This March, for Women’s History Month, the Ms. Blog is profiling Wonder Women who have made history—and those who are making history right now. Join us each day as we bring you the stories of iconic and soon-to-be-famous feminist change-makers.
Krisin Rowe-Finkbeiner wants mothers to be seen and heard.
Rowe Finkbeiner is co-founder, executive director, and CEO of MomsRising.org, the million-member online and grassroots advocacy organization that focuses on mothers’ and families’ economic security and related issues at the local, state and national levels—particularly fair pay, paid family leave, sick days, access to affordable childcare and early education, healthy food and workplace flexibility. She is the mother of two children and author of The F Word: Feminism in Jeopardy.
Born in Chicago in 1969, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner descends from a long line of feminists. Her great-grandmother was the first president of the Rochester chapter of Planned Parenthood during the last days of Susan B. Anthony’s era in upstate New York. Her grandmother followed in that presidency, and her mother was active in the civil rights and women’s right movements too, working and volunteering at tutoring centers for mothers and child-care centers in Chicago, and later at the Feminist Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Kristin recalls throughout her childhood hearing the messages, “democracy needs everyone’s participation” and “I am woman, hear me roar,” the unforgettable line from Helen Reddy’s classic feminist anthem. “That song filled every nook and cranny of our home and of my younger years,” she remembers.
And every nook and cranny of her work today is filled with the ideal of helping mothers’ voices be heard so democracy can serve citizens more fairly and effectively. After all, more than 80 percent of women in the United States become mothers by they time they are 44 years old; and everyone else, including men, has or had a mother.
Rowe-Finkbeiner was shocked to learn when she became a mother in 1996 that the U.S. Census does not track the unpaid labor of mothers. That was a pivotal moment: she realized the movements of her feminist foremothers were unfinished. Census data is a powerful input into spending decisions in myriad public and private sector policies. Yet a mother’s work didn’t count. Mothers were invisible.
That fact piqued Kristin’s interest, so she began to research and write about it. She learned that having a baby is a leading cause of “poverty spells”—when income dips below what is needed for food and rent—in the United States. She learned that babies are born every 41 seconds without healthcare. And forget the glass ceiling: she discovered that a “maternal wall” of bias bars most women from ever getting into rooms where glass ceilings exist.
She co-authored The Motherhood Manifesto in 2006 with Joan Blades, to highlight the fact that motherhood triggers wage and hiring discrimination against women. The founding of MomsRising.org soon followed, when it became clear a need existed for a grassroots movement that would use some of the on-the-ground organizing tactics Rowe-Finkbeiner had utilized in work she’d done for environmental organizations. At that time MoveOn.org—the organization that Blades’ had co-founded—was pioneering online organizing tactics, and the marriage of two methods—grassroots and netroots—proved powerful.
Starting with a handful of mothers, MomsRising launched in May of 2006. “Motherhood is a key barrier to equality,” Rowe-Finkbeiner reiterates, and the issues dragging mothers down were not on the radar in a prominent way, at that time, often ignored and brushed off as mom’s failure to “balance” work and family:
Our organizing principle was and is that when this many people are having the same problem at the same time, we have national structural issues that we can address together and not an epidemic of personal failings—and we most certainly don’t have a situation where moms are off “balance.”
In fact, the very word “balance” has become a pet peeve of mine because it has all too often been used to brush off the fact that we have a modern labor force, where women are 50 percent of the labor force for the first time in history; 75 percent of moms are now in the labor force (40 percent of whom are the primary breadwinner); but we still have public policies stuck in the Stone Ages. MomsRising is working to catch the public policies in our nation up with the modern labor force so women, children, men, and our families and our economy can thrive. The problem we are facing isn’t “balance.” The problem we are facing is structural inequality.
The marvel is that in less than one decade, the voices of the mothers—with their allies, partners, and friends—have been heard. Look at the MOTHERS platform on MomsRising’s website. Then look at the last two State of the Union addresses by the President of the United States. Policy issues like pay equity, paid family leave and sick days, family-friendly work practices, healthcare, and childcare are front-and-center, now seen as essential to economic growth and global competitiveness, as well as fairness and justice. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner’s mothers are no longer invisible.
Photo courtesy of Roots and Shoots
Nanette Fondas is co-author of The Custom-Fit Workplace. Her articles on business, work, family and gender have appeared in The Atlantic, Harvard Business Review, Psychology Today, Slate, Huffington Post and MomsRising. Nanette is also author of the award-winning research on “The Feminization of American Management.” She curates work-life-mom matters on Twitter @NanetteFondas.