JANUARY 22, 1997
Ever since the 1960's, feminists have been torn between their desire to have successful careers and successful family lives simultaneously, but achieving that balance has proven difficult. In a dialogue with David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News and World Report, Anne Roiphe, author of Fruitful: A Real Mother In The Modern World, argues that a woman can be a feminist and a mother, but a re-evaluation of career goals, and the role of mother and father, may be in order.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
An essay from the site, Feminist Mothers at Home
A Web site devoted to Motherhood and Parenting
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight a Gergen dialogue. David Gergen, editor-at-large of U.S. News & World Report, engages Anne Roiphe, New York Observer columnist, author of Fruitful: A Real Mother in the Modern World.
DAVID GERGEN: Anne, some 30 years ago, you began having children and you also began marching in favor of womenís rights. Now you question in your book is there a contradiction between being a mother and a feminist. Is there a contradiction?
ANNE ROIPHE, Author, Fruitful: I donít believe thereís a contradiction. I believe that it is our human right to be parents and women. And thereís no contradiction between feminism, which means women should have all that they are entitled to, all that they can do, all the opportunities that they can take advantage of they should have. That includes parenting; however, in the early days of feminism for a while there it became unfashionable and somehow not quite right to want to be a parent. And mothering was thought of as a secondary activity, and Iím someone who simply couldnít accept that. Children were too much, too important to me.
DAVID GERGEN: Thatís why you wanted to write this book, but tell me about the tensions you felt over these last 30 years, trying to be both, trying to be a novelist, a very successful novelist, and also a strong feminist. What sort of tensions did you feel in your own mind?
ANNE ROIPHE: Well, the tensions are the same that everybody of my generation and the generations that have followed feel, which is how do you balance your desire for your career and your work life with your home life and the needs of children, and we are balancing, we are fighting with men, we are trying to work it out family by family, and what I finally realized was that the feminist revolution was not complete. We needed to bring men into the home in order to fully make ourselves feminist families, not just feminist people.
DAVID GERGEN: Well, now some 15 years ago Betty Friedan wrote a book the Second Stage, which had some similar themes in it, the need for more balance in the feminist movement, the need for the feminist movement to adjust its course, to both stand up for the rights of women, but also to recognize the needs, the emotional needs of women as potential mothers, or as people who wanted to have a strong home life as well. And yet, that didnít become the major theme of feminist movement after she wrote that. Why not?
ANNE ROIPHE: No. I am only following Betty Friedan in this, and I am very aware that she said this first, and best, however, what happened was that forces went in the feminine movement, forces that believe in conspiracy, such as Susan Faludi, they are trying to send us back into the kitchen, forces that are furious at men and donít want to relate to them have taken, have in some sense grabbed a lot of media attention, had a lot of power, and pushed out of the way that strand of the feminist movement which Betty represents which I will call a humanist feminism, and I think that--
DAVID GERGEN: Thatís the banner youíre trying to pick up in this book.
ANNE ROIPHE: Thatís exactly what Iím speaking about here. We are feminists. We believe that women should have careers, should use their minds, are not domestic vassals, but we also believe in family and the need for family and that the desire to have children is something inherent in the human being. Itís part of our speciesness. Itís not a conspiracy on the part of Hollywood to drive us, you know, into the house.
DAVID GERGEN: As youíve gone around the country and talked with people about your views in the last few months, what have you found among women, especially younger women?
ANNE ROIPHE: Younger women are terribly torn. They want to stay home with their babies, which is a surprise to some of us who thought that everybody would want to get out of the house. They donít know that when you are home with a five year old and a three year old endlessly sometimes that can be very difficult and not so pleasing. They feel torn. They feel like theyíre missing their childrenís lives, and they are very upset about the quality of day care that they do find when they do have to go to work. Women are leaving the work force. They are giving up careers. They are anguished if they stay at home. They are anguished if they go to work.
DAVID GERGEN: But youíre arguing that we should not--Susan Faludi said five years ago but to make that argument essentially represented forces of benighted, forces of the patriarch, that that was the backlash, and youíre saying, no, thatís not the backlash.
ANNE ROIPHE: I know itís not the backlash because I hear it from women. This is what they are feeling. The attachment to the child, the nursing child to the toddler, to hearing the childís first words, to being with the child is so overwhelming that this isnít coming from some mysterious outside. This is coming from inside of us. Now, can we also have men feel this? Thatís the question. Thatís the thing that we have to bring into the future.
DAVID GERGEN: Before we turn to that question of men, let me ask you one last question about this, what youíre finding with women. What about the issue of when they should have children in the life cycle? What do you find among younger women today on that question?
ANNE ROIPHE: Well, itís not--itís not younger women. Itís women who have waited too long. And I think that in our zeal to liberate women from suburbia we may have exaggerated how long biologically women could wait in order to conceive. The biological time clock is set at a shorter distance than we had thought it was, and I know Iíve mixed about five metaphors there, but what--what we know is that many, many women are not able to conceive or are having terrible trouble if they wait until their late 30's or their 40's.
DAVID GERGEN: So you would suggest mid to late 20's?
ANNE ROIPHE: I would suggest mid 20's to early 30's, and I would suggest that not that women give up their careers and have their children but that we work out a timetable in the culture so that we can build a career and have children, take longer to make partner, take longer to do a residency, take longer to become a CEO, and men and women can both in their late 20's and early 30's devote themselves partially to the needs of their young families.
DAVID GERGEN: Slow down?
ANNE ROIPHE: Just slow down. It isnít necessary to make so much money before youíre 40. You can make it at 45. You can make it at 50. Life is longer than we thought. The original idea that biology was not destiny is not quite accurate. Biology is something we have to pay attention to, and it makes me sad that many women will not have children now who want them.
DAVID GERGEN: On men. You argue that the men ought to come into the nursery. That was of course an argument that was made back in the early 60's by some feminists; we ought to get the men to share more fully, but you say thereís been some interesting psychological--work done on a theoretical level by psychoanalysts since then. Youíve cited Dorothy Dinnerstein and Nancy Chetero. Tell me about that.
ANNE ROIPHE: These are sociologists and psychologists and psychoanalysts who have said that the misogyny that we see in the culture and we see everywhere, the Medusa myths, and--
DAVID GERGEN: The Pandora myths.
ANNE ROIPHE: The Eve story. And all the cultures that place women in very inferior positions, that this hatred of women, the fear of women is in direct reaction to men being raised by mothers and boys and girls both being raised by mothers and having to fight to get away from that mother figure. Now, they--the claim is made that our need to be separate people evokes a desire to regress back to the mother and then we fight that desire to regress and then we hate the mother and we hate women.
DAVID GERGEN: And we invent these devouring women figures.
ANNE ROIPHE: And this is the root of the devouring women myth, and it is the root of the misogyny that we see in the culture. Now if we changed it, if women were not the exclusive caretakers of their children, this would be a great revolution and we have not done this. I had an experience that showed me that I am not ready for this. Several years ago my 12 year old had pneumonia. She turned blue. My husband was in his office downstairs.
DAVID GERGEN: This is a fascinating story in your book.
ANNE ROIPHE: I called the pediatrician, who said bring her to the emergency room right away, and my husband was in his office with a patient, and I thought, well, Iím not going to bother him; I will take care of this; I am super mom. And I couldnít quite take this 12-year-old to the taxi. I couldnít quite get her into the taxi. She fainted in the taxi it took me so long. The taxi driver had to carry her into the emergency room, and when my husband was told about all this later, he was furious at me. Why didnít you interrupt me? I wasnít quite ready to share. I wasnít quite ready to accept that he too would respond to the emergency.
DAVID GERGEN: But thatís the leap we all must make you believe.
ANNE ROIPHE: I think thatís it. I think that we have to change, we have to change men, we have to change our expectations of men, and we have to allow men the space to be full fathers.
DAVID GERGEN: Well, youíre trying to change the course of the country, Anne Roiphe. Thank you very much for joining us.
ANNE ROIPHE: Thank you.