When Ms magazine placed Barack Obama on the front cover of its latest issue portrayed as the “Superman” of feminism (which isn’t remotely oxymoronic or anything), it got a lot of people talking, among them Daily Mail’s Liz Jones. So the good news is, feminism is increasingly coming up in conversations.
Obama, for example, has involved himself in some hot-button “feminist” issues, most notably ditching the “global gag rule” that kept pro-choice counseling away from international family planning groups, but there’s still an awfully long way to go … and not just for Obama, who Jones takes to task for the specific type of woman that he’s put into powerful places.
Let’s look at those women hired by Obama. The new homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, is single, and regularly works 20-hour days. Susan Rice, the ambassador to the UN, is fiercely ambitious.
Every one of them, crucially, is past childbearing age. The message is clear: you can have this job, but only if you behave like a man.
And there’s some truth to this, even beyond the Washington. To be perfectly honest, there are many days when balancing my career and my children, particularly as a single mother, is exhausting—and I am faced with the realization that I might well be a much better mother if I wasn’t a teacher and a far better teacher if I wasn’t a mother …
… (especially the past couple of weeks—two words: midterm exams).
Although really I’m thankful to have a job when so many women, a reported 40% of whom only work part-time, are in non-essential positions that are considered easily eliminated.
And there seems to be an increase in domestic violence, with Jones reporting that rape has a ridiculously low 6% conviction rate in the UK and that one in six 15-year-old girls admit to having been hit by a boyfriend.
It’s funny, but I think if a guy had hit me when I was fifteen, I would have hit him back. I didn’t suck up abuse in relationships until I was an adult. Teens today, while they appear tougher on the surface than my generation, are apparently willing to eat a fist at a younger age. That’s beyond troubling.
Yup, there’s a lot to worry about for today’s young women.
I asked them to name their role model and just over half (including graduates) cited Cheryl Cole, the Girls Aloud member that Germaine Greer famously said is ‘too thin to be a feminist’, a woman who married a rich footballer and wears more make-up than a drag queen.
I was appalled. ‘Ah, but you’re old-fashioned,’ said one of them. ‘We know we are equal. We can dress how we like. We don’t dress provocatively to please men, it’s to please ourselves.’
The scary thing is, they really think that’s true.
And, if Jones is to be believed, it gets worse.
I asked a friend’s 18-year-old daughter why she didn’t do well at school, and instead always seemed to be chasing boys and buying ludicrous outfits from Topshop, and she told me that the culture these days among girls is one of competition.
‘It is all about the boys,’ she told me. ‘They come first. And the boys don’t want to know you if you don’t sleep with them. They were all raised on porn, they all read lads’ mags, they think that is what we should be like. We dumb ourselves down for them.’
I can speak to that all being true, much as I wish I could say differently.
But the problem goes beyond adolescent girls. There is still a dichotomy that exists between pursuing your career and going the family route … and those of us that do both, either by choice or out of financial necessity (or a combination thereof) are run ragged trying to be part of both worlds.
We are now bombarded with ‘literature’ covered in pink cartoons and swirly typefaces, and images of women who only want to shop and get married.
Now, it might seem trite to cite fashion as a party to feminism’s demise, but let’s just see what is hot at the moment. Ooh, false eyelashes (not only on Cheryl Cole but on Michelle Obama), platform bondage shoes with 8in heels we can’t walk in, corset belts and models who look like fragile little girls.
So what’s Jones’ solution? The gist of it is a revolution intended to bring about change in … men. She cites a mid-twenties male friend of hers as noting a double standard in women’s actions—on the one hand, they expect to be “competitive” and “confrontational” as well as sexually liberated, and yet men are still expected to foot the bill for everything from attire to alcohol.
Perhaps the scariest observation Jones makes, though, involves a conversation with her pre-adolescent nephew.
I asked my 11-year-old nephew what he’s been learning in school. Does he know what the word suffragette means? ‘No.’ Has he heard of Germaine Greer? ‘Who?’
In sex education, have the teachers talked about love and consent? ‘Yes. That means a person only doing what they want to.’
Would he like his mum to stay at home without a job, or be a high-flier who uses her brain, is fulfilled, but won’t be home as much to cook things?
‘Stay-at-home mum, definitely.’
After contemplating Jones’ musings, I am torn. I mean, I think she’s kind of a fatalist who is playing up certain issues to mesh with her own philosophies. All the same, though, she raises some points that are both timely and of concern, if not of the red alert level she gives them.
Many adolescent girls today are in a mess of competition, pressure, and increasingly sexual entanglements. A lot of working-age women are trying to be successful professionally while loving their lives as Mommy and wife … or facing criticism for choosing one over the other.
And the older generation, which features Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton, and my momma? They’re finally comfortable enough both as women and as people to have it all … but, really, they’ve already been through the teenage thing and motherhood contemplations and making their bones in their chosen careers.
Should women really have to wait that long to be able to be themselves?