parity between the sexes, and urges feminists to unite across generations, social classes, sexual preferences, and politics. Though Kunin's passion is obvious in her anecdotes, a heavy-handed reliance on statistics and expert opinions will likely make this book appeal more to already-active feminists than to a general audience.
Kunin (former governor of Vermont; now affiliated with Univ. of Vermont) espouses major societal reforms in the US regarding the work environment and the needs of working families. She hopes women will support this new agenda as a valid addition to previous feminist goals. Drawing on her experience and on work/family research in the US and elsewhere, Kunin identifies persistent difficulties many groups face, including problems based on gender, age, class, ethnicity, industry, labor, and disability. She also points out that most work environments expect employees to be available on call, but few family structures allow members such flexibility. Resources for meeting the care needs of children and elders, family emergencies, and other life circumstances are often scarce. The research Kunin summarizes shows that a flexible workplace leads to more satisfied workers, less turnover, and reduced labor costs and that everyone benefits from flexibility (e.g., regarding hours, work venue, sick leave, paid vacation) for themselves or for those in their care. She notes that many countries mandate such flexibility. The potential importance for children, from birth to college, is emphasized. Overall, this feminist agenda from an experienced politician provides a hopeful vision for an improved society. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; academic audiences, upper-division undergraduates and up; professionals.
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Meet the Author
Madeleine M. Kunin was the first woman governor of Vermont, and served as the Deputy Secretary of education and Ambassador to Switzerland under President Bill Clinton. She is the author of Living a Political Life (1995) Pearls, Politics, and Power (2008)and The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family (2012). She is currently a Marsh Scholar Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont where she lectures on history and women's studies. She also serves as president of the board of the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), a nongovernmental organization that she founded in 1991. She lives in Burlington, Vermont.
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