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Women and happiness: Part two - The way it was and is now

Updated on June 9, 2010

Women and happiness: Part two - Whine, womyn, and thongs (a title used by Christine Rosin, 1990)

*To see the first article in this series, click here: "Women and happiness : Part One -The way it was. "

As is often the case, when much needed change is made, a shift to another extreme may occur. The results may not be what we expected or even what we wanted. They may careen out of control for a while as did the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s. A steady stream of women’s complaints disguised as manifestos gave rise. Rampant institutionalization in the form of women’s studies sprang up on college campuses. And a brand of female sexual power and promiscuousness celebrated everything from prostitution to bra burning.

By the 20th century, "...the feminist movement morphed into vanity and voyeurism rather than sustained political action. Its notions of women as a class were never inclusive. It had little room for women who couldn’t or wouldn’t embrace the worldview of organized feminism, and no place at all for women whose views rested on the more conservative end of the political spectrum." (Chrisrine Rosin, 1990).

However, not everybody looked at feminism in the same way. The Movement created enormous pride and was a life altering event for many of the women who chose to fight for their beliefs. As Helen Reddy (a feminist musician) said, the Movement "was something that profoundly altered how I felt about myself and about life...from that time on I was changed."From that time on I was changed" (Reddy, 1980).

The dramatic change that many women underwent created an experience that was not just made up of a whiny group of women like many thought. It was "a compelling utopian vision, a great unity of purpose, and a respect for diversity... One of the most consequential social movements of the 20th century" (Douglas, 1990). Gloria Steinem, a key figure in the movement remarked "The Women's Lib Movement will benefit not only the women, but the men of the society as well by dissolving the sex role stereotypes and expectations" (Steinem 1970) Overall, women in the Movement, although some a little unsure, saw it as a chance to fight for what they believed in and in turn, change the boundaries of society to allow themselves, as women, to be free.

However, many men in this 1970's society, described the Movement as something so different you would think that they were not talking about the same thing. Characterizing the women as "new and angry" male-hating freaks or a "small band of bra-less bubbleheads," Men had a reaction to the Movement that was less than positive. These negative reactions to the Movement can be explained by many men's fear and hatred toward the change the women of the Movement were trying to make. As Time magazine said, the Women's Movement was a time "that [tried] men's souls"

Many women had negative reactions to the movement as well, and still do. "Today’s feminism...", writes Christine Rosin in her book: Whine, Womyn, and Thongs: How feminism has failed "...a kind of Facebook feminism that elevates personal experience and personal performance above all else—allows everyone from Madonna to Martha Stewart to serve as icons of female empowerment, and is a label largely devoid of meaning. It also allows women living in the prosperous West to avoid confronting the challenges and ambiguities of women’s condition in other parts of the world.

Today few people have even an inkling of the vehemence, theatrical posturing, and convoluted reasoning of the anti feminist forces. Some opponents merely dismissed or ridiculed calls for changes in women's status, without specifying particular flaws in the feminist position. Others cited divine ordination, applied to "natural law", and fanned public fears of familial and social disintegration. Frequently these critics resorted to charges of presumed lesbianism, communism, and socialism against advocates of women's rights and against the movement itself. This adamant opposition to equality for women was a manifestation of common apprehension about ongoing social, economic, and political changes beyond antifeminist control.

And yet there are millions of women who have benefited from the movement. In Friedan's day, women were clearly the second sex. Not so today. Yes, many women are struggling with the challenge of combining family and work. But men do not have it easy either. They are increasingly less educated than women. They are bearing the brunt of the recession.

The New York Times recently reported that "a full 82 percent of the job losses have befallen men." Reuters referred to the surging male unemployment rate as a "blood bath." Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "FastStats" show that men are less likely than women to be insured—and more likely to drink, smoke, and be overweight. They also die six years earlier than women on average.

The struggle for women's rights is far from over, but the serious battlegrounds today are in Muslim societies and in sub-Saharan Africa. In these and other parts of the developing world, most women have not yet seen so much as a ripple of freedom, let alone two major waves of liberation. We should be directing our efforts toward the millions of women who have never had the luxury of coping with the problem that has no name.

*Next in the series: The paradox of declining female happiness


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