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Well at least The End of Equality acknowledges the failures of feminism

By Babette Francis - posted Monday, 5 January 2004

The sisterhood is in strife - well, actually they are not my sisters, but feminists tend to conflate all women into one movement as if we were all of uniform mind and ambition.

Anne Summers' new book The End of Equality (Random House) would have been better titled The Failure of Feminism because realist women have never thought of ourselves as "unequal".

Summers defines equality by the narrow criteria of income and corporate power, and does not acknowledge other kinds of achievements or their value - such as raising happy children and maintaining a life-long relationship.


She also confuses "equality" with identity of function and presupposes that all women have the same internal drives and priorities as men.

However, it is her argument (and that of the feminist movement in general) about child care that is most puzzling. Why do feminists consider child care a "women's" issue? True equality in feminist terms should involve fathers taking equal responsibility for the care of children.

Why aren't feminists negotiating with the fathers of their children (dare I say "husbands"?) about caring for these children instead of dumping them in creches where they will be cared for by strangers with all the associated problems?

Are realist women more successful in persuading their husbands to stay around and share the tasks of child care and financial support?

Summers's linking taxpayer-funded child care to the birthrate won't wash - Sweden and Norway, which had generously funded child care, have lower birthrates than Australia, while the US, which does not fund child care, is a developed country with a replacement level birth rate. Fertility in developed countries is more linked to church attendance: belief in God and that raising a family is a worthwhile vocation.

And both Norway and Sweden have found it is uneconomic (and impossible) to provide the kind of child care that will equate to care provided by loving parents. Both countries are starting to implement policies that will enable a parent to remain out of the paid workforce to care for pre-school children.


Summers seems to despise women who choose "traditional" marriage, but such wives have the same standard of living as their husbands and indeed have more freedom (because they are not constrained by the pressures of being the sole or main wage earner) to pursue other options - such as raising children, full or part-time careers or voluntary work, and sport or hobbies.

These women are not dumb victims of political oppression; rather, they have chosen wisely. At the end of life, no one says: "I wish I had spent more time at the office." Realist mothers may be income poor but they are asset rich in the things that are truly valuable.

Trends in Australia tend to lag a few years behind the US, but data provided by Lisa Belkin in a recent New York Times Magazine article entitled "The Opt-Out Revolution" suggests that many well-qualified and successful career women are opting out of careers in favour of rearing families.

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This article was first published in The Age on 9 December 2003.

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About the Author

Babette Francis, (BSc.Hons), mother of eight, is the National & Overseas Co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc. an NGO with special consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the UN. Mrs. Francis is the Australian representative of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer - She lived in India during the Partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, a historical event that she believes was caused by the unwillingness of the Muslim leaders of that era to live in a secular democracy.

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