I was in the Atlanta airport recently, cruising a bookstore, when this catchy title leaped out at me: Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports. Since the author is National Review Washington editor and Fox News pundit Kate O’Beirne, I indulged my vanity and looked up my own name in the index. There I was, right up front on page four, credited with ruining our families.
If O’Beirne had done a little more research, she might have found me responsible for wrecking our military and schools, as well. But I can’t complain: Destroying the family is a hefty accomplishment all by itself.
This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten rightwing attention as a home wrecker. Back in the mid-’90s, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family once described me as a woman who’d dedicated her life to the destruction of the American family, in more or less those words. Partly this is just the rightwing translation of the word “feminist.” Some of you may recall Pat Robertson’s attack on feminism during the controversy over the Equal Rights Amendment in the ’80s. Feminists, he said, busy themselves becoming lesbians, killing their children, and advancing Marxism—a formidable agenda to say the least, especially if your children are fast on their feet.
What brought me to the Atlanta airport was not a trip to a convention of lesbian, Marxist, child-killers. I was returning from a holiday spent with my son and his girlfriend and my nephew and his wife, and I was rushing home because I was eager to rejoin my granddaughters (ages four and one), who are the light of my life. News of the Dobson attack had hit at a similar moment: I was returning from a visit to my grandmother and an ailing aunt in Iowa. My job may be to “destroy the American family,” but I’ve never managed to destroy a single family member, even one of the more irritating ones.
If anyone is “ruining” the American family, it’s all the employers who refuse to recognize that their employees have family responsibilities, as well as jobs. I’m thinking of two categories of employers, which often overlap: 1) Those who don’t pay enough for their employees to live on, thus forcing them to work second jobs, and 2) those who abuse their salaried employees with expectations of ten or more hours of work per day. Apparently there are more and more such anti-family employers, as Americans now surpass even the famously workaholic Japanese in annual hours on the job. From 1979 to 2000, Japan reduced the average annual hours worked by 305, whereas the United States reduced its annual hours by a whopping total of four, according to The State of Working America, 2004-2005.
All variety of things suffer when work expands to fill evenings and weekends—health, for example, and citizenly participation. How can you frame an opinion on the issues if you never get a chance to read or have long discussions with friends? But families—and especially children—take the worst hit. It’s just not possible to be a responsible and responsive parent or spouse if your work leaves you with barely enough time to shower.
But to get back to Kate O’Beirne: Will you help me save the family by joining me in a campaign for adequate wages and a return to the concept of the eight-hour day?
If not, let’s at least fight fair. You get out your photos of your grandkids (if any) and I’ll get out mine.
Barbara Ehrenreich is a columnist for The Progressive. Her latest book is “Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.” Her website is www.barbaraehrenreich.com.