It has been a long time since I have read an article that has gotten nearer to the point of feminism – the need keep feminist ideals and agendas in mind – than a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I have long felt that each new title that declares one thing or the other about the condition of women in our society rings hollow. This article, “Feminism Fizzles: Where is Betty Friedan When We Need Her?” by Rachel Shteir, is not perfect either, but it is, as I say, getting nearer.
Shteir makes a strong case for reconsidering the importance and relevance of Betty Friedan’s 1963 ground breaking work, The Feminine Mystique. As a women’s historian, I have taught Betty Friedan’s Feminist Mystique. It too is not perfect, but I have gained a new appreciation for the work after reading Shteir’s article. Whatever its shortcomings, at least it has depth, something with which I agree with what Shteir has argued about the recent publication of works on women (Shteir calls these WOW).
Shteir quickly identifies her problem with this literature.
A more alienating problem is that the worlds these WOW describe seem to have come straight from Target. While the political realities and social conditions differ on the surface, at bottom they appear strangely similar—even Stepford-wifelike. The settings may vary, but only in the way that shades of bottle blonde do: a little elite college, a little Washington, a little Midwestern manufacturing town, a little Wall Street.
And continues with:
What bothers me most about these writers is not that they aren’t radical (that hardly enters the equation), but that their books and articles barely acknowledge the psychological complexities, the subterranean and contradictory forces pulling at women, as well as new possibilities offered.
Ultimately, I am tired of not finding space at the table of modern feminism. Or that once there, finding the meal has not been well-planned or thought out. I am equally tired of the continual nonrecognition that sexism persists in all aspects of professional (including the hallowed ground of equality – the academy), personal, and public life. I agree with Shteir that we cannot vilify men (oh, there are some villains out there, but all men? Not so much). That isn’t getting women (or men for that matter) anywhere. There is a deeper problem that I am not sure where to begin to identify.
Yet, in my daily life, I encounter rudeness, thoughtlessness, unkindness, insecurity, obtuseness, power negotiations, and garden-variety-fear (not the my life is in danger fear, but fear of sticking one’s nose out). I also encounter mercy, charity, friendship, and mutual respect. Some of these can be read with a gendered lens, but at other times both sins and virtues are not specific to one sex.
I fear I am not getting anywhere with this and that this post is one of those underdeveloped thought pieces that tend to crowd the conversation. All I am sure of is that I am bothered and tired of the same patterns of stereotyping of women. I caught myself the other day apologizing for my feminist beliefs. I qualified, so as not to put anyone off. I am hardly a radical feminist (and here I go again, qualifying). I do not scream poster-child for a firebrand. And sexism is more than bad behavior, ill manners, or a lack of civility, but it is that too. People more often than not, are not knowingly mean or hurtful. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t. Or that hierarchy/patriarchy/power relations don’t exist.