Feminism and Gender in the Aughts
By Suzanne Reisman on December 28, 2009
BlogHer Original Post
The last ten years have been nothing if not a roller coaster ride when it comes to feminism and gender. I found the lows to be more plentiful than the highs, but the surprises kept coming. So, in no particular order, here's what stuck out to me:
The Bush years may have been one of the worst times for those of us interested in gender equality. (My definition of "gender equality" is people are enabled to pursue their lives according to their abilities and interests, regardless of what genitalia they possess and how they chose to use it.) We lost significant progress on reproductive rights (pharmacists refusing to fill birth control prescriptions; global gag rule; extra special "conscience" provisions that allowed medical professionals to define birth control pills as abortions), equal pay for equal work (Lilly Ledbetter), Title IX funding for women's sports and education, federal assistance to women-owned small business, and a lot more good stuff. Sigh.
At the same time, the mainstream media worked over time to convince women that education and careers were not fulfilling. The "opting out" articles, including the one by Lisa Belkin in The New York Times in 2003 which launched a thousand ships of lies that will not sink,* insisted that women really just wanted to stay home and raise kids because it is biological destiny. Yet what there women almost all said when you read their quotes was that they felt that they didn't have a choice except to drop out; that workplaces and home life were not meshing for a variety of reasons, including inflexible employers and spouses that didn't pick up their share of housework and child care. What the articles should have examined were why we are so wedded to outmoded notions of work life. The fact that we lose so much human capital by refusing to change "how things have always been done because it's always been done that way so why would we change it now" actually costs society enormously remained unexplored and old ideas of how life is were unchallenged. What would have been so much more interesting would be to talk to people about what they need to make their lives work. But I guess that's a harder sell because it requires serious thought and scary change.
With all the focus on how upper class, educated women "chose" to opt out, little attention was paid to the vast majority of women who had no choice. Most women had to work, just like throughout history, a large portion of the female population has worked. These women saw cuts to child care funding, Head Start, food stamps, and other vital supports to keep their families strong and healthy. Women pursuing higher education saw tuition sky rocket as public subsidies fell away, eating up bigger percentages of their budgets and leaving them with large debts.
The New York Times reported that 40% of people who care for elderly parents are men. I thought this was a mind-blowing statistic and a real sign of gender roles shifting. No one else really wrote about it, except Moms Rising. Maybe I was wrong...
The nicest thing to me that happened in the aughts was the proliferation of feminist thought on the web. We saw feminist blogs like Jezebel, Feministing, and Feministe (from youngest to oldest) explode the notion that feminism can't be popular. Broadsheet at Salon also challenged mainstream media assumptions all the time. RH Reality Check kept me up-to-date on the latest reproductive rights news. My favorite feminist zine, Bitch, went nonprofit and revamped their blog. Young feminists even started their own sites, like F-Bomb. While many of these sites towed mainstream feminist thought, others like Rachel's Tavern, The Angry Black Woman, My Private Casbah, Muslimah Media Watch, Angry Black Bitch, and Racialicious used their online presence to challenge mainstream ideas and examine women's issues, gender, culture, class, and race. The fact that BlogHer has an entire blogroll chock full of feminism and gender blogs rules!!!!
The 2008 election brought the feminism, race, sexism, and class to the forefront. Were progressive feminists obligated to support Hillary Clinton because she was a woman? (My personal response: Hell, no! I don't NOT vote for a candidate just because she's a woman, so I certainly do not vote for candidates merely because they are women.) Were women who denigrated Sarah Palin not feminists? (My personal response: Hell, no! I'll defend her right to run, but no way will ever support a candidate who uses her privilege to take away my rights. That woman made her own bed, and then wanted to strangle me in the covers. Still, if the media focuses on her appearance rather than her [terrifying lack of] intelligence, I will raise my voice as loud as I can and shout, "SEXISM!") Whatever the case was, the discussion was informative and interesting. Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House, then promptly traded away all credibility. (Down with Stupak!)
Women continued pursuing higher education, even if we also continued being paid less than men who were similarly (or even less) qualified. We bought houses in record numbers, even if we also lost them in record numbers because we were railroaded into subprime and exotic loan products. We saw the rate of teenage pregnancies go up after years of abstinence only "education," only to end 2009 with a spending bill that cut all funding to this disastrous national policy.
So, as of Dec. 28, 2009, with only a few days left in the aughts, I am not sorry to see this decade go. In January, I'll be writing more about what the next ten years might bring for feminism and gender. Please leave a comment on this post - what are your hopes, your fears, your expectations for the next decade - and I'll hat tip you and use your thoughts as my guide. (Seriously, I need help with this - look how much I missed about the decade by focusing only on the US. And I didn't even touch on the proliferation of air brushing and increasingly unrealistic body standards for women!)
*And this is why I try and stay away from metaphors...
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