I have four daughters between the ages of 28 and 34. They’ve been out in the world long enough to know if they consider themselves to be feminists or not. I’m not sure if they do. Oh, I know they believe in and insist on their right to be anything they want to be, including free to make their own decisions. But they may not identify with feminism as a movement. And I think that’s what trips up a lot of women. Especially young women. Because there really is no such thing as a feminist movement in this country, not in the sense that there was in the ’60s and ’70s. There are feminist organizations and web blogs, women’s studies departments and majors. But there is no umbrella organization to which all feminists can attach themselves. The movement, if there is one, is made up of individuals and small groups working alone, each reinventing the feminist wheel.
Where is the Gloria Steinem of my daughters’ generation? Or the Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer, Betty Friedan or Robin Morgan? Where are the books that sweep the best-seller lists and change the attitudes of millions of Americans? We haven’t had anything like that since the early ’90s when Susan Faludi (who was born in 1959) wrote Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women and Naomi Wolf (who was born in 1962) wrote The Beauty Myth. These two women were considered to be a part of Third Wave feminism at the time, but they were born at the late end of the Boomer generation and could be seen as commentators on the ’80s. Neither of them has restricted themselves to feminist writings. Without leaders, can there be a movement?
A movement also has to have a central cause to which its followers dedicate themselves. Many people, including women, don’t think there is anything to fight for anymore. They have been lulled into a false sense of security because women have made tremendous advances since the ’60s. But does that mean that there is no more work that needs to be done? Of course not. It’s just that the issues are subtler. They have more to do with self-esteem and self-determination, with relationships and personal choices. They also have to do with how women are still shuttled off to the sidelines when it comes to important work and decision-making. There are still not enough women in politics, in executive positions, in prestigious careers. Women are still doing most of the housework and seen as making the “extra” (read ‘not essential’) money. They are victims of domestic violence and dead-beat fathers. And make up a disproportionate amount of the poor, especially when they are elderly.
Feminists in this country have declared more than one year to be the “Year of the Woman” since the ’70s, 1984 and 1992 being the most notable. Some are even talking about 2008 as being the next one to deserve that designation, mainly because of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. But they didn’t win, did they? Other concerns took center stage, which is what seems to often happen when feminist ideas are being promoted. More people are worrying about the economy these days, without realizing that it is the women who are going to be the hardest hit during a recession. The focus now is on the historic election of a black President and what he is going to be doing for our country. Any attempt to stir up a feminist movement will likely be ignored. But if the new administration is about listening to the people, at least some of those people should be feminists. And they should be prepared to talk loudly.