The Deep Divide

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Despite thirty years of the women’s movement, American women still earn only 71 percent of what men do. Increasingly responsible for family financial needs as well as the everyday “women’s work” of care and nurture, many women are torn between their multiple roles and are desperate for time. Almost all are proud of their ability to cope. Few would want to give up the social and legal changes that ensure access to nontraditional jobs and to choices about marriage and childbearing. Yet even while they want more changes, to help families and enable women to carry out their responsibilities better, most women see little connection between their own needs and a national agenda. The typical American woman is suspicious of feminists and only sporadically supports female candidates for office.

Such is the “deep divide” this book finds between American women’s beliefs and their willingness to act on their beliefs. Henry, a broadcast journalist and former candidate for Congress, sets out to explore the paradox. Through survey research and focus group interviews, she provides thought- provoking data about what has changed—and what has not—in women’s self-images and concerns.

The best things about being a woman, the subjects said, include caring, motherhood, and femininity. They define femininity by appearance, manner, or attitude. However devoted they are to their husbands, the concept of being a wife is no longer a core part of most women’s identity. Interviewees also saw their problems in individual and specific terms—low or unequal pay, lack of affordable child care, and so forth—rather than as abstract matters of social justice or ideology.

Sherrye Henry believes electing more women to office is crucial to equality and a family agenda. Accordingly, each chapter suggests ways women candidates can address such everyday concerns and dispel lingering doubts about women seeking power. The author makes a good case that child support enforcement, breast cancer research, widows’ pension rights, and many other measures benefiting women and families exist due to women legislators’ work. Whether the message will register with voters distrustful of all politics is not addressed.