March 1 , 1999
David Gergen engages Danielle Crittenden, founder and editor of the
Women's Quarterly Magazine, author of What Our Mothers Didn't
Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, a Gergen dialogue.
DAVID GERGEN: Ms. Crittenden, your new book, "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us," might well be retitled, "American Feminism: The God That Failed."
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN, Author, "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us:" Or "The Goddess That Failed."
DAVID GERGEN: "The Goddess That Failed."
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: Yes. My book is about this generation of women who has grown up post- feminist, or what I think of as the daughters of the revolution, with very strong ideas, many of them feminist in origin, about how life was going to work. And I think we found that a lot of those ideas have failed.
So whether it's to delay marriage; delay having children, put everything into your career; that your fulfillment will come from your career, not from your marriage, not from being a mother-- these are ideas that we have grappled with and certainly accepted growing up, only to find out that when you get into your late 20's, 30's, you have put everything into your work.
You look around you, and if you're not married, you've suddenly made it very difficult for yourself to find somebody, a man who's committed; if you're having a child into your 30's, how difficult the work-child struggle becomes, and in fact, you suddenly realize that your priority is no longer your job, but yet it's now very difficult to leave your job. The sexual revolution, I think, has been very hard on women, and made it also very hard to find men who will commit. So those are a lot of the ideas that I address in the book.
DAVID GERGEN: Now, there was an incident on a tennis court that seemed to crystallize your views, while you were writing this book, about how far hostility toward males has come in some quarters.
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: Well, one of the most rampant forms of prejudice in our society I notice comes from women toward men. It's almost reflexive. Gloria Steinem had once said, "We have become the husbands we wanted to marry." And it occurred to me that maybe we've become those Archie Bunker-like husbands we wanted to leave behind. And for instance, when this whole Clinton scandal broke, I was amazed at how many women just said, "Well, he's acting just like a man."
And I remember a lot of men saying to me, "Well, I don't act like that. That's a real sexist remark." And I think that's true, that we have demonized men and mischaracterized them.
DAVID GERGEN: And on the tennis court?
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: Oh, this is an incident where I'd gone to get my husband's racket. We had left our rackets at the opposite end of the tennis court. We were having a lesson, and I forgot mine. So I ran down and got both rackets, brought them back, gave my husband his racket. And one of the young women in the class looked at me and she said, "Oh, I was hoping you'd make him get it himself."
And it was one of -- I call it a "clack moment." Feminists used to say they had "click moments" when all became clear, and I call this a clack moment, because I realized, where did that come -- why would I not show courtesy and get someone else their racket if they had forgotten it? And again, it was just a kind of good-natured reflexive hostility towards men.
DAVID GERGEN: What is the evidence that women are less happy today after women have made so many strides forward in the workplace, have changed their lifestyles in a good many ways?
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: Well, one of the things, you see it constantly in the surveys, there's this sense of feeling trapped. One of the things I write about in the book is how women now feel almost as trapped in their jobs as they did, or were told they did, in their suburban ranch homes in the 1950's. I've heard many accomplished women who seem to have -- who so-call "have it all" in their work, say without any sense of irony, "I don't have the same choices my own mother did," meaning, "I don't have the choice to leave the work force, to have children, often even to have a husband," that there is a kind of -- our marriages are more likely to fail.
We're more likely to be substance abusers. We're more likely to have an abortion. We're more likely to have babies out of wedlock. I mean, I think there is a general sense that things have gone wrong, but why they've gone wrong is what I've tried to address in the book.
And I think it comes a lot from this set of shared beliefs about how our lives should go, and also, I think one of the most damaging beliefs of the women's movement was a sense of equality, meaning sameness with men -- not just equal before the law, equal politically, which I think we all feel today, that we feel equal in every meaningful way, but we're not the same as men.
DAVID GERGEN: Do you worry that if women adopt more traditional lifestyles, marrying earlier, staying home more, mother and children, that the advances that they've seen in the workplace will diminish, that they'll go backwards?
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: No, because actually, we're getting into this situation where women are doing it anyway. I mean, they're having children and they're leaving the work force, or they're getting into these highly pressured situations where they're working ten hours a day, coming home, being with their children in the evening, and getting satisfaction out of neither.
And one of the things, when I was looking at this problem, thinking, "Well, who are the role models? Who are women I admire that who really did manage to have it all?"-- and every example I could come up with, women who managed to be home with their kids when their kids were small and growing up, who then went on to do interesting things: Sandra Day O'Connor, Supreme Court Justice; my own mother; in fact, my late mother-in-law, who was a broadcaster in Canada, had all done it in ways that are exactly the opposite from what we are told to do today, which is, had their kids young in their 20's, their lives had opened up, they'd married young, and they'd gone into the work force.
DAVID GERGEN: When you tell young women, "Hey, don't wait so long to get married," which has been -- you know, is a central argument in your book, "Try to do it earlier. Don't wait until you're 29, 30" -- that sort of thing -- what do you say to the young woman that comes back to you and says, "Look, we have two problems with that.
First of all, there are a lot of young guys out there who don't want to get married at 22 or 23, and what he wants to do; and secondly, in today's world, if you want to move up economically and participate, you often have to have a graduate degree, and when am I going to go to business school or law school or public policy school, or what have you?"
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: It's absolutely true that I know a lot of 24- and 25-year-olds who say, "Well, Danielle, please, I'd like to get married; introduce me to someone." And again, when you change female expectations, as we've done, you change male expectations. And there's been so much, I think, abuse heaped on marriage, that men are not being raised either to think about getting into marriage earlier, to look at marriage as anything but something you put off as long as possible.
We're less willing to commit ourselves to each other. I think we're just not raised having that attitude that marriage is important, and we should look to doing it sooner, rather than later. So I think that's going to take a social change, or a change of attitude.
DAVID GERGEN: On both sides?
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: On both sides. As to the attitude about, you know, "I do want to go to graduate school," et cetera, I think that's very true. I think you can -- women have gone to -- other generations have gone graduate school and had children, too. It might just take you a bit longer.
I think the bigger danger that women worry about is if they don't get that experience on in their 20's, what will they do in their 30's? I think the economy today, the labor shortage today, is much better for women, because it makes it easier to go in and out of the work force. And it's also not productive now, the way we're doing it, which is to leave our careers often in our mid-30's, right when we've invested all that time.
DAVID GERGEN: You seem to come down very hard on the notion that sexual liberation has wound up imprisoning women in some fashion.
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: Well, not imprisoning, but it was a kind of shooting-yourself-in-the-foot element, that -- I think there's now a consensus that it was great for men, and that we are -- that sexual freedom is not the same thing as sexual equality; that as women, we want different things, ultimately, out of our relationships.
If you want a committed relationship -- I write in my book that in your 20's, you have this illusion that you are so sexually powerful; you can have all these men. They come along with the regularity of subway trains. And suddenly, though, when you're 28, 29, 30, it starts to creep up on you. Those trains cease to come in so regularly, and then you start looking around, and there's none at all. And I think that's been one of the things that we've disconnected, commitment from sex. And that's hurt women, because ultimately, we do want commitment.
DAVID GERGEN: The final question, the classic male question.
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: Yes.
DAVID GERGEN: Should we, the men, look upon women as different, or as the same and equal?
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: Well, I think you're going to anyway. Yes, I think what we should strive for is an equality of respect, to accept that we have these differences. That doesn't make us less equal as citizens, less equal in what we do in our daily lives. And I think if we can recapture some of that lost respect that we had between the sexes, an acknowledgment of differences, and also accept that today, we really do have these enormous opportunities.
We are the freest and most equal generation of women in history. And I think so long as we are captive of certain ideas or certain notions of having to be precisely like men, having to work the same 50-hour weeks, we are not going to be able to realize those extraordinary opportunities.
DAVID GERGEN: Danielle Crittenden, thank you very much.
DANIELLE CRITTENDEN: Thank you for having me.