Redefining Public and Private
"Public and private are imbedded within a dense web of associational meanings and intimations and linked to other basic notions: nature and culture, male and female... The content, meaning, and range of public and private vary with the exigencies of each society's existence and turn on whether the virtues of political life or the values of private life are rich and vital or have been drained, singly or together, of their normative significance."
The mantra of second wave feminism, "the personal is political," signifies the first attempt to break down the gendered division between the private sphere attributed to women and the public sphere of men. There is no clear origin of this public/private division; it could have been, as Germaine Greer humorously suggests, "while the male-hunter-gatherer strolled along burdened with no more that his spear and a throwing stick, his female mate trudged along after him carrying their infant, their shelter, their food supplies and her digging stick." It appears that, from the moment of human interaction and language, and its implicit category making of social divisions, women have always been associated with the private, and men with the public.
From the beginning of first wave feminism and the fight for women's suffrage, women have been using politics to enter the public realm of men, thus challenging the stark division between public man and private woman. A goal of the feminist movement has been to create equality between the sexes, both in the public and private spheres of life. In doing so, the gendered spaces of men and women have become blurred and, because of the linkage between public/private and man/woman, respectively, the division between private and public has also become unclear.
The deconstruction of the public/private binary has several implications. It has politicized women's voices in a way that has disrupted the unity of women. Second, the concerns of private life are now exposed to the public, allowing for public and political influence on the private life, specifically in the form of legislation. Third, the deconstruction of the public/private threatens the individuality of experiences of women as women. Finally, it jeopardizes the sanctity of the private space. By looking at different models for gender equality within the private and public spaces we can begin to find a way in these spaces can be reconstructed to achieve a gendered equality while still preserving the public/private divide and the integrity and individuality of men and women.
As more women have entered the work force, and thus the public sphere, there has been an increasing focus on how this movement influences the idea of the traditional private life. Since the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, men have been defined as the money-making workers and women as the child-bearing emotional support for men. In this traditional model "the ability of...