I had the chance to read a rather scary little essay entitled What’s A Modern Girl to Do?. Composed of excerpts from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s upcoming book Are Men Necessary?, Ms. Dowd seems to be meditating over the absolute failure of the brand of feminism she and her peers fought for in the 1970’s. Women are expecting men to pay for (the first few) dates. Women are becoming “Rules girls”. Women are taking their husbands’s names when they marry. Women are playing dumb because men prefer to marry their secretaries, not their bosses. Women at Ivy League schools are considering leaving the workplace to have children. Oh, the horror! The horror!
The criticism was made over the weekend in the feminist blogsphere that Ms. Dowd essentially reduces the failures of feminism to “I’m over 40, beautiful, and successful. Why can’t I get a man?” In part, I concur. The essay reads like some kind of dating manual… where Ms. Dowd seems to be trying to sound bitter about not being more airheaded in order to be popular, like people did in high school. There is some irony in the fact that even though feminist were supposed to adopt the mantra “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, Ms. Down still seems to spend a lot of time talking about men want.
I am reminded of something that a woman friend told me once after seeing a profile of a successful fortysomething executive with no family and no kids. She effective said “Why did they comment that she had no family and no kids like it was some kind of crime?” Indeed. I think one of the great lies that feminism perpetrated in the 1970’s was the “have it all” myth — women can have this wonderful career and this wonderful family life, possibly without a regular man in their lives, all at the same time. They could be both their fathers and their mothers at the same time. I say: there aren’t enough hours in the day to be two people and something’s got to give.
Unfortunately, it’s still a man’s world out there… and that needs to be fixed. Our society needs complete pay equity, badly. I tend to think that one of the major incentives for women to choose to be the ones to stay home with children is that they make less. Certainly, I could never take care of the kids instead of Mrs. Geek — of course, that is also due the fact that Mrs. Geek is a school teacher and therefore woefully underpaid compared to other degreed professionals. There are many other social conventions that need change but pay equity is a good place to start.
Another part of it has to be some sort of change in how American culture approaches work. Our work culture is largely based on a level of commitment to employment that I think sometimes borders on insanity. You want to get ahead in the working world to day? You have to be working every minute of every day, or the world is passing you by. A key part of the American identity is what you do. While I think this is better than basing identity on where you were born or who your relations are, it can (and has been) taken to extremes. A casualty of those extremes is that you cannot seem to be a) a full-time or near full-time employee, b) a concerned and active parent, and c) a “success” at the same time. The inequality is that it is a crime for a man to chose anything but a) and c) and a crime for a woman to choose anything that doesn’t involve b).
I think that once you get those two things straightened out in a way that still leaves us with a productive society, women and men can finally have some choices. Men or women can be caregivers. Men or women can be focussed on careers without sacrificing everything else in their lives. We can all be a lot more equal.