Instead of being credited for helping to achieve so much of the new egalitarianism, Second Wave feminists are being written off as old out-of-sync nags, always harping on the same themes of the sins of the patriarchy and the men who embody it. Critics are fond of pointing out that men are just as socialized into roles that enslave them as women are.
I have no argument with that, but I still say that it is the patriarchy that damages the lives of men and women in this country. Because men are in power and want to stay there, our boys are taught to be competitive in ways that will solidify the patriarchy. And women are taught to stay in the background for fear that they may take away some of male power. It is not some vague “they” that does this; we are the agents of our own socialization. When we teach our children how to be male and female we are buying into the societal system in which we exist.
Second Wave feminists seemed to preach that the world would be a better place if women ran things. But the answer is not to turn to matriarchy; that would only circumscribe sexual behavior in different, but still unequal, ways. The answer is to reshape our society so that men and women are on equal footing. Some think that we are already there in America, that feminists should all pack up their bags and go home; the war is over. But is it really?
I don’t think so, but perhaps I’m too influenced by my Second Wave “upbringing.” I still see too many signs that men and women are locked into roles that don’t always fit them. Women are still getting the message that they are primarily responsible for child-rearing and house-keeping. Men are still being socialized to be the primary breadwinners (and therefore, deserve to be the bosses of their families). Male qualities are still prized over female qualities. Sexually active women are still being seen as “sluts” while sexually active men are “studs.” And while there are more women than men attending colleges these days, there are still far fewer women in certain positions and careers, such as engineering, science, CEOs and politics.
The feminist movement of the ’60s and ’70s may have done its job too well: what we are experiencing now is a backlash against the Second Wave platform. While there has been a change in attitudes to some extent, most young women today recoil from the idea that they should blame the men they want to make their lives with. They want to be feminine, not androgynous. They want to have equal options to pursue a career or stay home with the kids. They don’t want to be forced to “have it all.”
But Second Wave feminists evolve, too. They realize that the younger generation has different concerns than theirs had. They sense that they’re being written off because they’re seen as out-of-touch, when in reality they still have much to contribute to the present feminist debate. Second Wave feminism may be out of date, but Second Wave feminists are not. They deserve to be listened to.