The Pursuit of Happiness: 2011
Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 05:33PM
Dr. Harriet Fraad

First published in Tikkun June 2011.

This article was written with help from Gretchen Van Dyck.

The founding mothers of the Women’s Liberation Movement were socialists. We were activists who came from committees against the war in Vietnam. We believed that since we were at the bottom of the wage scale, if we demanded an equal chance for all women, we would rise and bring everyone with us to create an America with full equality for all. Instead, we helped to create near equality for women within a system of ever greater class inequality.

A new kind of movement is clearly needed to re-energize our struggles for equality and for a society that values the happiness of all over the power or profits of a few.

I was inspired to write this article after some sensible young activists formed a renewed socialist party in New York City and then asked for my ideas about feminism. In the pages that follow, I will do my best to analyze why the Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960s and ’70s lost its vitality, to envision a path out of passivity and toward mass political engagement, and to sketch out what might be an appropriate feminist platform for 2011.

I did not conceive of this platform alone. After I wrote an initial version of my ideas, I sent them to a brilliant political friend with many years of political experience. My friend and I then consulted with Gretchen Van Dyck, a wise twenty-three-year-old feminist from the New York Socialist Party. Together we crafted the Platform for the Pursuit of Happiness that appears at the end of this article.

Why the Feminist Movement of the 1960s Lost Its Vitality

I became a feminist in 1968 when we began what we then called the Women’s Liberation Movement. The America of 1968 was starkly different from the one that young people now confront. Unemployment was about 3 percent. Job opportunities for white men were omnipresent. White men were paid a family wage whether they had a family or not. Jobs for women were available, albeit at lower wages and in fewer sectors. Men of all colors earned more than women did. Education guaranteed a job, even though a lesser one for women or people of color. The United States and the U.S. dollar were the kings of the world. In that prosperous America, women were paid fifty-nine cents of every dollar of men’s pay, even when women supported their families alone or worked side by side with men on the same job. That was the historical context of the feminist movement of 1968 to the late 1970s, which later lost its vitality through a combination of forces within itself and a transformation in the U.S. economy.

One of the women’s movement’s largest mistakes was its failure to maintain its original insistence on class justice as well as gender justice. Whatever class consciousness our movement had was usurped by successful organizing under the clever leadership of the CIA operative Gloria Steinem (for the most recent documentation of this, read Charles Trueheart’s Bloomberg article, “What Gloria Steinem and Henry Kissinger Have in Common: CIA Pay” and The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America by Hugh Wilford). Many were and still are shocked to learn of Steinem’s CIA connections. They have been kept from wide publication until recently and of course they were never reported on television. These facts were first unearthed in Ramparts magazine in March 1967, as part of a revelation of the CIA’s role in international youth festivals (“Who Paid the Piper”). They were followed by later revelations in The Village Voice in 1979, which exposed Steinem’s particular role within the CIA and the Women’s Liberation Movement (“Inside the CIA with Gloria Steinem” by Nancy Borman, May 21, 1979). Steinem’s voice was never the only voice in the feminist movement. However, her rich funding and expertise combined with our naïveté to blunt the impact of class awareness and power for the mass of U.S. women.

The mainstream feminist movement thus became a movement for gender equality within our current increasingly unequal America. It lost its mass base and class dimension. It devolved into separate issue projects of importance to the female gender, such as groups for abortion rights (for those who can pay for abortions), and legislation to help women, particularly those with education, to enter previously male professions. Three-quarters of working women, particularly uneducated women, still work in pink-collar jobs.

Larger women’s groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) worked to pass legislation protective of women. They lobbied for pro-female legislation within our highly unrepresentative two-capitalist-party system. The feminist movement became a series of projects working for equality with men. We achieved near equality for women within the American system of gross inequality. We lost our vision of a just, equitable society for all people.

We made another serious mistake. We understandably wanted to be included in the valued, rewarded, economically powerful areas of life from which we were excluded. We wanted jobs; careers; economic independence; and intellectual, social, and political power. We wanted to be in the sectors that are rewarded, recognized, and funded in American culture. Of course, those are worthy goals.

However, we shared society’s devaluation of the knowledge and wisdom learned from sustaining vulnerable lives, maintaining the conditions for life, and performing emotional labor, i.e., caring for people. Those powerful, life-affirming areas of knowledge were unspecified, unexplored, and largely devalued then, as they are today.

Emotional Labor: Undervalued and Undercompensated

The concept of emotional labor got its first mention in 1983 in Arlie Hochschild’s book, The Managed Heart. Even though it is crucial to the survival of infants and a basic component of humanity, it is still scarcely mentioned, much less explored outside of Hochschild’s work, my work, and the work of Pam Smith and her group from the UK, who explore emotional labor in the field of nursing. Smith is joined by Catherine Theodosius in the U.K., working in nursing. Their books are unavailable in the United States.

Emotional labor is the act of expressing sensitivity to another person’s needs and trying, in a given moment or situation or over time, to respond to those needs. It’s one of the primary ways that we express love and concern for a parent, child, lover, spouse, friend, or co-worker. On the street, emotional labor is the polite assistance we give to a stranger who’s seeking directions. Even though all human beings are often called upon to “be sensitive,” emotional labor has traditionally been associated with femininity and expected of women in their presumably “natural” roles as mothers, wives, keepers of the home, nurses, and caregivers. Historically, emotional labor was hardly conceived of or noticed, much less valued, because it was considered “women’s work.”

So what does emotional labor in action look like?

A perceptive parent senses, in one instance, that her/his infant needs to be held, rocked and cooed to; or in another instance the parent senses that the baby is over-stimulated and just needs to be held quietly, without interaction.  Emotional labor can entail responding to a friend's needs in an indirect way so that the person in need doesn't feel like a burden.  Here's a challenging situation: A man comes home from work angry and upset but is trying to conceal his feelings.  His partner senses that something is wrong and quickly comes up with a strategy for soothing him.  He/she asks the children to give them some time alone so they can discuss each other's day.  Or he/she suggests that they take a walk together, or says "I'm so glad you're here because I desperately need your advice about something" -- which distracts the upset person and suddenly reminds him that, at home if nowhere else, he's important and appreciated.
Three things are very important to understand about emotional labor.  First, like other kinds of labor, it can be time-consuming, tiring and even exhausting.  Second, emotional labor is indispensable to sustaining the family life, social life and public life of humans because we are social beings who need each other to survive and thrive. Third: Following logically from point #2, emotional labor must not be regarded, and thus devalued, as naturally "women's work."  Concern for other people, whether for the stranger who needs directions or for one's family members, friends and co-workers, is a necessary and admirable quality in humans, male or female.
In society today, people at all points on the sex and gender spectrum are calling for an end to pre-ordained sex role assignments and demanding equal rights across the board: shared responsibilities and such human rights as marriage equality for same-sex couples. In the 21st century, people are realizing there's no excuse for women not to receive equal pay for equal work, or for two parents not to receive paid leave and paid "personal time," or for daycare workers trained to care for infants and toddlers not to command respect for their professional skills and be compensated fairly, or for our elected officials not to respond to U.S. parents' desperate need for subsidized / free child care -- preferably "on-site," in workplaces.

See also

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