04.17.1311:19 AM ET

Feminists Silent on America’s Day-Care Disaster

Demands for high-quality child care was a hallmark of the early feminist movement. So what happened?

The abysmal state of American day care “is a massive, dangerous, crushing problem that affects the lives of the vast majority of mothers in the United States,” Noah Berlatsky writes in The Atlantic. “[O]ne wants to ask—where are the feminists?” The need for high-quality child care was once a centerpiece of feminist activism—it was feminist groups who helped to craft the 1971 Child Development Act, which would have established a network of federally funded day cares with sliding-scale fees. The CDA passed the Senate 63 to 17, but after a ferocious conservative backlash led by evangelical preachers and the John Birch Society, President Nixon vetoed it in order to shore up his right flank. By contrast, feminists won real victories in pushing for abortion rights, and that success energized the movement. And since radical feminists were often mistrustful of motherhood—Shulamith Firestone famously called pregnancy “barbaric”—they tended to ignore issues pertaining to children.

All this meant that “while feminists have continued to work for affordable child care, that work has gained little traction, and (probably as a result) has not been as central to the movement as other causes,” writes Berlatsky. That, he argues, hurts not just American families but feminism itself, “which would have been strengthened ... by being more closely associated with a fight for parents.”