Sunday, February 05, 2006

Betty Friedan died.

Betty Friedan died on February 4th, which was also her 85th birthday. Ms. Friedan was one of the first feminists, and also the author of "The Feminine Mystique."

Unfortunately, the word "feminist" has become evil. Many women (and men, too) today who agree with feminist philosophy (equal work for equal pay, women have value outside of being housewives and mothers) rail against the label of feminist. These women don't want to be seen as men-hating femi-nazis who don't shave their legs.

Betty Friedan in particular spoke out about women caring so much about their appearance - that by wearing make-up and restricting undergarments women were subjecting themselves to male-dominated ideas of feminine beauty. By casting off these ideals, women would free themselves from "oppression." Friedan was criticized, however, for her focus on upper-middle-class white women - poor women have always had to work to help make ends meet. Only upper-class or upper-middle-class women had any semblance of choice.

In my opinion, though, the feminist movement was all granting women access to male dominated sectors... yes, poor women always had to work (they had no choice), but the feminist movement made jobs available to all women that previously were not. Smaller gaps in inequalities between male and female salaries, equal access to education, equal funding for women's athletics: these advances sought to level the playing field between men and women. Women who were raised in poverty now had more chances to get out of it, or perhaps to get better paying jobs than they previously could have.

I identify with feminism, and don't hesitate to call myself a feminist. What that means to me, and what it should mean in my opinion, is that women don't have to be wives or mothers... that they're free to choose. They can have a career, or they can have husbands, or both, or neither... Women like Betty and Gloria Steinam fought for the rights of women to choose the kitchen or the boardroom; it's not a foregone conclusion that female genitalia equals housework upon marriage.

Earlier in the week, Some Guy posted the "Childless by Choice" article... Unfortunately the burdens of choosing to have children while remainng an employee fall disproportionately upon women, even with today's fathers taking a more active role in parenting than our fathers did, and most definitely our grandfathers. But women today also have a louder voice in the workplace, and can ask for (and receive) concessions to help us choose both, without the risk of losing our jobs. Consider the movie "9 to 5": many of the challenges Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin suffer at the hands of their Evil Boss seem somewhat quaint today. The presence of things like child care or flex time for some corporations marks the (albeit small) successes of the feminist movement.

So, I'm taking a moment to thank Betty, and all the women whose struggle makes it easier for me to have the freedoms and choices I have. Because without her, I'd already have several children I'm sure, nor would I still be going to work each day, since I'm married. And although I love my husband and I'd love those children, I'd resent not having had the choice. I look forward to expanding my family with L'homme, but I am grateful that it is my choice. Thanks Betty. We'll miss you.
<-Back to the Main Page