The Promise of New Deal Feminism
A single mom needs work; she’s literally thinking about applying for welfare. As she writes on her blog, “I had been looking for a better job, but there were none to be had in the low-income/high-unemployment area where I lived. And I couldn’t get a full-time job anyway — I was still on the waiting list for a spot in daycare.”
She starts working freelance, from home. This suits her schedule as a mom. But “I was treated like crap, too. Bossed around, degraded, condescended to, with jibes made about my having to work from home. I quickly learned not to mention I had kids. I quickly learned not to mention I worked from my kitchen table.” But she gets the hang of things, and it starts to work. She earns more money as a freelance writer, gets steady work.
And yet, “…I was still having a hard time landing jobs. I was being turned down for gigs I should’ve gotten, for reasons I couldn’t put a finger on. My pay rate had hit a plateau, too. I knew I should be earning more. Others were, and I soaked up everything they could teach me, but still, there was something strange about it . . .
“It wasn’t my skills, it wasn’t my work. So what were those others doing that I wasn’t?”
She found out when she decided to adopt a male pen name and things got so much better fast. She became James Chartrand.
This is an old story. But it’s also a story of the Internet age, of a prominent blogger who “came out” today online to tell her story. That this is a story of a digitally proficient, virtual knowledge worker somehow surprised me.
If women still need to take men’s names to earn as much as men do, then surely we need a new woman’s movement. And not one centered solely around reproduction and abortion politics, which I fear is what people think of instinctually when they hear the word “feminist,” now.
As if to provide us with new reasons to organize into a new women's movement, in yesterday’s Washington Post historian Dorothy Sue Cobble wrote this call to arms, “Feminism today should concentrate on the economy and the workplace -- and on the huge transformations that are needed there to get greater equality and security. These are issues that can unite women across class and culture and allow feminism to speak to the fears and concerns of everyone.”
Cobble’s article, which draws from a recent report, details the movement of the thirties, forties, fifties and beyond, including the fight for equal pay, good jobs for women workers, and flexible schedule options.
Cobble writes, “In 1945, New Deal feminists introduced the first equal-pay bill into Congress; they reintroduced it in each of the next 18 years until the Equal Pay Act finally passed in 1963. Three years later, New Deal feminists joined forces with the civil rights, labor and poor people's movements and succeeded in amending the FLSA [Fair Labor Standards Act], raising the minimums and gaining coverage for the majority of American workers for the first time. The phrase "working poor" should be an oxymoron, they thought, and few believed it would be tolerated for long in a society so wealthy and so dedicated to the work ethic. They would have been astounded by today's low and falling wages.”
Most people I know snicker when we talk about a building a new women’s movement today. The world is too fragmented, they say. Feminism is a dirty word.
But perhaps for everyone who questions whether we can coalesce today into a new women’s movement, first perhaps we need to think hard about what such a movement would be for. What better cause can we gather around than creating work that works? And it’s not for ourselves alone, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, but for all Americans, for men, children, and for families. Sign me up.