Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Culture of Life

Ellen Goodman retired from column writing at the first of the year. I greatly miss her work. She wrote eloquently on issues that have long concerned me.

In October 2005, she spoke at Hollins University. What follows is the column I wrote then for The Fincastle Herald concerning her remarks. I thought I'd share it today. As the budget ax rolls across the state, and things important to women - education, health care, food stamps - are removed from the public domain, creating an even more impoverished state for women, it seems relevant.

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It proved easier to kick in the door than to change what was on the other side.
Ellen Goodman, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, used that analogy last week at a lecture at Hollins University when she said that the women’s movement is stuck. For 150 years, women’s rights moved forward, but true societal change has proved difficult.

In other words, women managed to obtain a form of equal responsibility, but not true equality. We did not effect social change.

Instead we have legions of stressed-out superwomen who try to live up to the mythology of bringing home the bacon, cooking it, and never letting the man forget he’s a man, as the old song goes.

Have it all, be it all, do it all, in other words.

Women have tried to keep the best of the traditional female roles while obtaining the best of the nontraditional, Goodman said. She called it an effort to change without upsetting society.

But society has to change if women are to have effective leadership roles. It is the values of women that society is presently lacking, after all.

Women’s values are those we traditionally think of as feminine – nurturing, caregiving, cooperative values. Values barely on the radar of the national dialogue.

I call it a culture of life. That culture would focus on issues like health care, education, child care, and poverty, to name a few. They are the values of society that make us care about one another.

Thirty years ago women moved into the work force hoping to bring these values into the workplace with them. There were visions of a corporate work environment that understood women, where CEOs nodded knowingly when a woman needed a year off to care for a child. Women, as the child bearers, would bring about radical change.

Instead, women moved into male roles and adopted male values. It’s all about power and success, not changing the way an organization and society surrounding it operates so that it values the contribution of the all of its members.

What we have today is a net loss of caregivers, Goodman said. We don’t have people attending to their communities and to society at large. We don’t have folks stepping up to do the right thing.

Locally, just take a look at the low volunteer rates in the rescue squads, for example. Emergency services are short of people and in Botetourt they now bill your insurance for something that once was free because there aren’t enough volunteers to man the vehicles during the day. That’s just one example; practically every volunteer group can say the same.

Welfare reform was a turning point for the women’s movement, Goodman said. Suddenly, everyone agreed that poor women ought to work. No free ride in these United States.

Goodman said we have a culture that has middle and upper class women going to college, earning degrees, finding fulfilling jobs, and then quitting those jobs when it comes time to raise a child, because no child care in the world is good enough for that woman’s child.

Lower class women have to work and stay at their job, because there is no childcare in the world bad enough for that woman’s child.

No child care is good enough for the CEO’s kid. No child care is bad enough for the welfare mom, Goodman said. What does that say about this society?

In a culture of life, children would be viewed equally, money notwithstanding. The age-old question of who will care for the kids would be answered in some way that was fair to everyone, because as a value just being alive would be among the highest and most revered. Each child – each life – would be valued for the soul glistening behind the young eyes. Souls don’t have color or checkbooks.

It just isn’t that way today. Women haven’t brought those feminine values into the workplace or into the political arena. We will never have it all, but are we even striving for it anymore?

We won’t move forward until there are childcare and health care programs that care for everyone regardless of the color of their money. A culture of life acknowledges the valuable reproductive role of women and allows for flex time and time off to raise the children without punishing a woman when she returns to the workforce.

The only way to effect change in these times is to vote your values. Not an issue, but your values. I really believe if the values of women move to the fore, the issues which divide us at times will become, if not moot, then less dominating. The screaming we hear is symptomatic of a much bigger problem.

This new millennium was to usher in a kinder, gentler, patriarchy. But as Goodman said, it’s still a traditional man’s world. I wonder if there will ever be a place in it for those feminine values.

1 comment:

  1. Very thoughtful and still timely---nothing has changed in five years. We do need this culture of life, instead of the highly competitive culture endorsed here in the USA. There are third world countries who have the culture of life despite their lack of industry. We need more women in leadership roles in our counties, states, and nation. More women. It certainly does not mean we don't need male energy, leadership, but we need the balance ...urgently.

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