A spirited defense of feminism, arguing that the lack of support for working mothers is less a failure of second-wave feminism than a rejection by reactionaries of the sweeping changes they campaigned for.
When people discuss feminism, they often lament its failure to deliver on the promise that women can “have it all.” But as Kirsten Swinth argues in this provocative book, it is not feminism that has betrayed women, but a society that balked at making the far-reaching changes for which activists fought. Feminism’s Forgotten Fight resurrects the comprehensive vision of feminism’s second wave at a time when its principles are under renewed attack.
Through compelling stories of local and national activism and crucial legislative and judicial battles, Swinth’s history spotlights concerns not commonly associated with the movement of the 1960s and 1970s. We see liberals and radicals, white women and women of color, rethinking gender roles and redistributing housework. They brought men into the fold, and together demanded bold policy changes to ensure job protection for pregnant women and federal support for child care. Many of the creative proposals they devised to reshape the workplace and rework government policy—such as guaranteed incomes for mothers and flex time—now seem prescient.
Swinth definitively dispels the notion that second-wave feminists pushed women into the workplace without offering solutions to issues they faced at home. Feminism’s Forgotten Fight examines activists’ campaigns for work and family in depth, and helps us see how feminism’s opponents—not feminists themselves—blocked the movement’s aspirations. Her insights offer key lessons for women’s ongoing struggle to achieve equality at home and work.
“Uncovers the all-but-lost history of the women’s movement’s advocacy for mothers.”—Alice B. Lloyd, The Weekly Standard
“Chronicles in careful detail the efforts by feminist activists both male and female to remold the structures of family and work life that had historically contributed to a thankless and even punishing existence for most women.”—Ashley Fetters, The Atlantic
“Explores how and why our society is structured to make motherhood so hard… [Swinth] documents second-wave feminists’ push for systemic changes to marriage, the workweek, childcare, and welfare that would make being a parent, and a worker, more sustainable and rewarding… Illustrates that policy shifts just don’t happen without cultural shifts.”—Rebecca Stoner, Pacific Standard
“Swinth persuasively argues that second-wave feminists advocated work–family balance for women and changed the social fabric in ways that benefit them. This is a smart, nimble corrective history of a rousing fight for societal equality.”—Publishers Weekly
“Swinth systematically dismantles the myths and stereotypes about second-wave feminism that pervade our culture. Based on rigorous and extensive research, her book traces the numerous ways that feminists of all stripes worked to fight the dilemmas facing working mothers.”—Sara Evans, author of Tidal Wave: How Women Changed America at Century’s End
“Mommy wars and lean-ins step aside! You have met your match in this sweeping, very readable book which recovers the lost feminist vision that equality requires structural transformation of both work and family to become real. Kirsten Swinth shows not only that ‘having it all’ was a myth but that ‘second wave’ feminists were not responsible for selling such an impossible dream to U.S. women during the last third of the twentieth century.”—Eileen Boris, coauthor of Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State
“‘Have it all’ was a marketers’ slogan, not a feminist one. Instead, as Swinth describes in rich detail, women’s groups thoughtfully debated how to reorganize personal relationships and work arrangements in ways that were fair to women, men, children, and families of different racial and economic backgrounds. We might do well to revisit some of their ideas.”—Stephanie Coontz, author of A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s
“Swinth reveals the ‘having it all’ myth for what it truly is—a backlash against feminism masquerading as feminism. In its place, she unearths what feminists actually fought for, and sometimes, against great odds, achieved. Her brilliant reconstruction of the wide-ranging activism of 1960s and 1970s feminists rescues their work from contemporary parodies and enables it to serve, once again, as a template for the fairer world that we may yet achieve.”—Beryl Satter, author of Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America
Table of Contents:
Introduction: Feminists’ Vision Forgotten
5. Care Work
Conclusion: The Myth of “Having It All”
About the Author:
Kirsten Swinth is Associate Professor of History and American Studies at Fordham University and the author of Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern American Art, 1870–1930.