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The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family Paperback – April 23, 2012
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If You've Come a Long Way, Baby! was the rallying cry for the 1970s feminist movement, then But Not Far Enough could be the vanguard's chagrined chant now. From salary equity to corporate and civic leadership positions, the goals of the second wave of feminism are still far from being met. Pegging any advancement of the feminist cause to the substandard condition of the family, Kunin cogently examines myriad instances where feminist goals and family needs intersect. A former governor and U.S. ambassador, this working mother of four knows whereof she speaks. If a society is only as healthy as the least among its members, then the U.S.' paltry record vis-a-vis child care and employment programs that protect rather than penalize working parents of both genders has shown how those concerns are apparently of no concern to business executives and government leaders. Citing countless examples of how the U.S. compares with other industrialized nations on women's issues, Kunin offers reasonable advice for correcting an unreasonable situation.
As the first female governor of Vermont and a lifelong feminist, Madeleine M. Kunin brings a wealth of knowledge and authority to her latest book, The New Feminist Agenda. Convinced that feminism has not lived up to its potential, Kunin seeks to infuse the movement with new vigor by redirecting its focus. And so she asks: ‘Can we mobilize under the banner of Feminists for Families?’ And by ‘we,’ she pretty much means everyone. ‘We need a revolution,” writes Kunin. ‘But women cannot lead it alone. We have to broaden the feminist conversation to include men, unions, the elderly, the disabled, religious groups, and the unaffiliated.’ What she suggests is that feminists broaden their ranks so that they may ‘snatch back the words ‘family values’ and redefine them as the work/family policies necessary to sustain strong families.’ In particular, Kunin calls for the institution of work flexibility across the board, for all men and women, wealthy and poor. … the work Kunin is doing here is important. She’s not only framing the conversation, but also bringing a new generation of feminists into a discussion in which they may have never before played a part. Though, at its heart, this is a feminist manifesto, it’s not a polemic. Rather, The New Feminist Agenda reads like a practical guide, loaded with case studies and examples, all of which invite even the casual reader to consider that the ‘next revolution’ may be not only definable but also attainable.
The former governor of Vermont takes the women’s movement to task for failing to push for crucial changes in family-oriented policies. On the front line of the women’s movement in the 1970s and ’80s, Kunin (Professor at Large/Univ. of Vermont; Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead, 2008, etc.) expresses her still-simmering anger at the lack of progress made in basic gender equity―e.g., U.S. Congress is still only made up of 17 percent women, and women only earn 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. Mostly, however, Kunin is deeply concerned about the lack of meaningful progress enacted for struggling parents and young children in the areas of maternity leave, affordable child care and early education, flexibility in the workplace and elder care. While the early feminists were locked on hot-button issues like abortion and violence, they disdained to push so-called middle-class issues like maternity leave. The result has been a disastrous ‘Social Darwinism’ approach to the family agenda over the last few decades, and America now has the world’s highest teenage pregnancy rates. Kunin looks at comparative policies in the Nordic countries, which all have advanced work/family policies and strong gender equality but extremely high taxes; in France, which offers universal early daycare but has a big gender-equality gap; and in England, which has implemented a ‘right to request flexibility’ feature for workers that might be a good match for the U.S. Some states, like California and Oklahoma, have recently passed promising family-friendly policies, though the author stresses that businesses must be converted to the far-reaching benefits. Kunin sounds the need to incorporate fathers in the push for these policies, in nurturing women leaders and mentors and in joining forces with labor unions, retirement groups and businesses. A vital, useful, nuts-and-bolts manual for change.
Kunin (Marsh Scholar Professor-at-Large, Univ. of Vermont; Living a Political Life), the former governor of Vermont, here catalogs the areas in which the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s failed to achieve its goals, with the consequence that families must still negotiate the demands of work and home on their own. Comparing the United States to other Western democracies, Kunin concludes that citizens can resolve these problems by creating an inclusive movement of women and men ‘of all classes and backgrounds’ to demand changes. She proposes diverting resources into early childhood education and paid family leave and encouraging private employers to permit flexible work schedules. She argues that more women are needed in public life and corporate management and that home responsibilities must be divided more equitably so that employers understand that both men and women workers have family commitments. VERDICT: While the problems Kunin describes and the possible policy fixes (and obstacles) are well known to both academics and advocates, she seeks here to reach and mobilize an interested lay audience. This is a good primer on policies for ameliorating the work/family conflict, however unlikely their implementation may be in the near term.
American feminism gets family-oriented marching orders in this data-laden call-to-arms. Vermont's first female governor, Kunin (Pearls, Politics, and Power) argues that a revolution in work-life balance is good for women, families, and even the world economy. In a genteel tone, feminists are urged to abandon ‘patience, silence, [and] politeness’ in favor of anger, imagination, and optimism in a multi-pronged battle for family-focused workplace flexibility and benefits. Kunin compares U.S. work policies and attitudes with those ranging from heavily subsidized Nordic laws, to the more measured approaches of the U.K., Canada, and Australia, arguing that reform makes good business, social, and political sense. The book backs up facts with sober voices from business, politics, and education, but it is Kunin's account of her journey from ‘original earth mother’ to helming the Green Mountain State that crackles. This fiery septuagenarian (‘I'm still angry,’ she tells her friends at lunch) maintains that equity and justice for families and children, particularly those living in poverty, will keep America competitive and advance the struggle for parity between the sexes, and urges feminists to unite across generations, social classes, sexual preferences, and politics. Though Kunin's passion is obvious in her anecdotes, a heavy-handed reliance on statistics and expert opinions will likely make this book appeal more to already-active feminists than to a general audience.
Kunin (former governor of Vermont; now affiliated with Univ. of Vermont) espouses major societal reforms in the US regarding the work environment and the needs of working families. She hopes women will support this new agenda as a valid addition to previous feminist goals. Drawing on her experience and on work/family research in the US and elsewhere, Kunin identifies persistent difficulties many groups face, including problems based on gender, age, class, ethnicity, industry, labor, and disability. She also points out that most work environments expect employees to be available on call, but few family structures allow members such flexibility. Resources for meeting the care needs of children and elders, family emergencies, and other life circumstances are often scarce. The research Kunin summarizes shows that a flexible workplace leads to more satisfied workers, less turnover, and reduced labor costs and that everyone benefits from flexibility (e.g., regarding hours, work venue, sick leave, paid vacation) for themselves or for those in their care. She notes that many countries mandate such flexibility. The potential importance for children, from birth to college, is emphasized. Overall, this feminist agenda from an experienced politician provides a hopeful vision for an improved society. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; academic audiences, upper-division undergraduates and up; professionals.
"As one of the first woman governors, Madeleine Kunin knows how to make history and chart a positive course for women."--Ellen Malcolm, founder, Emily's List
"Madeleine Kunin draws from her vast experience to craft a sweeping yet highly realistic plan for how all of us can contribute to a more just world that will benefit women and men-and their families. She offers a timely prescription for much of what ails our business and political cultures."--Brad Harrington, executive director, Center for Work & Family, Boston College
"Madeleine Kunin has long recognized that women hold the potential to transform companies, countries, and the global economy as a whole. In The New Feminist Agenda, she convinces us that it will be the smart organizations and governments that embrace this reality and create the change necessary for all women to reach their full potential and to make their full contribution."--James H. Wall, Deloitte
"In this important new book, Madeleine Kunin argues that empowering women to succeed at home and at work is both good economics and good social policy. She presents a convincing roadmap for how we achieve that vision, and calls on all of us to be part of a brighter future."--President Bill Clinton
"Women's social and economic gains over the past thirty years have been staggering - but equally staggering is how little America has changed in response. What's needed is a new feminist agenda to bring the country up to date. Madeleine Kunin, one of the nation's foremost leaders, has stepped up to the plate and delivered us a home run. The agenda she advocates is powerful, relevant, and necessary."--Robert B. Reich, author of Aftershock, former U.S. Secretary of Labor
"The New Feminist Agenda is a powerful declaration of family values. With clarity and conviction, Madeleine Kunin presents a strong case for the economics and ethics of equality at home, in the workplace, and in government. There are no shortcuts to social change: action, imagination, and optimism--starting right now."--Barbara Lee, president and founder, Barbara Lee Family Foundation
"Madeleine Kunin wants feminists to focus on the family. We've made great strides-nearly two-thirds of women are primary breadwinners for their families or share that responsibility with a partner-but this leaves more work to be done as full-time, stay-at-home caregivers become increasingly rare. Thank you, Madeleine, for pointing the way forward for 21st century feminists."--Heather Boushey, Center for American Progress
"Despite the substantial gains made by women in my lifetime, women and families need more. Governor Kunin has defined the new agenda for women-and like-minded men-leading the fight for progress in business, government, education, and society in the years ahead."-- Carolyn B. Maloney, U.S. Representative
"Madeline Kunin reinvigorates the feminist movement, bringing the discussion of women's rights to a new generation and into our new social paradigm. This fresh look at the woman of today-balancing work and family-raises questions about how far we have really come and inspires a new advocacy agenda for women and families."--Rosa L. DeLauro, U.S. Representative
"The New Feminist Agenda is singing our song! It is time for us to take the next leap forward for women and families. When we get rid of the huge bias against mothers in hiring, wages ,and advancement, we will have more women in leadership, far fewer children living in poverty, and a better future."--Joan Blades, cofounder of MoveOn.org and MomsRising
About the Author
Madeleine M. Kunin was the first woman governor of Vermont, and served as the Deputy Secretary of education and Ambassador to Switzerland under President Bill Clinton. She is the author of Living a Political Life (1995) Pearls, Politics, and Power (2008)and The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work, and Family (2012). She is currently a Marsh Scholar Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont where she lectures on history and women's studies. She also serves as president of the board of the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC), a nongovernmental organization that she founded in 1991. She lives in Burlington, Vermont.
Top Customer Reviews
While families struggle to survive financially, according to Kunin's research, 44% of the members of Congress are millionaires, and the median net worth of Congressional members increased 15% from 2006 to 2010. Yet, the net worth for all Americans dropped 8% in the same period. A U.S. election took place in 2008, which puts half of that time before the current President took office and half after. This is not a short-term problem. It's obvious the members of Congress don't face the concerns and challenges of the average person, much less those of average families dealing with rising costs of childcare, unemployment, medical care, education, food, and shelter.
Making changes is never easy. Kunin points out that after WWI veterans weren't considered capable of attending college, and almost twenty-two years elapsed before the GI bill passed. Yet other countries provide more benefits and continue to outrank the U.S. in competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum's Global competitiveness Index (2010-2011).Read more ›
Kunin offers up sensible suggestions for changes to society and the workplace that would benefit everyone, and she provides evidence to back up the legitimacy of these suggestions. One thing we do know from study after study is that societies fare much better when women wield some economic power, yet the U.S. is far behind the rest of the world when it comes to the creation of family-friendly policies that would enable both men and women to devote themselves to both career and family. For a nation that talks a lot about the importance of family, the U.S. takes a whole lot less action. Kunin draws comparisons to other countries with more liberal policies on things like free preschool education, state-subsidized child care, and extended paid maternity--and sometimes even paternity--leave.Read more ›
But then I noticed that the author was none other than Madeleine Kunin, and it was like slamming on the brakes of a speeding car; I had to grab the book, and am glad that I did. But more on this later.
Madeleine Kunin's writing here is almost commonplace; there are no huge, attention-grabbing explosions of theoretical ideas here. She systematically analyzes what we in America need, why we've never attained it, and how we may have some hope of succeeding in bringing about change in the future. In her typically understated fashion, she recognizes that while many individual women have achieved quite a bit since the beginnings of the women's liberation movement of the 1970s, our collective society has not recognized these accomplishments and responded to the needs of families that have changed so much since World War II.
Today only about 20% of American families with children aged fifteen and under are now composed of the old standard of a working father and a stay-at-home mother.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I will use these ideas in a Forum called Feminism, the Unfinished Revolution.
Her ideas are useable for the next wave of activists.
This book is written with a sharp sense of wit that cuts to the point both elegantly and with great effect. Read morePublished on April 15, 2013 by Hedera Femme
The 1960s and 1970s may have gotten women into the professional workforce, but, as Kunin aptly shows us in this book, they haven't been done many favors since. Read morePublished on February 22, 2013 by G. Dawson
While Madeleine M. Kunin's treatise will appeal to those women who have children and struggle to balance it all, she has ignored what is so commonly ignored in our child-center yet... Read morePublished on December 31, 2012 by TammyJo Eckhart
"Can we mobilize the banner of feminist for families" the author asks. Not with this book.
It is interesting and chock full of facts, research, opinions, advice, and... Read more
Madeleine M. Kunin, the author of this excellent book, was one of the first women governors in our country. Read morePublished on September 19, 2012 by LAURI CRUMLEY COATES
As a conservative, I was very interested to read this book. I don't consider myself a feminist, however a lot of what Kunin says is not so much feminism as it is a commentary on... Read morePublished on August 28, 2012 by Matt Rodriguez
It's difficult to read a book such as this book when the current role models are women like Gorilla Beach are writing books and appearing on television all the time. Read morePublished on August 24, 2012 by Patricia R. Andersen
Madeleine M. Kunin has written what appears, to me, to be a great treatise for theoreticians. However, there is, IMHO not enough meat on the bones of her subject matter that would... Read morePublished on August 23, 2012 by BookAce