Sunday, October 30, 2005

Yes, what is a modern grrrrlll to do?

I just finished reading Maureen Dowd's somewhat depressing essay on feminism in the Sunday Times Magazine. I'm sure this is going to be one of the more blogged-over things in the feminist blogosphere, but I felt compelled to write about it anyway.

I'm an old-school feminist. I'm not really sure how that happened, as I feel pretty cutting-edge, but I guess I've been left behind by those who want to roll back the issues of the women's movement, so that someone else will pay for their dinner. It's upsetting that the victories of the women's movement are so often reduced to half-measures in this way--well, they didn't win total pay equity in the 60s & 70s, so I guess I'll just give up and let him pay for my vacation. I mean, what social justice movement ever won EVERY demand it was fighting for? None. In the words of a former co-worker of mine, "that's why they call it the struggle, and not the picnic."

Elizabeth from Half-Changed World had an interesting post last weekend about marriage & compromise, including the following:
I've written here before about Rhonda Mahoney's book "Kidding Ourselves." She applies the logic of game theory to compromise in marriage and argues that that the stronger an individual's fallback position is, the better deal they can negotiate with their partner. So, if you can make a credible threat of leaving your partner -- if you have the skills to support yourself, a decent hope of getting a new partner, a good chance of getting the custody arrangement you'd prefer -- you'll be better off even while married. Thus, many feminist women are suddenly unhappy with the division of labor in their relationships following the birth of a baby because they've been hit by a double whammy: the amount of total work that needs to be done has increased dramatically just when they've given up much of their credible threat of walking out.
It's an interesting post to me, because I think that one of the things that people forget about the women's movement is that there was a lot more on the table than pay equity & abortion rights. There were things like access to child care, and ending domestic violence & sexual harassment in the workplace, and affirmative action in college enrollment. We've won a lot of things that increase our 'credible threat' of leaving our husbands, because forty years ago, if your husband was beating on you or raping you every day, it was really hard to get anyone in power to make him stop doing it. It wasn't even a crime in some places. And forty years ago if you wanted to leave your abusive husband and get a job to support yourself and your kids, you might not be able to find childcare for your kids while you were working. And forty years ago, if you wanted to go to college so that you could make enough money to support yourself and your kids, you might not be able to. Victories like that have mattered to a lot of women. The irony is that Dowd talks about a previous Times article (about women at Yale deciding to be stay-at-home moms) without even mentioning that the fact that those women are at Yale at all (especially in large numbers) is a victory that feminists won.

I'm frustrated that so many of these articles about the 'death of feminism' seem to focus so heavily on women of privilege, without mentioning the advantages that feminists have won for our working-class sisters. It's not all about the ideals of beauty and the what men are looking for in a wife. It's about the fact that generally, the idea that women are the property of the men in their lives is no longer widely accepted.

Dowd closes her essay wondering if, 25 years from now, we'll be back where we were in the fifties, with a whole generation of women who gave up on the fights of feminism wishing for a new Betty Friedan to come along. As a parent, I surely hope not. I want my daughter to have that 'credible threat,' and I want my son to have to deal with it.

• Posted By landismom @ 10/30/2005 02:29:00 PM
  2. My daughter is the Bumblebee. My son is the Sweet Potato. You'll have to ask their father.

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