EVERY SO OFTEN, one of the local television stations decides to put on an hour special or a five-part series on working women. The most recent offering came Tuesday night when WJLA aired something "What Does Your Mom Do?" The show was produced by five stations across the country who have banded together to do high-quality public service broadcasts. The show was panned in both newspapers here. I watched it anyway. I felt a certain sense of obligation.
I also felt a certain sense of deja vu. Once you got past the catchy title, and once you got over narrator Ed Asner booming out that after all, he too, had had a mother, all you got was another series of vignettes about working mothers. There was the mother in a nontraditional job (police officer), a mother who gave up a traditional job (stewardess) for a nontraditional career that paid better (electrician) the 40-year-old divorced mother of five (displaced homemaker), the volunteer mother, and of course, the young couple who Share Everything Equally.
Between Asner and cohost Renee Poussaint, there was the obligatory sprinkling of facts about the numbers of working women and the need for day care and how most women work for money. The problem is that you would have had to be living in a cave during the past decade if you didn't know the facts of modern women's lives by now.
For all its good intentions and its lavish production, "What Does Your Mom Do?" didn't do much at all. You half expected Asner to announce at the end, "You've come a long way, baby."
Sey Chassler, editor of Redbook magazine and a longtime supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, believes that few editors and reporters see the women's movement as a continuing news story. He told a luncheon meeting of Women in Communications here Wednesday that not reporter has raised the Equal Rights Amendment or women's issues at a recent presidential news conference. Putting in a good word for his own business, he said the only women's magazines have paid real attention to women's issues without being patronizing. Others see the whole matter as a battle among women, something to snicker at.
That may have something to do with explaining newspaper articles that tell us the old story about the first women fill-in-the-blank, and shows like "What Does Your Mom Do?" But there is also the fact that the women's movement is perceived as a good thing, and we seem unwilling to look beneath the surface and examine how deeply and personally it has affected people.
We still seem overly anxious to extol the benefits and freedoms and employment opportunities it has provided women, and reluctant -- in some quarters, perhaps even afraid -- to talk about the enormous psychological stresses that two wage-earner families face. We are stuck in a rut when it comes to thinking about the women's movement: we think of day care problems, of women in non-traditional jobs of mothers choosing to stay home and of mothers leaving home and going into the work force and how they deal with sex discrimination or harassment.
Our perception of the two-income couple is one of two people with good careers -- say, a couple of lawyers enjoying the New Life Style. We don't yet think in terms of their divorcing because of internal power struggles in their marriage. We seem unwilling to address the fact that thousands of parents are leaving little children at home unattended because they can't find or afford care, while others have teen-agers partying at home in the afternoons when they are working.
And we seem unwilling to go beyond Kramer vs. Kramer to look at the role of fathers of all of this."What Does Mom Do" didn't really tell us much about any of the fathers, except the one who shares household chores with wife -- and who is therefore in a real minority. What about the other fathers, the ones who can't bring themselves to help with housework, who can't stand being around the children, who are jealous of their wives, who try to hold women back -- be they wives or employes.
The past decade of the women's movement has produced enormous changes on the surface of American society of which most of us must have a pretty fair understanding by now. But it has also created new political pressures on state, local and federal budgets and on the American political process. It has produced tensions and problems within American families and communities that we will never understand if we continue to believe that the women's movement means having a pretty electrician.
What has happened in American society in the past decade deserves more sophisticated coverage than it often gets, coverage that produces a new level of understanding of how this tremendous social change is affecting people. For its next effort, the Eighth Decade Consortium that produced the show on WJLA might look at the movement from a different angle and ask a new question such as "What Does Your Dad Do?"