The following editorial appeared Thursday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

In the 50 years since the late Betty Friedan's book, "The Feminine Mystique," ignited the women's movement, it has ebbed and flowed, picking up steam from the civil rights movement and helping spawn the gay rights movement.

Over the past decade women, and men, too, have had to vigilantly guard those hard-won rights, which are continually threatened. While some may think the right to choose what you can do with your body is inalienable, it isn't. That choice is under assault from lawmakers, courts and individuals with differing religious and moral views.

Reproductive rights aren't the only battleground. We as a nation are drowning in policies that hurt women and families.

Economic issues top the list. Equal pay is still a dream. It's hard to imagine that 50 years after the women's movement began, U.S. women are paid on average 77 cents for every $1 earned by a man. African-American and Latino women earn far less. This is at a time when about 25 percent of families with children are headed by women. Those families are significantly poorer than families headed by men.

Americans should be ashamed that their country is the only one in the advanced industrialized world that does not offer paid parental leave.

The average length of most paid maternity leave in other countries is about 19 weeks; 31 countries provide a year or more of paid leave. In our country, the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act, a 1993 federal law, requires employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons, including pregnancy.

For a nation that prides itself on family values and where women often must fight to maintain control of their reproductive rights, the United States' record on policies that support workers and families is abominable.

Early childhood education is another way in which our country fails families. A global study last year of pre-primary education participation among 4-year-olds showed that 69 percent of kids that age in the United States are enrolled in pre-primary programs. The United States ranks 28th among 38 countries studied.

A Pew Charitable Trusts report estimates the economic benefits of universally accessible early childhood education for 3- and 4-year-olds is at least $25,000 per child per year. The annual cost averages about $8,703 per child.

The women's movement in its 21st-century incarnation must be about the family. It doesn't help the cause when women like Sheryl Sandberg, the 43-year-old chief operating officer of Facebook, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, the 54-year-old Princeton University professor and first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, are bickering over whose view is better for the future of women.

Sandberg suggests that women can have it all if they marry men who help them and confront challenges that hold them back in their workplaces. There is no realistic way for women to have perfect careers and families at the same time, Slaughter counters.

They - and other women who are concerned about the multitude of problems that swamp efforts to pull women and children out of poverty and prevent them from significant educational attainment - should pull together and stop scattering their energy and focus in a million different directions.