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Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Responsibility of Feminism

Has Feminism helped or harmed American women since the second wave in the 1960's? Maybe a little of both but we are living in a time where Feminism has hindered our entire society more than it has helped it.

In the time of chivalry women were treated with respect and revered for the essentials of what they were. As chivalry died so did the respect women received and that respect was replaced with expectation and humiliation. Men, rather than a female’s unique skills and inherent abilities, defined a woman’s role. These same men still respected the natural power of woman, as evident by words of Samuel Johnson in the 18th Century. He states “Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little." However, the general male incapability to express these feelings left women empty, this emptiness turned into unrest and defiance. The feelings restlessness and defiance lead to the birth of feminism.

Feminism has slowly grown in strength and over the years and gained steady momentum. The first increase of momentum happened in Seneca Falls, New York in the July of 1848. On this day, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, presented the Declaration of Sentiments to proclaim the rights demanded by women and the ideals that represent those rights. After the gaining of suffrage the feminist movement slowed until the 1960’s. During this time radical women, inspired by Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” launched a new campaign of Feminism focused on gaining equal treatment in the workplace. This is where feminism took a turn for the worse. These women embraced the mentality of men and ripped away the choice of those women who disagreed with them. They also devalued the rest of America to achieve their own goals. Women used to contribute uniquely to society sustaining a delicate balance that held together the roles of family and morals in America; since the inception of neo-feminism the identity of women has been lost and society has also suffered the loss of identity, family, and mental stability.

The Achievements of Feminism

To understand where feminism has failed one must first understand how it succeeded. In the Declaration of Sentiments, feminists outlined the expectations of their movement. Each of the tenets set forth in this document has been accomplished. The right of suffrage is the first tenet discussed and in 1920 was ratified as a constitutional amendment. Another demand of feminists was the right for married women to own property. This was another success as evidence today by joint and separate income tax returns; the way assets are divided in divorce proceedings, and inheritance laws. Another success was to allow women in educational establishments. Today there a more women attending college than men, it is obvious the right to attend school is one freely exercised. The last demand was that of equal treatment in the workplace. Women have achieved this goal as well. With all these things achieved why is feminism still around? While these tenets have been accomplished, some still have not reached a level acceptable by some feminists. More ideals have also been established in the feminist movement.

Why Feminism Has Failed Women

Feminism has been altered from its noble beginnings to a less than respected female movement in America. This turn for the worse has come from the ways in which feminism has failed. Modern, or what the author calls “neo feminism,” has promoted ideals that negatively influenced America. As a result society now has an identity crisis which effects men and women alike. Women have lost the right and support to fulfill their natural role. Many feminists, not men, have made it difficult for some women to be stay-at-home wives and mothers. The sexual revolution has cost women sexual respect. The lives of children have been devalued by abortion. The family unit has been compromised, which has caused an increase in mental illness and divorce. All these negative influences have had a cascade of negative effects.

The Change in the Identity of Women

Being a wife and mother has been the role of women since the beginning of time. Nature has given women certain innate abilities that have made them powerful nurturers, caregivers, and most importantly a balance to men. By being who they are and maintaining this delicate balance, women held in their hands the power to change the world for the better. Not only was their inner role important, but also their outer role. The feminine appearance attracted men. By securing this attraction women ensured that they were influential in all matters. This attraction also allowed them the chance of becoming a mother and giving birth. The ability to give birth is something unique, only possessed by a female and was embraced for the power it gave. She also was a mother to children and in charge of teaching young men and women to take on the world. The hand that rocks the cradle truly is the hand the rules the world; the role of women was complex but very powerful.

By the 1960’s the world changed greatly and women started to feel helpless and insignificant. This can be contributed to male insecurity. During WWII women went to work in factories to keep America running. When men came back from War the women did not want to return to the home and thus intimidated men by taking their jobs. Men lashed back by furthering their disrespect of women and inspired feminist to rise and demand equal treatment. This wave peeked in the 1960’s heralded in by the burning of bras.

This is where the influence of men ended on women’s lives and where the influence of feminism began. The burning of bras was a symbol of leaving behind a feminine identity and embracing a masculine role. The first action feminists took was to ridicule and devalue the women who wished to stay as they were and follow in their mother’s footsteps. These women wanted to go to University to find a good husband and become a wife and mother. Gloria Steinem was at the forefront on this war on women. In an article in Time Magazine, 1970, she is quoted as saying
,"[Housewives] are dependent creatures who are still children...parasites."
After achieving goals of breaking down a traditional household, starting with the role of woman as wife and mother, they turned to the appearance and mannerisms of women.

Provocative clothing was considered useless and a devaluing uniform imposed by men. Many feminists believed to dress in that way set women back. Feminists then deemed it necessary to dress like men to achieve the power and respect men have. This enforced ideal was that another point where women began to lose their feminine ways. By dressing like a man they soon took on the mannerisms and mindset of men thus becoming nothing more than a glorified male instead of an empowered woman. In a way these women did achieve a semblance of equality, but at an immense cost. Women have lost themselves to find power. Housewives and mothers were devalued in the 1960’s society, but today there have been painful consequences for the loss of this important role. The first casualty in the war on womanhood is the choice to fulfill happiness through a traditional role. Danielle Crittenden says,

We have absorbed the lesson that we should forgo--or postpone--marriage and children in order to forge careers; when married, we should not depend upon our husbands, either to stay married to us for the long haul or to support us when we have children; we should not ultimately look to our families for satisfaction or happiness--those things are best realized in our jobs, and in our spiritual growth as individuals .

Instead of giving up as housewives, feminists should have pushed for respect for the position while still allowing it to be an influential and mainstream role. They could also have introduced the role of a career woman as an alternative. Women could have fulfilled themselves without imposing upon the rights and choices of others.

The Sexual Revolution

The feminist inspired sexual revolution has devalued women more than any act men have imposed upon women. A great example of the sexual revolution can be seen in the move Down With Love. In this movie women are encouraged to take on a man’s sexual appetite and habits to gain power through and over sexual relationships. The question is, has this sexual revolution truly given women power? I believe that instead of gaining sexual power, women have lost it. F. Caroyln Graglia says it best
"The only result feminists accomplished by endorsing the sexual revolution was to deprive women of the societal support they needed to refuse to engage in casual sex … Women once confidently controlled the sexual aspects of their dating relationships, setting and enforcing the rules while viewing the male as a suppliant who would be grateful for whatever sexual favors he received (which usually would be something short of intercourse). Not yet misled by feminist teachings, females knew these were favors."
The sexual revolution has perpetuated a feeling of expected sexual contact from women and has contributed to the rise in rape and sexual degradation of women.

Devaluing Children

The loss of the maternal role not only effected women but also children. When women entered the workplace children lost a valuable sense of stability and a valuable role model. Children are now taken care of by a third party caregiver most of the time not a family member. Many of the institutions children are sent to for daycare do not provide enough safety and nurturing which can lead to aggressiveness, anxiety and depression. Take into account, “this study, by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), reports that kids in non-maternal care tend to be associated with qualities such as "gets in lots of fights," "cruelty," "explosive behavior," "talking too much," "argues a lot," and "demands a lot of attention." Reports of abuse at a daycare facility are not unheard of, which makes daycare not only potentially neglectful but also potentially unsafe.

One of the greatest way women have devalued children is by accepting abortion. A respected feminist, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, once said “"When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." The action of abortion in essence put children on the same level of disrespect that women once found themselves forced to endure. Medical complications and forced necessity are not longer the main reasons for abortion. Now many women use this act as a form of birth control because of the inconvenience pregnancy may present to their weight, career, or social excursions. These women form different excuses to take away from the guilt that these reasons invoke. This guilt is the evidence of one-way feminism has failed. No woman should ever feel that they should have to make a choice between the life of a child and her own. Feminism should look to end the reasons for abortion, like pregnancy discrimination, safety issues, and lack of contraception.

How Feminism Has Failed The Family

The breaking down of the family structure has caused instability in society. This instability is evident by higher divorce rates, a drop in marriage rates, a rise in unwed birth rates. There is also evidence of a rise in depression and homosexuality. Since Feminism went mainstream in the 1960’s these problems have become more evident and thus can be linked.

It is evident that women are pushing aside their identity, forsaking what is natural to live up to the reputation of radical women. It is noble to want equal treatment and to reclaim the respect women once held in the days of chivalry. However, it is not acceptable to damage the identities of men, women and children to achieve that goal. There is a better way, a compromise that can be reached, that will not take away the choice to live life in a way that makes women happy. A compromise where women who do not want to choose between career and family can have families early and be stay-at-home moms until their children are in school, then pursue successful careers. A compromise where all people, men, women, and children have value without compromising the value of another. Feminists need to take back their place as women and once again add balance to the family and to America.