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Volume 2, Number 3, Summer 2004 Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, Guest Editors
Young Feminists
Take on the Family
About this Issue
About the Contributors

Issue 2.3 Homepage


Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner

What began as a panel at the Barnard Center for Research on Women in February 2003 has morphed into this issue of the Scholar and Feminist Online. We, Jen and Amy, first proposed the panel because we saw our friends and colleagues—our peers—beginning to create families and expose their (good and bad) experiences in books, articles, and conversations. As many younger women, including the two of us, consider this next phase, we realize that we are grappling with some very specific questions, such as: What is my family going to be? What notions of family shaped me? What am I fleeing and what am I trying to preserve from my own—and the culture's—family tradition?

The answers are very individual, of course, but they also change according to when we were raised and how entrenched feminism was in our cultural generation. For every generation of women the barrier to equality moves farther along. For women emerging from college in the 1960s, the resistance revealed itself harshly and immediately as they scoured the job ads under "Help Wanted: Female," got married ASAP, and had three kids before age 30. The reaction of many of those women was to pine for the more valued and visible life of the worker. Soon pining turned into full-scale penetration of the workplace and feminism focused its energy on making work accessible to women. Between 1960 and 2000, women went from being 33 percent of the total labor force to 46 percent. Our generation began, then, seeing women work and yet still struggle at home. What feminists were promoting as a goal for all women—to have more balanced lives—was not reflected inside their homes.

So, the job of this issue was to lay out some of the fractures and questions posed by younger feminists responding to their time. Amy Richards, who has never met her father, began our panel by trying to imagine families based on the quality of the relationship alone, and not at all on biology [click here for the panel transcript]. We then asked our panelists to discuss the composition of their families, both their family of origin and any family they were creating. Only one panelist came from and then created what might be termed a traditional nuclear family—Leora Tanenbaum—and she seemed shocked to hold that honor. The rest of us were gay, or raised by single moms, or raised by a mom and a transgendered father who is now a woman, or we were transracially adopted, or unmarried (but partnered) and raising a child, or getting pregnant by a gay male friend who will co-parent, or we never wanted to have children of our own. Putting together this issue, we asked each panelist to go deeper into a question that had come up that night, which they did; and to build on what we started that night at Barnard, we solicited pieces from around the country. We were surprised by how eager younger women were to crack open the family portrait. Our contributors ask some important questions that reflect this particular moment, a time when reproductive technology is commonplace, divorce is as likely as not, and gay rights have meant that people's gender identities and parenting roles are not so rigid. Even with all of these advances, feminists today are still struggling with a very limited definition of family—one that often makes their personal situation seem retrograde or isolated. What we thought we could use was a campaign redefining family to reflect the wide range of forms. We started with this issue—enjoy!

May 31, 2004

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S&F Online - Issue 2.3, Young Feminists Take on the Family - J. Baumgardner and A. Richards, Guest Editors - ©2004.