Unintended Consequences of Feminism Part 5- Where To Now?

Possibly one of the greatest developments of modern society is the rise of subcultures. These days there is a far wider spectrum of what is considered normal. At the last Australian Census we discovered that the nuclear family now makes up less then half of all Australian households. The rest are populated with single parents, single people, extended families, same sex couples and other variations of the word family. Mainstream society is far more accepting of subcultures then at any time in the past. We’re learning to be more accepting. Hopefully this trend will continue.

Despite all the arguing that goes on in chatrooms and on blogs around the world, when it boils down to it we are sharing ideas and being exposed to opinions we would otherwise never have come across. And while it often just gets us even more entrenched in our own ideas it does force us to think those ideas through, to articulate them to someone else who is more then ready to pull our ideas to pieces and display all the faults in our logic. This is a good thing. It’s a learning curve that forces critical thinking. We should be able to defend our ideas and presumptions as well as learn from others. For every person that posts a comment on a blog or gets involved in a heated discussion there are many more who are still making up their minds, who are reading and learning. Hopeful, this accelerated learning and interaction will continue.

Personally, I would like to see feminism become less contentious. Most women I spoke to about  this are divided about the idea of feminism. They felt that to criticise the movement was somehow traitorous. But they all admit scruples about  feminism itself, not wanting to be seen as bitter women with an axe to grind. And most women don’t agree with the most radical extremes- like the idea that all sex is rape, or the demonising of all men as evil patriarchal overlords. Most women like men, we want their respect, not to grind them into the dirt under our heels as it sometimes seems the extreme feminists want. So perhaps a move into less extremism would be good. A more balanced approach to equality, one that doesn’t involve alienating the majority. 

Ultimately, I would love to live in a world where gender isn’t ever an issue. Where we aren’t locked into roles to play simply because of the sex we were born. I’d love for my daughter to look back with incredulity at the thought that the world was ever divided by gender roles the same was I was surprised that women weren’t always able to do or be whatever they wanted. The only way to achieve such a world is to teach our children our ideals. Raise them that way. Because gender roles are simply a by product of our society and we are society. Its too easy to make problems of society ‘out there’ or someone else’s responsibility. Its too easy to forget that each and every one of us is society, or the public. It used to be easy to let out opinions be formed by the media, by newspaper and magazine articles- now, we can form our opinions on the internet, through discussion and wide research of opposing ideas. We can share our opinions and actually take part in society in ways we never imagined before the Internet Age.

I think the best way forward for the feminist movement, if it wants to include all women not just the loud and bossy radicals, is through meaningful discussion. We have achieved the laws we need, all that remains is to change the way we relate to each other. The only way to do that is to just do it. High and mighty attitudes don’t help. Assumptions don’t help either. Real discussions go both ways, so its important that we actually hear the concerns of those who disagree with us, be they men or women, and actually address those concerns. Changing the world isn’t an easy job, and it was never going to happen over night but a lot of progress has been made.

I’ll wrap this up with one last thought. Perhaps the single most important thing to keep in mind is that life itself is a work in progress. We shouldn’t be aiming for an end goal at all. So long as we continue to fight injustice where ever we find it, so long as we aim for fairness and equality no matter what gender, or shape, or colour, sexual preference or difference at all then we’ll be working towards a better world. And so long as we do our bit, every day, in all the little ways like smiling at a stranger or helping someone who needs it, then we will be working towards a world where the very concept of discrimination is as abhorrent to us as slavery. We may never reach Utopia but we should always strive for it.

Originally Published on Rusty lime 16th July 2008


Unintended Consequences of Feminism Part 4- Equality?

The notion of equality has always puzzled me. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s in a world that taught me I could be anything I wanted to be. It wasn’t until I got older that I learnt that things hadn’t always been that way. That once upon a time women weren’t allowed to do and be whatever they wanted. My confusion about equality was that it seemed obvious to me that people weren’t equal. Not that women were less then men or men less then women, just that some people were smart, some were ambitious, some were rich and some were poor. It wasn’t about gender- it was about people.

Feminism fought for the rights of women everywhere to loose the shackles of a male dominated society, fought for equal rights under the law and fought for changes in society that had kept women “in their place” for centuries. And they succeeded. Women do have those rights so vigorously fought for, but equality still doesn’t truly exist. The idea of equality does, but in the real world we aren’t all equal. A white, middle class, well educated woman still has a lot more opportunity then a poor woman, with little education who comes from a non English speaking background. At least here in Australia. 

What has changed though is the single most important thing and that is the law. So, now we live in a world where legally, women have every right that men have. But has that given us an equal society? No. Because discrimination still exists. Not just discrimination based on gender (but that’s a different story). Attitudes are harder to change then laws are. It takes generations. My generation was the first to grow up in a world where women could do anything and be anything. And will take a few decades more before the women of my generation are in positions of power. The women currently there had to fight for recognition as equal to their male counterparts; they were swimming against the tide. It never occurred to the men I grew up with that any woman was less then them, after all, most of them were in school with girls who were getting better grades then they were. So in twenty years time, when the people currently in their 20’s and 30’s find themselves CEO’s and ranking politicians I’m betting there will be as many women as men. Women who will be busier doing their jobs then watching their backs.

Feminists fought for our right to not be excluded from any type of work based solely on our gender. They abolished the division of “men’s work’” from “women’s work”. Which was great in theory but to this day you can still see that the majority of women go for certain kinds of work and the majority of men go for others. I don’t know of any little girls who grow up wanting to be say, bricklayers. This is what I mean about being puzzled by the notion of equality. I may be able to be a bricklayer, but not only do I have no interest in it, I simply wouldn’t be as good at it as most men. And while I’m sure men would love the notion of being a lingerie salesman, most would admit that they wouldn’t be very good in the job. This is not to say that individuals can’t be good in any job. I’m sure there are fantastic female bricklayers and male lingerie salesmen, but the majority of people will find themselves in work that suits them best, regardless of sex. Yes. There are exceptions to every rule, but I’m talking about majorities.

The unintended consequence of the feminists fight for equality was the notion that to be truly equal women had to be like men. We were under-represented in certain areas of the work force and this was something that needed to be fixed. Now that we have the right to do whatever job we apply ourselves to we can see that there are certain divisions of labour. Not because we are oppressed by male chauvinist pigs but because we ourselves are drawn to different types of work. More women get joy and satisfaction out of being primary school teachers then men. More men get joy and satisfaction out of being miners. We can’t impose a rule which says every profession must be split 50/50 down the middle, equal representations of both sexes, it simply doesn’t work that way.

True equality is like Utopia. It’s a great ideal and something we should strive for, but it doesn’t exist in a flawed world. It can’t. All people are different and our genders are the least of those differences. As the saying goes, “There are more differences within the sexes then between them”.

Originally Published on Rusty Lime 13th July 2008

Unintended Consequences of Feminism Part 3- Girls Gone Wild

While it may not be true for older women, for younger ones (approximately 35 and under) you are only truly an emancipated woman if you can freely express your sexuality. Most often that expression is supposed to come in the form of flashing your breasts at any guy who has a camera, going out several times a week and getting drunk, ‘hooking up’ with who ever grabs your fancy and wearing clothes that even hookers would be embarrassed to wear. Should you choose not to go for any of that then you must be repressed in some way (usually by your religious choices) and are therefore, not truly emancipated.

The girls gone wild phenomenon is personified byHollywoodstarlets-LindsayLohan, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton et al. They are the role models that teenagers and women in their early twenties see as powerful women; women who have it all. Power, money, great careers, fantastic looks, droves of guys desperate for them, and the real draw card- fame. Despite the considerable amount of words in print criticizing the failings of these starlets, they are still seen as a product of the feminist movement. And rightly so. Without all the great strides that our foremothers made, there would be no Paris’ orLindsay’s or Britney’s- they paved the way for women to be free to express themselves however they pleased. So where and when did expressing ourselves become about getting the most attention? When did it become all about getting a rise (excuse the pun) out of men?

Pop culture today is rife with overt sexuality, but its all female sexuality. It’s about women being sexy and gorgeous. Look at music videos, magazines, ads, and what do you see- gorgeous sexy women. Even mothers in popular culture are represented as gorgeous and sexy all the time. Its down right disheartening. That dominant, in your face, flaunt it kind of sexuality is fine, but its not the only kind there is. It is however the only kind that gets noticed in the 21st century.  

Male sexuality is much less in your face and, I would argue, public expressions of male sexuality is for the benefit of women. By which I mean, you don’t see alpha males being butch and macho. You see perfectly toned, hairless young men in their primes with expressions of docility on their faces. The stare out from their ads as if to say, “tell me what you want me to do”. Women stare out from their ads empowered, tough, in control- worth it. We live in an age of women on top. At least when it comes to what’s acceptable in the public arena.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that any of this is wrong. It isn’t. Women should be encouraged to be free of any hang ups and issues in regards to sex, but I’m just wondering if this is all there is? Surely life is more complicated then popular culture would have us believe. Surely there are other forms of sexual expression then the ‘in your face’ version? Surely, it is still sexy for men to men, not well built boys? And, my biggest question, why do women do it? Do we really need to be wearing the shortest skirt and the strappiest top to be considered sexy? Do we need to flash our tits at guys just because they ask? If it floats your boat as a woman well then sure, go for it, but it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) mean that girls who don’t flash, the ones who like to dress appropriately for the weather, or who just like to be comfortable shouldn’t be considered sexy.

Popular culture is us. Altogether we make it up as we go along. We buy the magazines, watch the shows, listen to the music and so on; we’re the ones who accept and create ‘normal’. So why have we accepted a culture in which only one form of sexuality is in the spotlight. Exhibitionism is just a facet of female sexuality. Trawl through the porn sites and you quickly realize that men find just about anything sexy, but (outside of the porn industry) women aren’t encouraged to explore those aspects of sexiness.

In a way the overt female sexuality, now on sale at a store near you, is in itself another way of controlling femininity. It is less ok, in this day and age for a woman to be ‘soft’ then it is for her to be ‘ballsie’. Again, it isn’t anyone’s fault that it has become this way. It isn’t really an outright conspiracy to put women in their place. Its simply an unintended consequence of feminism. In gaining the right to express ourselves, we are left of the question, well, what do we want to express? Forty years ago we were burning our bras, now we are flashing them. Its still feminism right? Because its our choice. Maybe its just my imagination, maybe its just the popular culture I’m exposing myself too- it just seems to me that there isn’t a whole lot of choice about what we are expected to express. At least in terms of letting the world know that you a free woman with a healthy attitude to sex and how comfortable you are with yourself. In a way, the ‘girls gone wild’ are what you get when the popular girls grow up, and just like in school, so many of the other girls want to be just like them. Those that don’t want to be like the popular girls are the outsiders, the weirdos, the ones who were (are?) definitely not sexy. 

In today’s world, as an unintended consequence, women are defined by their place on the sexiness scale.Lindsay’s been in and out of rehab for the past few years, hey not to worry, she’s still sexy, right? Britney may be a hot mess but she can still sizzle in her music videos.  The message is that all is forgiven to the sexy hot young thing. You can get what you want if you are prepared to flaunt it. I have heard young women boasting about what freebies they could get thanks to the sheer power of their breasts. You can bet your bottom dollar that the feminist movement wasn’t aiming for that when they were busy fighting for our rights.

Originally Published on Rusty Lime 11th July 2008

Unintended Consequences of Feminism Part 2- “Having It All’ Syndrome

Of all the unintended consequences of feminism, this is probably the most discussed one. Since women won the right to be breadwinners in their own right; won the right to choose what they wanted out of life, there has been an unspoken expectation that they must ‘have it all’. 

The ‘ideal’ life consists of getting a good University degree, working hard and progressing nicely in our career until about 30 or so, then meetingMrPerfect. Kids come somewhere between 33 and 40. After that women are not only expected to work while raising perfect kids, we’re expected to keep spotless households and ferry our kids to numerous after school activities and help them (read- make sure that) they are top in their classes of everything at school and will never be tempted to break any rules. All this while still progressing in our chosen career and (hopefully) furthering the feminist cause by reaching the pinnacle of success in our job. Oh and of course we’re supposed to be up for red hot sex several times a week and look completely fabulous 24/ 7. At least, that’s the message I get about the perfect life for women.

Any deviation of this ideal is met with, “But of course its your choice,” said in a slightly condescending tone, meant to convey understanding but actually conveying the message that somehow, you aren’t tough enough, or that somehow, you are letting down women as a whole for choosing not to have kids, or choosing not to have a career, or choosing to have a simple job so that you can actually spend time with your kids.

The scariest thing is that it isn’t men who did this to us. We did it to ourselves. Behind every marketing push, every magazine article, every expectation is the underlying competitiveness of women. We want to be better then the next woman. We want to have better kids, a better husband, a better car, a better house, be more beautiful, take better care of ourselves- you name it, deep down inside we women want to be and have the best. Which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. Of course we should expect the best for ourselves and aim for the highest we can achieve, but at what cost? If it isn’t the best is it still good enough? And if only a few can truly have the best, where does that leave the rest of us? It leaves the rest of us in a kind of purgatory of un-achievement- of settling. And one of the greatest crimes a woman can commit is settling. Settling is ‘giving up’. Its taking the easy way out. Its about not trying hard enough, all of which seems to be more important than actually being happy. Feminism came out of a desire for happiness, but it has given us more things we need to be happy. And settling seems to be mere contentment- not the giddy achievement of true happiness.

Probably the best thing about this unintended consequence is that the pendulum is swinging back the other way. In defense of feminism, ‘having it all’ was never really a goal anyway. It was just a byproduct. Also, it doesn’t only apply to women, it applies to men as well. Now more and more women are stepping up and saying that its humanly impossible to be everything and do everything. And in our heart of hearts we hate those women who accomplish it. Never mind that they are women who have achieved something extraordinary, gone above and beyond the call of duty for their partners, children and themselves. They have shown dedication, determination and deserve admiration. What we women see is someone makes us look bad. If she can do it then why can’t I?

In the 21st century though women are claiming back their right to not have it all. More and more women are opening up about not wanting children, or about not wanting a career and being perfectly happy raising their children. More and more women who did attempt to have it all and fail are admitting that trying wasn’t satisfying. The pendulum is swinging towards doing just a few things really well, instead of trying to do everything.

The heart of it though, lies in one thing- the value of women. ‘Having it all’ syndrome was born out of our desire to be as good as men at their own game while, at the same time, keeping what was best of womanhood. The lesson we have learnt is that we can’t be all things to all people. And we can’t expect men to either. Quite simply we need to learn for ourselves and teach the male half of the species, that our value doesn’t need to be earned. Our value as half the human race is intrinsic. What ever we choose to do with our lives should have no bearing on our contribution to society. Mothers have felt the need to defend their value and have offered up many humorous emails and jokes about the value of what we do. Career women feel the need to defend their decision not to have kids. ‘Having it all’ syndrome won’t have truly faded away until no woman feels the need to defend her choices in life and till each and every women feels valued simply for existing.

 Originally Published on Rusty Lime on 9th July 2008

Unintended Consequences of Feminism Part 1- The Emasculation of Men

An interesting discussion with my parents tonight started a train of thought about the unintended consequences of the feminist movement. I admit that I am not a feminist scholar. Nor do I have a degree in the subject. But I am a woman living in a world that has been affected by the movement, therefore I have some perception about how feminism has affected me, my mother, my grandmother, my daughter and most especially the men in my life. It was going to be one article but I write like I talk (too much) so now this is part one of a series of articles on the topic.

Firstly let me state that I think the feminist movement was an essential development in our society and I would never wish it back. I’m not only glad it happened I’m grateful to the many women who fought for the rights I take for granted today.

The feminist movement gave us-

  • Votes
  • Right to property
  • Rights to higher education
  • The perception of equality
  • And many more things

We’re still working on-

  • Equal pay
  • Equal distribution of household chores
  • Equal positions of power

In the hundred plus years of women striving for equal rights, and in a post third wave world, what exactly are we left with?

The Emasculation of Men.

I think feminisms single greatest unintended consequence was that of the emasculation of men. No matter what they do, men can’t get it right. And its not all their fault. Firstly, no two women will tell you the same thing about what they expect from men. Are men supposed to be strong, handsome providers? Or intelligent, understanding partners? Both? Are they supposed to open the door for you? Treat you like a lady or treat you as an equal?

There’s a billion dollar industry in ‘relationship self help’ books simply because no one knows where the lines are any more. Lots of couples work it out between themselves and have happy marriages (though only half our marriages work out in the long run these days) but as a society no one has a clue. What do fathers tell their sons about how to woo women these days. Is there any wooing going on anymore?

When I say emasculation of men I mean it. Men aren’t really appreciated for being men anymore. Women seem to want just a male version of themselves. Men don’t seem to have that problem. Where men see women as The Great Unsolved Mystery, women see men as In Need of Housebreaking. If we can just train them to please us then all will be well. And for the most part, men seem to go along with this. Men don’t need to understand women as much as we need to “fix” them. But this is just in personal relationships.

In the bigger scheme of things it’s a bit like the male half of the species is staring over at the female half of the species bewildered by the plethora of feminine opinion.  Women who just want to be loved and treasured, women who want to be treated as equal, women who can go toe to toe with any guy over any thing, women who can do anything better then any guy, women who will shoot you down with icy stares if you dare to help, women who will be offended if you don’t help… well the list goes on and on.

Men do still have the lions share of the power in the world. At least in as far as top jobs and positions of influence. But I sometimes wonder if they keep those jobs for themselves so that they don’t have to try and walk the minefield of dealing with women in those jobs. What if the woman you are trying to negotiate a peace treaty with is one of those ones who expects you to open the door for her? What if she isn’t? Sure its just small things, and yes, women can do any job as well as any man, BUT if you are a man, I don’t doubt that it must be stressful trying to decide just what type of woman it is you are dealing with. And when you are in an already highly stressful situation, it must just make it all that much harder.

The bottom-line is there are no clear cut rules of etiquette anymore. Men do not know where they stand and we women can’t tell them because its different for each and every one of us. These leaves men vulnerable and unable to truly be themselves until the work out which type of women he’s dealing with. Men need the rules, and frankly, so do women. Without them there is way too much  uncertainty and too many hurt feelings on the part of both men and women. And its not a problem that can be solved with any self help books. This is something society needs to decide. A consensus of etiquette.

Another aspect of this problem is the distance that is being created between men and children. Any interest a man shows in a child is viewed suspiciously. This is a tragedy. Especially in a culture in which so many children are growing up without fathers being a daily part of their lives. Kids need men. Little girls need to experience the love of their fathers- through it they learn about what they expect future partners to treat them like. Boys need men as role models. They need men to be rough and tumble with, and to teach them what being a man is all about. They need grandfathers to teach them stories, to whittle pieces of wood, make billy-carts the whole works. But these days men seem more and more reluctant to get involved for fear of being seen as a pedophile. This is especially the case for men who see children around them, in their neighborhoods, who they could share with and teach stuff to who are prevented from making any overtures for fear of being seen as “creepy”. One single father I  know told me how he was reluctant to show his daughter too much affection in case it was “seen the wrong way”. Leaving her wondering what she had done wrong.

I blame this phenomenon on feminism because women are the safety conscious ones. We will go out of our way to prevent anything bad happening to our children. In and of itself this is not a bad thing. But its being taken too far. In trying to prevent our children from being sexually abused by pedophiles we are robbing all men of a trust they deserve until proven guilty. 99.9% of men are just as caring, loving and protective of our children as women are and to demonize all of them for the sickness of a few is wrong. Sure, it’s a scary world we live in, which is precisely why we need men of all shapes, sizes and roles in the lives of our kids. How else are they supposed to learn? And we need men now, more then ever because of the complexities facing our young people. Boys need to learn from older men’s experiences with women if they are to have a hope in hell in working us out. Girls need to learn from men about how to interact with the opposite sex.    

So one of  unintended consequences of feminism has been to distance us and our children from men. In striving to come out from under the thumb of male dominance we have been left in the cold of the Great Divide. Women and children on one side and men on the other. Most of us desperately want what’s on the other side, but we don’t know either how to get there or what to do once we arrive. Hopefully it’s a temporary glitch in the system. Hopefully we can find a new way to relate to each other that is beyond “me Tarzan, youJane” and beyond the confusion we exist in at the moment. Hopefully we can move beyond paranoia about the role of men in the lives of our children and give men back the power of fatherhood, grandfatherhood, and positive male role modeling. Hopefully, we women can learn to give men a break. 

Originally Published on Rusty Lime 7th July 2008