Newsbusters.org reprints (here) a portion of the transcript from Monday’s airing of the morning talk-show The View. In one segment, Barbara Walters says she agrees with Rick Santorum that radical feminism is to blame for some women’s woes:
BARBARA WALTERS: Okay, [Rick Santorum] has talked about what he calls radical feminism, and he says many women have told him that it’s more “socially affirming to work than to give up their careers to take care of their children,” and he said, “Here we thank the influence of radical feminism for convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.” When he was criticized he claimed that his wife Karen had written that section. Now, I’m going to say something. * * * So there are things about Rick Santorum that I do not agree with. But I do feel that there was a time – and, you know, I’ve worked all my life, not when I was four and five, but after that – that there was a time when feminists – and it was the basis in the way of the feminine mystique – made the woman who stayed home and had children feel inferior. I think we are finally changing so that we realize, younger women, that you can make a choice. So I don’t think that what he said is so terribly off the point. He probably will be surprised that I am on that side and I know you disagree with me.
BEHAR: Well he won’t be surprised that I am not on that side because what I think that feminism did was empower women to have choices. You don’t only have to stay home and be a mother. You can also have a job. You can also have a career. * * *
WALTERS: …[In early days of feminism] if somebody said, “What do you do,” you would say, “I’m a housewife” and feel as if you had to apologize. Today you don’t but there was that time when you did. I’m not sure things have changed that much in this regard. I know many housewives who feel they are disrespected by working women when in social situations. Some of them have felt such a lack of esteem that they’ve gone back to work despite not wanting to.
Later Whoopi Goldberg reminded everyone that the conversation about “work” vs. “stay-at-home” itself involves a small percentage of women:
GOLDBERG: But I felt that feminism had left out several sections of women when they were out there marching. And for years this was the big old stinky fight.
JOY HASSELBECK: What do you mean?
GOLDBERG: Well, they were not representing the women who had no choice and had to go out and work. They weren’t speaking to them because that wasn’t what they were talking about. They were talking to the women who needed the encouragement to go and move. But I always felt that if you’re going to empower women, empower everybody.
HASSELBECK: Good point.
Read a more complete transcript here.
This interchange contains multiple critical vectors that are relevant to an analysis of both historical and contemporary feminism. At the height of second-wave feminism, the voices that got the most media attention indeed were the voices of privileged women for whom “work” vs. “stay at home” was an option. Within that group of privileged women who did have such a choice, some women (and their supporters) constructed either/or propositions: work vs. family. The words or existence (or perhaps both) of privileged women who chose careers in lieu of — or seemingly before — family caused privileged women who chose families over (or to the exclusion) of market labor to feel that their choice was somehow the less valid or respected. (The same was true in reverse, as well, as many privileged working mothers could attest.)
In Joy Behar’s emphasis on choice, I recognize much of mainstream contemporary feminism’s emphasis on (or Linda Hirshman might say fetishizing of) the existence of choices for women, rather than the particular content of their choices. To be sure, some women (and men) continue to perceive feminism as a narrow ideology instead of a socio-politcal movement or a capacious philosophy. Fights about what feminism is/is not attract media attention. Many women experience these fights as personal, or the opposite — just one more reason not to identify with “feminism.”