Are today’s young women taking Feminism’s gains for granted? Guest post by Ann M. of http://www.wordsmart.com.au/
The Lost Girls
by Ann M. of http://www.wordsmart.com.au/
For those of us in our forties, fifties and beyond, there’s a certain sense of satisfaction, knowing that we did things differently as women, leading different lives to our mothers. Personally, I’ve always been grateful for Germaine and Betty and Gloria and Mary, and, more recently, Naomi. They’ve walked beside me these many years now, my old friends.
Conventional perhaps as my life has been (a husband, a mortgage, four children) they have taught me how to fight the brave fight (as my five sisters call it) in the politics of marriage. They have taught me how raise my four daughters, mostly not to think that they need a man to define them, to value their female friendships, to be financially independent. They have taught me to forge ahead as an individual, not an easy thing when one is up to one’s ears in washing and children’s panadol. Being raised in a time when the feminists reigned: our how fortunate we were!
My observation now, watching my daughters and their friends, is that feminism is literally a historical concept. All they know of it is the module they learned in their Modern History syllabus.
I have conducted an experiment lately, asking the friends of my 19-year-old daughter whether they have read any feminist literature. Some reply that they have completed an assignment on the subject (like Marxism or capitalism, and about as relevant) and some look skyward, searching for the words to tell me they don’t know what I mean. One, a brilliant engineering student, said “What, like ‘Looking for Alibrandi’”? (I gave her The Beauty Myth).
It is a very curious thing, but they are, as a whole, a very socially conservative generation. They marry young again, they take their husbands’ names again, there is no talk about changing the world (nor even seeing the world for that matter). How in the hell did that happen?
Recently, when I started to notice this, I resorted to purchasing every feminist tome I could think of, from Wollstencraft to Wolf, and putting them on the kitchen table, announcing that this would be the Christmas holiday reading in our house. Well, I enjoyed reading them again anyway. Not sure anyone else even glanced in their direction. But I would read passages to anyone who would listen, and it stirred up my blood for a good few months again. My husband was pleased when the time passed.
The problem is not actually so much my own daughters, who’ve had healthy role models in all my sisters, and who have had my views somewhat leached into their bones. But it is the broader group of young women I meet, who are suspicious of feminism when it is raised in conversation, that concern me most.
The younger ones I have come across are more interested in being skinny, whitening their teeth, getting a spray tan and pairing off. I guess that sounds harsh, and maybe it is.
In a culture dominated by the Kardashians, The Biggest Loser and heavy drinking though, there is not much scope for introspection.
Perhaps they have their own way of seeing that their needs are met, but I don’t see it often. All I see are young women who have few choices, working long hours, dragging kids to long day care, adding long commutes to their days. I don’t see that much has been gained.
Women are still left poorly off when relationships end, and men still regain their financial position within two years of divorce. Women still tend to be overrepresented in ‘nurturing’, lower-paid jobs and professions. High-end restaurants are still filled with men at lunch. Pregnant women are still never asked: ‘And what do you do?’. Stay-at-home mothers are still totally invisible.
I told my girls, over and over: ‘Get a boy job’. I am amazed at how many women I know who tell their daughters to study something that they can do ‘with a family’. They omit the obvious point that: many won’t have a family, many can’t have a family, many will have a family and the man will knick off, and many more still will find that they would have preferred to do something they really loved, than to have taken the ‘family-friendly’ option. What’s the matter with you silly women?! You don’t tell your sons to study Speech Pathology or nursing or teaching.
I tell any girls who will listen that they ignore the lessons of feminism at their peril. They usually look at me curiously and wonder what language I am speaking. But, just occasionally, I’ve had them come back, when pregnant with their second child, when they are doing all the child care and all the housework, and say: “ Can I talk to you about why I am so angry?”. And I tell them to fight the brave fight, where many have gone before them.