The Feminist Generation Gap

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How is it that a feminist can look so different depending on her age? I don’t just mean physical appearance, but also behavior and attitude. Obviously, Second Wave feminists are older than Third or Fourth  Wave feminists. But that isn’t the only difference.

My daughters would probably consider themselves feminists, but they don’t talk about it. They take a lot of things for granted that Second Wave feminists fought for. They’re so busy going after the things they want out of life, they don’t stop and think that if they’d been born thirty years earlier, they wouldn’t have all the options they have today.

When I was growing up, babies born out of wedlock were called illegitimate. Couples didn’t live together without being married. Married women didn’t keep their names. Help Wanted ads were divided by gender. A doctor, lawyer or minister was almost always a man. Nice girls didn’t talk about sex. (They might be engaging in it, but they weren’t talking about it.) Abortions weren’t legal anywhere. Single people, including gays, couldn’t adopt children. There were no female Supreme Court justices. No one in his (or her) right mind would have considered voting for a woman for President. High schools had dress codes. (I was a sophomore before we were allowed to wear slacks—not jeans—to school.) If one parent stayed home with the kids, it was always the woman. You never heard a swear word on television or in song lyrics. And women always wore bras.

And I haven’t even touched on the technological changes!

The world looks a lot different these days. Movies and even television are much more explicit, in language, violence and sexual activity. Girls are openly giving blow jobs at high school parties. Women’s clothing is see-through, peek-a-boo, and barely there. Couples often have children before (or instead of) getting married. Not one but two women have had their names bandied about as possible Presidential candidates.  Lesbians and gays and single people of either sex can adopt children. Children are started in test tubes. There are more single mothers than ever and living together before getting married is so commonplace, we see unmarried (and gay) couples buying houses together on HGTV!

It’s no wonder that Second Wave feminists seem out of touch with present day-reality. We’re in shock. We can’t imagine growing up in a world where women don’t automatically put their husbands’ careers before their own, where they keep their own names, talk freely about sex, become astronauts and CEOs, wear maternity wedding dresses, have the same amount of access to sports as men do, and often make more than the men in their lives.

Some people pronounce feminism dead just because things are so different than they were in the past. But not everything has changed, or changed all that much. Women still do more of the housework and child-raising than men do. They are still ghetto-ized in low-paying jobs. There is still a double standard where sex is concerned. Little girls still dream of their wedding day. Female participation in politics is till far below the percentage of females that there are in society. Women still worry more about their appearance than men do. And, at least for the forseeable future, women still have the babies.

Considering all the changes that have taken place since I was a girl, I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like for my grandchildren. My grandson talks naturally about getting married and having children (a girl and twin boys). He can clean a bathroom better than I can. I don’t have any granddaughters (yet), so I don’t know how their lives will reflect even more of the changes that feminism has wrought. Maybe someday feminism will be an archaic term and no one will feel the need to label themselves as feminists.

But somehow I doubt it.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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