I’ve been procrastinating on the writing lately, and one of the ways I occupy myself instead of writing is StumbleUpon. It’s quite the efficient time waster, but sometimes I come across interesting things that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. It could be crafty stuff, or computer stuff, or social consciousness raising stuff. Today, it was women’s issues stuff.
I have an exchange student this year. It’s the first time I’ve done this, so it’s a new experience for all of us. He’s from Yemen, from what he calls a “modern city.” By this, I believe he means that it’s not as rigid as a more traditional Muslim city. There are women teaching in the
schools, and many of the things that are very repressive (in our western ways of thinking) are less so in Aden. We’ve had a couple of opportunities to talk about women and men and how society differentiates between the genders. There have been discussions on equal wages (or not), voting (or not), driving (or not), and any other number of activities and issues that we American women tend to take for granted. Then, while meandering about the Internet, I came across an article about women on Divine Caroline. Entitled “Nine Things American Women Take For Granted,” the article very briefly examines nine freedoms that American women enjoy today and should “take advantage of.” It was when I read that phrase that I stopped stumbling and started writing.
I believe that most American women have forgotten just how recently it was when we didn’t have these freedoms. The right to own property (The Married Women’s Property Act 1882) and vote (June 14, 1919), saying no to marital sex was not permissible before 1976 – a year before I graduated from high school. Reproductive rights are still not a reality for many women both in the US and around the world.
I have spoken to my daughters about women’s rights and while they agree on principle, but don’t want to accept the label of Feminist. They tell me it’s not relevant any more. Feminism is unnecessary in their view. As their father and I have instilled in them, they know they can do whatever they want. They believe that they have nothing in common with the bra burning, in-your-face activists of the ‘60s. They’re not interested in being identified with Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. To them, Susan B. Anthony was just another outspoken woman who wanted to vote. I look at my granddaughter and I wonder what her life will be. Right now, at 9, she’s all about Barbie and jewelry and makeup. Don’t underestimate her, thought. She’s not afraid to throw a punch and “Don’t get mad, get even” should be her motto. Like her mother, she’s nitroglycerine in a demure, delicate looking package.
On August 5, 2011, The Guardian (UK newspaper) published an article asking if feminism was dead.. “Feminism, the pessimists say, is over, drowned in a froth of pink tulle and buried with a stiletto heel through its heart.” There are only a few of us around who remember the time “before.” The time in the 70’s when being a divorced, working mother meant that you were also a slut and your daughter probably was as well. The time early in that decade when a girl in an all-boy aeronautics class was such a complete oddity that the teacher wasn’t sure how to grade her work. Employment ads specified “girl for typing,” and “stock boy” – implying that a typing boy or a strong girl were somehow not right. My sister and I were routinely sent to clean our brothers’ rooms, while the boys never did any “women’s” work. Somehow, though, cleaning the garage was a gray area and we all pitched in to do that.
Feminism is not dead. It’s merely repackaged itself for today’s politically correct world. While many women hesitate to accept the label “feminist,” they are quick to address discrimination and inequity when necessary. Until the recent publicity surrounding Rush Limbaugh’s vicious attack on women, most activism was focused on human rights, inclusive of women. I think that does an injustice to women and to human rights. There are many instances of human rights violations that are not specifically female issues, but some issues lose their sense of urgency when focused on the human, and not specifically on the feminine. Things like reproductive rights and pay equity are not generally an issue for men. Women, however, struggle with this around the world. Women still don’t make an equal wage for equal work, even here in the US. In no country on this planet are men barred from voting. Women, while most are legally allowed to vote, often have circumstances forced upon them that make voting impossible such as the inability of women in many Muslim countries to drive, or even go outside without a male relative.
While my daughters hesitate to self-identify as feminists, each is – in her own way. One daughter, although married with two children, is still the primary support of her family. There is virtually no gender delineation in her house with regard to household chores. She is raising her daughter to never question being able to become whatever she wants to be. She would find it amusing if someone suggested that she check with her husband before going out with friends, just as she would not expect him to ask her in the same situation. They coordinate scheduling, but never permission. Parenting is a joint venture, as is housekeeping and earning a living. The other daughter is happily self-sufficient, and requires any guy who wants to be with her to accept her as she is – a strong and capable young woman.
My sons have been raised without gender lines, as well. Having had a father who was an at-home dad for 12 years, they all know that being a man sometimes requires you to change diapers, make dinner, and mow the lawn. Being a man doesn’t mean being in charge – it means being part of a democratic endeavor called family.
I am a feminist. My husband likewise considers himself a feminist. My daughters and sons, whether they identify as such or not, are feminists. All that means – today as it did in the 60’s – is that we believe women are not less than or greater than men. They’re equal, and are entitled to the same rights and responsibilities. Feminism is most definitely not dead.