This was written in response to a perceptive critique of my feminist rants. I entirely agree with you “that being a feminist means rejecting some of what feminism had to say over the past 40 years.” What has accompanied the success of feminism is less appreciation and support for the vitally important work of caregiving. Years of child care and elder care are not seen as the excellent job qualification they so often are. Christian fundamentalists have valid points about the neglect of children and elders in today’s post-feminist society. We cannot abandon this issue to them.
Thank you for bringing up the illuminating distinction between equality feminism (women treated the same as men) and difference feminism (specific role differences require specific protection for women to allow them to participate equally).What is biology and what is learned gender role in the perceived differences between men and women? Because I have 5 very different brothers and 4 very different daughters, I question overemphasis on innate differences. The spread of differences among people of the same sex seem as great or greater as the differences between the sexes. At 8 months, my grandson clearly resembles his adventurous, world-traveling mother; he is as different from two of his aunts as his mother is. We would need several generations of both men and women equally involved in raising young children to make any significant judgment about innate sex differences.
Childbearing shifts the equation. Doctors advocate nursing for a year as the ultimate preventive health measure. So for about two years per child, women do need special accommodations. As you say, Europe in general has much better support for new mothers. They recognize that everyone benefits if new parents can afford to bond with their newborns and children receive as much parental care as possible in the early years. Fathers and mothers are equally capable of parenting young children; exclusive breastfeeding only last six months. Many heroic women now manage to work full time and give their infants only their own milk.
Day care of infants and toddlers, if done right, is usually prohibitively expensive financially. Babies usually get sick far more often in day care, and their parents have to scramble for alternatives just as their babies are needier and fussier. Premature group care is frequently emotionally expensive for infants and toddlers. My oldest brilliantly explained her daily meltdown after full-day kindergarten: “Mommy I used all my goodness up at school.” Society needs to make changes so that both parents could work a part-time and/or home-based schedule in their children’s earliest years without losing their benefits or harming their possibilities for career advancement. Onsite day care could be an alternative offered by all large enough companies and organizations.