"Feminism is a Crock - and Other True Stories." That's the title for a book I'd like to write someday. The reason I say feminism is a crock is because it has morphed from "equal rights for all" to "women are better than men, and if you disagree you're a sexist pig who should be castrated." It's also morphed into a sexual free-for-all: what used to be sauce for the gander (and those ganders were usually considered cads) is now sauce for the goose. This image is being perpetuated by pop culture and entertainment, and women are more and more frequently being portrayed as strong through their sexuality, not through their actual accomplishments. Is this the standard to which we want our daughters to aspire?
Early feminists fought against the centuries-old image of a "woman on a pedestal." Gloria Steinem (she of the "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" who in later years ended up getting married anyway) once said, "A pedestal is as much a prison as any small, confined space." I suppose a bra is also a small, confined space, which might explain the bra burnings of the 1960s. But the early feminists had a point - to a point. If a woman wants to be put on a pedestal and admired and adored, fine. But if she doesn't, she should have the right to do with her life as she chooses. She should be free to pursue any vocation for which she is qualified, either as a single or married woman, children or no children.
But one of the problems with the new feminism was the annoying little fact that children could get in the way of this brave new world. Having to either stay at home with the little tykes or find daycare for them - not to mention all of the discomfort and disfiguration that comes with pregnancy itself - sure put a damper on Gloria Steinem's idea of a "liberated woman" being "one who has sex before marriage and a job after." Unbridled sex does, after all, have consequences. And so, according tohistorian Elaine Tyler May, birth control was "an important tool to gain control over their lives."
May touts the contributions of Margaret Sanger, whose group eventually became known as Planned Parenthood, conveniently ignoring - as many do - Sanger's devotion to eugenics. Sanger spoke of sterilizing those "unfit" to contribute to the gene pool, a group which included not only blacks and other ethnic minorities but, according to Sanger associate Dr. Harry Laughlin, the "shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of antisocial whites of the South." What a classy group of people.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not against safe, legitimate birth control methods. But when tooting the horn of the likes of Margaret Sanger, we need to be honest about what really drove her pursuit of birth control for women, just as we should be honest about what drives the abortion mills of Planned Parenthood - profit. And quelle surprise - Planned Parenthood as we know it really came into its own in the 1960s.
In a nutshell: True feminists of the time felt that you could only be a feminist if you rebelled against the natural workings of your body and eschewed marriage and motherhood for a "higher cause." There are still many of the old guard around today. But the times, they are a changin'.
Fast forward to 2010. Many would say the fight for equal rights has pretty much been won. Girls can dream of going to college and becoming airline pilots, electrical and biological engineers, teachers, doctors - the list is almost endless. In fact, more women graduate with college degrees than men - perhaps due in part to more focus being put on girls than boys in school to "make up for" previous inequality and also what is being called the feminization of society (what Rush Limbaugh calls "chickification").
And for years, the entertainment industry has done its part for the last 20 or 30 years by portraying men as bumbling but lovable fools who wouldn't be where they are if it weren't for the very attractive, smart-as-a-whip women they somehow managed to marry. Television's Home Improvement andKing of Queens are two of the more recent examples. And, of course, commercials like this one. So even if the woman did commit the sin of marrying, she always had the redeeming quality of having the upper hand in just about any situation.
Earlier, I said that unbridled sex without birth control or easy access to abortion has the consequence of pregnancy and childbirth. Today, unbridled sex with birth control and easy access to abortion combined with an increasingly "anything goes" attitude in society and pop culture gets girls who have as their role models the like of Paris Hilton, the Kardashian sisters, Snooki from MTV's Jersey Shore and various other "celebrities." Their claim to fame is not similar to being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean or receiving the Nobel Prize for pioneering work in radiation, but for on-camera antics like tanning, catfights, and puking after binge drinking, and having their "sex tapes" released to the press for quick and easy profit. Too many are the next target of the creator of the Girls Gone Wild video series, which shows images of drunken girls taking off their tops and making out with one another.
We also have the likes of Lady Gaga, who makes Madonna look like a choir girl - almost. And those who begin their careers as wholesome young things (Britney and Jamie Lynn Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lindsey Lohan, Miley Cyrus) often decide that "growing up" must mean "giving out" - figuratively speaking in some cases, not so figuratively in others.
As the mother of two girls, one just starting college this year and the other starting high school, I find these so-called role models severely lacking.
Writing for Macleans, Anne Kingston also notes this disturbing trend. As those she interviews see it, the fight for women's equality is not over but has taken a giant step backward because of something called "enlightened sexism": where women are not only "empowered" by overtly flaunting their sexuality, but are also obsessed with getting married.
Certainly this new trend in the entertainment media, which exploits this so-called sexual empowerment for fun and profit, is partially to blame. But what about the parents? Where are they?
Sure there are the mothers quoted in Anne Kingston's article who are upset about this trashy turn of events. Unfortunately, there are plenty of others who are pushing the trend. I was in TJ Maxx some time ago and heard two women talking, excited because the store was finally carrying the tacky Juicy Couture clothing line. Yet I had to wonder - were they excited because they could buy it for their children or were they excited for themselves? Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw an older, heavyset woman at the mall who was with a boy who looked like he might be her grandson. She was wearing a tight t-shirt with the word Juicy across the front and it was painfully obvious that she wasn't wearing a bra. Nothing like mutton dressed like lamb a la Absolutely Fabulous.
Then there's the recent story about skinny jeans for toddlers. Why anyone would put their two- or three-year-old in an item of clothing usually connected with sexuality is beyond me. But then we have shows like TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras, where some think "beauty pageant stage parents make Jon and Kate Gosselin look like Ward and June Cleaver." There are notorious stage parents like Dina Lohan, who has done her best to launch her own career on the back of her daughter, nearly sucking her dry.
My take? The left tried its hand at social engineering in the name of equality - but rather than focusing on equal rights in education and the workplace, ended up giving women the same "rights" as men in the arena of sex with no consequences. Religion and morality were for squares, no matter what Huey Lewis might have said. Yet it has backfired. Girls still like to look pretty and still like to attract boys. However, now they don't have to worry about public stigma for public misbehavior. A girl who would once be labeled a skank for certain behavior is now celebrated. Be famous for being a no-talent party girl with an expanding rap sheet! No need to "settle with a man just to have that child." Go back to the creep who used your face for a punching bag. Turn yourself into a literal caricature through plastic surgery. You deserve it.
You've come a long way, baby. Here's hoping you can find your way home again.