Nuclear family long gone, Ms. magazine founder says

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Letty Cottin Pogrebin was walking along a crowded New York city sidewalk when she suddenly turned and did a double take. Parked on the street was a police car with two, not one, women cops.

Speaking recently from her home in New York, she said the incident caused her to reflect on how much has changed since women began entering the workplace in force. “At the time there were decries that it would signify an end to the family,” she said. “But the days of mom, dad, Dick, Jane, Spot and the perfect nuclear family are over.”

According to Pogrebin, the success of families of many kinds has enabled society to do away with its romanticized notion of the nuclear family.

“Time has proven that families can function perfectly well without needing both a mommy and a daddy. As long as families are not under economic duress and children are at the center of the universe to at least one other person, there is no reason why they can’t be raised by single parents, or even two mommies or two daddies.”

Pogrebin, who wrote the book “Growing Up Free,” a guide to nonsexist child-rearing, will be in San Francisco on Wednesday, March 25 to deliver the keynote address at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s sixth annual Power of One fund-raising dinner. The 6 p.m. dinner, a JCF Women’s Alliance event, will be at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in Union Square.

The largest Jewish women’s gathering in the Bay Area, the Power of One is open to women who have made a minimum annual contribution of at least $365 to the federation’s annual campaign.

Pogrebin will also give “A Jewish Perspective on Time and Aging” in the final Distinguished Lecture series of the year, sponsored by the South Bay Institute for Living and Learning, at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 26 at Congregation Beth David, 19700 Prospect Road, Saratoga.

While not wanting to give away her Power of One speech, Pogrebin said she will use the event as an opportunity to discuss the effect of women’s rising power in the workforce.

“I’ll be looking at how we’ll use our growing power; if we’ll use it like men have, or by becoming more responsive and humane to the needs of society.”

Pogrebin believes women have the power to make positive changes in the workplace — for example, by making company policy more family-friendly and allowing for a longer maternity and paternity leave.

Becoming more family friendly is something Cottin Pogrebin said also needs to happen in the Jewish community.

“One of the Jewish community’s greatest flaws is its lack of (financial) support for child care and Jewish education. As Jews, and Americans, we have this inbred notion that we should be able to make it on our own.”

A civic activist, Pogrebin has served on the boards of a variety of Jewish organizations including the Jewish Fund for Justice, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now. She is also a founding member of the American Jewish Congress Commission on Women’s Equality.

Pogrebin grew up in New York, where she was raised in a Conservative and Zionistic Jewish home. Yet, despite being “a daughter of the commandments” she said she later experienced an alienation from Jewish life because she felt women didn’t have as big a role to play as men in the religion.

She eventually worked her way back to Judaism, a journey she described in her groundbreaking bestseller “Deborah, Golda and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America.”

“I feel I have made a full renaissance. My Judaism today means a great deal to me,” she said.

The winner of numerous awards, including an Emmy for her work as consultant on the TV special “Free To Be…You and Me,” Pogrebin is listed in “Who’s Who in America” and “Foremost Women of the Twentieth Century.” She has three grown children and has been married for 34 years. “I have revolutionary views but lead a conventional life,” she quipped.

Explaining how she managed to integrate such a successful career and family life, Pogrebin simply said, “I have a husband who doesn’t expect to sit down. And a wonderful extended family. You can’t do it alone; you need a community.”