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I watched the PBS documentary, Makers: The Women Who Made America last night. Overall it was very well done and I highly recommend people watch it, especially if you are under thirty and you believe that women have won the fight. You will be in for a rude awakening. Trust me.
At the end of the third hour, the older generation of feminists, my mother’s generation, wondered why my generation and the younger generations don’t seem to fight or take to the streets like they did.
I followed the #MAKERSChat on Twitter and the chat sort of blew up at that point with younger women pointing out how, yes, they do take to the streets. One example is SlutWalks which are public protests against the idea that a woman is responsible for her rape because of her appearance.
However, this question posed in the program made me think about this and I realized that there is a generation gap within the women’s movement. The Older Generation doesn’t understand that the world we live in and deal with daily is very different than the world they lived in and some of what we deal with are the unintended consequences of their actions forty years ago.
I was born in 1970. Since I already had a birthday this year, I’m 43 years old. And no, I’m not ashamed to admit it. I do remember the Women’s movement of the 1970s. I remember watching Free to Be You and Me. I read a lot of Judy Blume books growing up and I appreciated how she dealt with controversial topics realistically, since those were subjects I couldn’t go to my own mother with. I remember the movement to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and I also remember when it failed to be ratified. I remember vividly that when a woman became “the first woman to”, it made the evening news and it was a very big deal. I grew up with them as an example.
I grew up hearing the message that I didn’t have to get married and be a housewife if I didn’t want to. I had a choice.
Except I really didn’t have a choice.
No, We’re Not The Same as Men
What went unspoken in that message was “You can be anything you want to be as long as it’s not traditionally female.”
While my mother’s generation fought for equal rights, they also stigmatized anything that was considered traditionally female. We still deal with this today with this battle between stay-at-home mothers and mothers who work outside the home belittling each others choices. And those women who don’t have a choice are caught in the middle. We’re demonized because we aren’t at home raising our children, but if we stayed home, then we’d be demonized by the other side for “being oppressed” because we didn’t have careers.
Your worth as a woman was measured in terms of how much you acted like a man.
The feminists of my mother’s generation believed that we were no different than men. I watched an old episode of the TV show Emergency! recently. In the episode, a feminist reporter rode along with Squad 51 to write an article about them. This young lady definitely had a chip on her shoulder and when she asserted to Nurse Dixie (who is a force of nature in her own right) that women and men were the same, and that she could do the job that the men did because she was no different than them, I had to laugh at that because forty years has shown us differently.
However, that attitude was and still is misguided. We are different than men and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that we’ve been told over the years that there was something wrong with that.
I don’t have penis envy and I don’t want to be a man. What I want is to be treated with respect, with dignity and noted for my actions and accomplishments. I want to live in a world where my intelligence is valued as highly, if not more than appearance. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Even the radical feminists perpetuated the idea that women are weaker. Maybe not intentionally, but they did. Because if we aren’t weaker, then why is our worth measured in how much like men we are? Why aren’t we worthy for being women?
Men have things that they are just better at than women. Women have things that they are just better at than men. Instead of fighting this, we should celebrate this. What my mother’s generation did was just push the pendulum to the other extreme.
I don’t hate men. I believe that men and women complement each other like yin and yang. We aren’t superior to the other; rather we balance each other out. Instead of fighting this, we should be celebrating this and using those abilities that are unique to our sex and work together to make a better world for future generations.
When we treat all men as the enemy, we risk alienating a valuable ally. We can scream and yell and march and get in people’s faces all we want, but the chauvinist pigs of the world won’t hear the message until other men call them on the carpet for their words and actions towards women.
This is not meant to say women belong in the kitchen. Women belong anywhere they damn well want to be. So do men. But what happened in the women’s movement is that women are still put down and stigmatized if they don’t conform to the standard. The difference between then and now is that the standard has changed. Women are expected to have careers and their worth is measured in this, just as the women of fifty years ago had their worth measured in terms of having a husband and raising a family.
Knit One, Purl Oppression by the Patriarchal Society
Other traditionally female pursuits were also stigmatized. If you enjoyed crafts such as knitting or sewing, you were being “oppressed” or told “it was for grandmothers”. My generation has taken these pursuits back. I enjoy knitting and no, I’m not oppressed because I enjoy doing it. Knitting, for the record, is working with my hands and creating something original.
Knitting is actually liberating because you’re creating something unique, which is important to us in the younger generations in this era of big box stores and mass produced everything. Knitting also involves lots of math. Garment construction is also a type of engineering. In order to design your own sweater, you have to understand how a sweater is constructed and to do that means you have to break down the sweater into the sum of its parts, or reverse engineer it.
How is that being oppressed? Is it because it involves clothing and not designing rockets or curing cancer?
We struggle in many ways because we feel the tug of motherhood or traditional female pursuits and yet we’re torn between this tug and the messages we grew up hearing that if we pursued this, we were backwards and oppressed.
Many people of my generation were latch-key kids. I was. I had a key to my house when I was nine. We were the first generation of children to experience the effects of the rising divorce rate. Our mother’s generation can’t know what that feels like to come home to an empty house after school and be left to our own devices for those hours until Mom or Dad came home from work. They don’t know what it’s like to be caught in the middle of a parent’s divorce and being made to feel like they have to pick a side because they love both parents and don’t want to disappoint either one of them. I think this has influenced my generation and beyond and that’s why more women are choosing to stay at home with their children and also putting off marriage and motherhood until their thirties and forties.