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May 15, 2005

Has Feminism Killed Femininity?

What is wrong with women today?

In many ways, our lives are easier than ever. Thanks to women's lib we have choices our mothers never had: we can work, stay home with our babies, or combine work and motherhood. We marry later in life, most of us have our own bank accounts and some control over our finances. This is something our grandmothers never dreamed of. Many women have maids, and for those of us who still do our own housework (like yours truly) a plethora of labor-saving devices makes housecleaning far easier than it used to be.

On TV the other day I even saw a disposable toilet brush: the ultimate in decadence for the spoiled homemaker. No need to get your hands anywhere near those icky bristles (how many of us ever touch the brush end, for God's sake?) - with the touch of a button you can send it off to a landfill somewhere so you don't have to be grossed out by the mere thought of contaminating your shell pink fingernails.

Good God.

And today's men walk on eggshells. "Father Knows Best" is a thing of the past. Commercials and sitcoms feature wisecracking Moms and smart mouthed kids who always seem to make Dad the butt of their jokes. Men are bombarded with Hallmark moments tailor-made for our erstwhile supporting roles: Mothers Day, Valentines Day, anniversaries. After working 40-60 hours a week, the poor dears are still expected to pony up with cards, flowers, candy, and jewelry.

But in many homes the man still provides most of the filthy lucre: where is Breadwinner's Day? When does he get showered with gifts? Carey Roberts thinks the women's liberation movement has gone too far. Modern women have gone beyond demanding equal rights to a culture of entitlement:

Open up any woman’s magazine, and you’ll see advertisements that unabashedly appeal to self-entitlement. Everything from hand soap to resort vacations is peddled with tag lines such as, “Take time for yourself,” “You deserve it,” and “It’s all about you.”

Myrna Blyth, former editor of The Ladies Home Journal, knows this all too well. In her book Spin Sisters, Blyth remarks pointedly, “narcissism is an advanced evolutionary stage of female liberation. Me, me, me, means you’re finally free, free, free.”

I see far too much of that as I look around today's world. Modern women demand all the privileges traditionally afforded us during bygone years, but also want the new freedoms of a liberated era. There is a harshness, a stridency that grates on the nerves.

We don't seem to understand that those privileges were granted in recognition of a woman's special role in society. When women were placed on a pedestal (and also, to be honest, restricted in what they could achieve) they were also protected, cherished, and honored. Doors were held for them and rough language was restrained in their presence as befitted their delicate sensibilities. Modern-day feminists like Nancy Hopkins, however, still demand such defererence while paradoxically insisting men treat them as equals.

They want to have their cake and eat it, too.

To be fair, our new roles take some getting used to. I found it hard to embark on a full-time career after twenty years of being a full-time wife and mother. I knew things would change, but even I was unprepared for some of the changes I saw in myself.

I'd always been very patient and forgiving when I stayed at home. Now, stress and the power shift that comes with making quite a bit of money have made me less conciliatory, less patient, more cranky, more prone to take offense where once I would have extended the benefit of the doubt. In short, I found myself acting less like a woman and more like a man.

Ironically, this happened even though I invariably sympathized with my husband. For the first time in our marriage I truly understood why he was cranky at times. As a stay-at-home wife, I'd always rather thought him unreasonable when he was brusque for no reason. But though it hurt, I'd always been able to greet his rare growling with a smile and shrug it off.

Now I didn't even take it personally anymore - but at the same time, I was in no mood to put up with it. After all, I'd had a rough day at the office too! I no longer had that vast reservoir of patience to cope with one more trial at the end of the day when my defenses were down. I needed a wife to soothe my frayed nerves! Instead, I got a husband who was just as frayed around the edges as I was.

After a great deal of thought, I couldn't help reaching a few unpleasant conclusions. The first was that, though feminists overvalue traditionally male accomplishments like workplace achievements and devalue traditionally feminine skills like homemaking and people skills, things on the home front had run a lot more smoothly when someone (unfortunately me) was running it full-time. And there was no replacement for me.

Secondly, I was getting so wrapped up in the demands of my job (easy to do) that I was turning into a mini-version of my husband instead of what I wanted to be: me. Things I cared about weren't getting done.

It is a truth not universally acknowledged that women in the aggregate often have different priorities than men, whether we acknowledge them publicly or not. Of course, I can say that without bringing the harpies of political correctness down upon my head because I am not Larry Summers - he would be dragged though the streets in chains for saying the same thing.

While I am in some ways very driven at work, my family and home and my relationships with people also matter to me. The fact that women often earn less than men is also universally bemoaned, but those of us lucky enough to be married to a high-earning spouse have choices. We don't (although we may feel guilty for not doing so) have to make slaves of ourselves. We can balance the demands of work and home life if we choose to work. And if we choose to do this, we can be honest about the tradeoffs of so doing: less money, more freedom, a happier, less stressful existence.

In some ways, I think the women's lib movement got it all wrong. Too often they seem to be trying to make women into miniature cardboard cutouts of men instead of freeing women to be ourselves. Unfortunately, this would include letting us make choices that include staying home with our children, or even [shudder!] subliminating what we want at times to the needs of our loved ones, because sometimes that is what women do. It would include giving women permission to be...women, in all the variations from tomboys who never wear makeup to girly-girls who don't feel dressed without fake eyelashes, dangly earrings, and Lee Nails. To be ourselves for once, not some one-size-fits-all version of a liberated Rad-Feminista.

Women who choose to pursue their own priorities need to stop demanding the whole enchilada and bargain intelligently for what they want in life. For me, that meant negotiating a work-at-home schedule that makes my salary and time stretch much farther, though it limits my opportunities for promotion. But that is what I want: my choice.

And perhaps, as I found when traveling recently to Chicago, we need to be able to accept the courtesies offered by men gracefully. I was startled when standing on a crowded airport rental car shuttle in my black power suit and high heels when a young man in a baseball cap offered me his seat. I thanked him for his kindness and demurred, yet he insisted. Still surprised, I thanked him again and gave in. He had a little smile on his face the whole time.

When I got off the bus, I stopped and thanked him one last time. His small act of kindness made my day, and though I didn't need his seat (and certainly would never have asked for it), it was nice to know that chivalry isn't completely dead. I think he was happy too.

Sometimes it is good to be a woman in a world where men are still men.

Posted by Cassandra at May 15, 2005 07:57 AM

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Tracked on May 17, 2005 10:07 AM


Great observations. I realized a few years ago that I had somehow turned into the man that I wanted to marry someday. A bit startling, but it helped me step back, assess what I wanted from a relationship, and set different expectations. I took a sideways step onto a different path and instead of completing my dissertation (under a completely dysfunctional committee) and pursuing a tenure track faculty position where the needs of my students would be secondary to everything else, I now teach part-time and that allows me the freedom and flexibility to set my own schedule and work on the things that are most important to me. I won't be able to add those letters PhD after my name, but I don't care. Letting go can be a truly liberating experience. Thanks for the reminder.


Posted by: Deb [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2005 02:35 PM

For me it is good to be a man, cuz in my little world women are still women.

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2005 11:12 PM

Yeah, well I talk a big game but on the other hand it's 11:53 and I'm working :)

But I'm getting better... I think. At least I didn't work on the weekend.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 15, 2005 11:55 PM

Good stuff, Cass! So very, very TRUE.
Seems to me that the "I am woman, hear me roar" femmes overcompensate alot because they DON'T really have their identity as a woman intact. The ones who insist on gender neutral titles. They have a prob with God as HE....et al. Sheesh. I had a guy at the Post Office make some comment one time about "God", then he corrected himself to gender neutralize or "Goddess" it. I told him I was secure enough in myself as a woman that God as He didn't intimidate or upset me.

When a man holds the door open or defers to me in a grocery line or entering a door, I make it a point to not mumble, but rather speak a very clear "Thank You", and with eye contact. When it's a young guy...as in CHILD or teenager, I tend to make a bigger deal of it to encourage them...and partly because it IS such a rarity it seems in our self centered society where manners and chivalry seem rather novel. I will typically say something complimentary to the parents as well about their child. Most of the time, the young boy held a door open or was courteous all on his own, without his parents cohercion--or perhaps even noticing.

THEN there's the Napoleons....grrrr...... who slip quickly in the smallest door opening possible in front of me and won't hold the door at all.....Those are the ones who cause me to straighten up as tall as possible and walk by them with perfect, altitudinous (and attitudinous) posture. heh!

Even the animal kingdom has a better grasp on identities than alot of humans do. Yeah, my 12 lb. mop dog is affectionately referred to (by me) as a Rottweiller in drag cuz she acts like the big guard dog, but at least she and the cat don't try to be the other. (~;

Posted by: CKCat [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 12:56 AM

I would say that it has in many respects and chivalry is one of the casualties, along with other issues.

I have a first hand account of the sinking of the Titanic. It moved me to tears about the cabin boys, young lads of barely 16 giving their seats in the lifeboats to women and children, in second and third class, no less. The first class passengers drew on 'noblesse oblige' and went down with the ship.

I was so touched after a family lesson on courtesy to see our LD son practice this with our neighbor's little girl. Every morning they catch the bus to the same school, and if they are there together, he lets her board first, and helps her with her back pack. OTOH, if she doesn't make it in time, he boards first, and she sometimes has had to run for it, but he still helps her with her back pack.

I see more of that courtesy here in the south than I have anywhere else. I thank the men and boys who have held doors, helped me with chairs, etc.
To include my own. It helps when their dad models the behavior, as they do it when he is and is not around.

Posted by: La Femme Crickita [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 01:22 AM

PS...I also noticed that when I kept my kids away from the feminine side of public education, they became naturally protective of women. Being in an environment where they were allowed to be themselves, the big teases that boys tend to be also were very much in touch with their soft side as I saw them help me in so many ways...because I was their mother or because their sister needed them.

Men are just lovely.

Posted by: La Femme Crickita [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 01:26 AM


Posted by: CKCat [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 04:03 AM

oops! Correcging, in case I left on the bold?

Posted by: CKCat [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 04:04 AM

Cat, you amaze me :)

Thank you.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 05:12 AM

It's your birthday?

Happy Birthday.......

**thinking, thinking, what to do, what to do...**

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 09:07 AM

Hippo Birdie 2 Ewe
Hippo Birdie 2 Ewe
Hippo Birdie Deer Ewe
Hippo Birdie 2 Ewe

A Birthday song from back when men were real men, women were real women, and small furry animals from Alpha Centauri were real small furry animals from Alpha Centauri.

Posted by: Masked Menace [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 10:11 AM

Yes, it's my birthday Pile, and you've already done all you have to do. Thank you :)

Hippo Birdie 2 Ewe...

Menace, did you see me getting on the bathroom scale this morning? Now I'm going to be afraid to try my brand new bathing suit on and try to start on my tan at lunchtime :) That was going to be my present to myself.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 10:14 AM

Can the tanning wait until you have purged the KFC?

Happy LATE Birthday to you and I am so lame for not following this thread more thoroughly.

Posted by: La Femme Crickita [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 10:19 AM


So, what are you? Like, 35?

Posted by: KJ [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 01:39 PM

Right. Shirley, you jest :)

Try 46. Why do you think I make fun of myself all the time?

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 02:22 PM

AMEN, SISTA!!! Just because a woman CAN do the same thing as a man, doesn't mean she SHOULD. We're different for a reason, and I wish more women and men would remember that.

Posted by: SalGal [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2005 07:23 PM

Hello, Cassandra. I was just directed here from RightWingNews. Being one of those men who tend to "walk on eggshells" in the office, I just wanted to say Thank you (Oh, and you can count on me to hold the door for you if the opportunity arises).

Posted by: WayneB [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2005 12:11 AM

"In some ways, I think the women's lib movement got it all wrong. Too often they seem to be trying to make women into miniature cardboard cutouts of men instead of freeing women to be ourselves."

Look sweetheart, the point is: now women have a choice and new opportunities IF THEY CHOOSE TO. If you would rather stay home and clean and have guys hop off seats when you walk down an aisle, good for you. Do it.

People should stop and just chill out about roles and expectations. If you want to work, you can. If you don't, then don't. But don't judge and make stereotypes. Be yourself, and do what makes you happy. Because as long as you live for other people's expectations rather than your own, you will be miserable, sweetheart.

Posted by: anonymous at May 30, 2005 08:14 PM

My goodness. I'm sensing a bit of hostility here.

I've done both in my life - worked and stayed at home. I have no problem with women who do either. If they want a FT career and want to play by the rules they should get all the appropriate rewards.

It's been a while since I wrote this, but the entire point of the piece was that you can't have your cake and eat it, too. No one is judging and making stereotypes except you. What I objected to was feminists who demand equality on the one hand and special treatment because they are female on the other.

No deal: if you are equal then you get no special consideration. It's that simple.

Fair is fair. In the workplace, I expect to be treated just like a man is. I act professionally and don't expect to be given special consideration because I'm a woman. And I don't need "special help" either. I can compete on my own, thank you very much.

You seem to feel some need to talk down to others. You obviously didn't read the piece carefully.

Try again :)

Posted by: Cassandra at May 30, 2005 09:30 PM

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