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Jewish World Review May 9, 2000/ 3 Iyar, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports


We've come a long way, Betty Friedan -- WHEN SOMEONE TOLD ME that my favorite store in Manhattan had opened a branch in the Washington suburbs, I replied: "It's more fun to get to the one in New York.''

This was a glib and flip exaggeration, but for someone who grew up when downtown was where the action was, suburban shopping is a pale substitute.

It's easy to understand why people move out of the city -- greener grass, better public schools and enhanced security. The safety of your children trumps everything. Years ago when we moved into downtown Washington, one of our suburban friends asked snidely whether we intended to mount machine guns on the roof. The reaction of everyone in our extended family was incredulity: "You're not going to raise your children in the city?'' But we did (without the machine guns).

Betty Friedan could never have written "The Feminine Mystique,'' the book that set off the feminist revolution, but for the burbs. In 1957, when she interviewed her sisters from Smith, 15 years out of college, that's where most of them lived. They were not, as Miss Friedan suggested, suffering from the infamous "disease that has no name.'' It had a name. It was called "drowning in the carpool.'' There was no public transportation, and though these women wanted to be full-time mothers they didn't want to be full-time chauffeurs. The road took a lot of the joy out of motherhood. The automobile became an extension of the body; a car seat was more important than a stroller.

But the suburbs have clearly won. In fact, many of the things we moved back to the city for -- the hardware stores, car-repair shops, the department stores -- have long since moved to Coffee Pot Lane.

My daughter, one of the vanishing full-time mothers, lives two blocks away from the house where she grew up. She takes her young sons to the same park she played in as a child, but rarely does she chat with a parent. The other grown-ups are mostly nannies. When the neighborhood park fell into disrepair, she joined a community volunteer group to lobby the city government to match neighborhood contributions to get playground equipment "like they have in the suburbs.''

She was trained as a chef, but prefers to cook for her family rather than strangers (and at considerable financial sacrifice). She didn't choose to be a full-time mother for the children, though that was part of her decision, but she didn't want to miss the delicious delight of watching them grow up.

This point of view has almost disappeared from the public debate over "women's issues.'' Now that the suburbs have public transportation and shopping malls, women don't have to do as much chauffeuring. But when they go off to the shop or office they're missing a lot of the satisfactions of full-time life with their children. Today in most neighborhoods in the city as well as the suburbs both parents are gone during the day.

The plaint of teenagers, repeated almost as a mantra, the experts told a recent White House conference on teenagers, is "we don't get to spend enough time with our parents.'' Mom and Dad are too tired, too stressed.

Policy wonks and feminists prescribe ever more day care for young children, but parental care shouldn't end with kindergarten. Some of the happiest childhood memories of earlier generations was the walk home for lunch. Kids sat at the kitchen table with their mothers, talking about the Big Issues of the Day -- an impending math test, the girl who teases, the boy who pinches -- over a bowl of soup or a bologna sandwich and sweet pickles. The scene reeks of nostalgia, but also of security. My mother, like a lot of others (and now including my daughter), didn't see her life as a sacrifice but as one of life's pleasures (and pains). Now all that is gone with the winsome.

At a pollsters' symposium on the women's vote the other day in Washington, one participant suggested the "perfect policy'' for success: A way to give women two more hours a day for family life.

We've come a long way, Betty Friedan. Not all of the ride has been wonderful.


05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate