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Feminist Backlash: The Unconscious
Undermining of Genuine Equality
American people come in a variety of shapes and sizes; their thoughts, fears, and convictions differ widely. It is usually necessary for Americans to choose a status in politics and community; but it is obvious that among specific groups and organizations, a person’s beliefs and opinions differ dramatically from the next. Feminist groups, specifically in the last twenty years, have announced their view of membership as an elite group of woman who must have the same specific convictions. Moreover, they denounce anyone who does not, as irrational and supporting the continuance of subordination of women. Feminist propaganda is off track when it comes to the real experiences of American women and men. It is true, that in the past, a woman’s voice was often disregarded; she was denied certain rights, for some women fought. Elizabeth Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Blackwell were famous for their courage and persistence in bringing change. It is safe to say that most Americans now agree men and women have vast talents and capabilities. A century ago women were concerned with issues, such as the right to own property and vote. Somewhere between then and now, feminist groups turned their agenda to issues that offended many Americans. They crossed the line of personal and moral decisions and made ridiculous accusations toward men. The first feminists were necessary. Modern feminists have lost touch with American women and “unconsciously undermined genuine equality”. It is no wonder why men and women try to distance themselves from feminism.
Long before Europeans came to the “new land” with their Judeo-Christian ideology, patriarchy was the exception not the norm. Women, their bodies, and ability to give birth and nurse children were adorned. Women did eighty percent of the hunting until the reintroduction of the horse. “Women were shoved out of the hunting scenario. The horse allowed men to become radius,” and the man’s “expendable sex” was no obstacle when traveling long distances. The “economic survival” was now the man’s domain. The value of the women fell when “mother earth” lost her place. In addition, the European settlers forced their Christian ideals on the Native Americans and other subordinate groups later.
During the next several years, the colonial family stayed the same; historically, there was no women’s movement until 1848, the year of the Seneca Falls Convention. Organized by Elizabeth Stanton and Lucretia Mott, the “Declaration of Principles” was produced. It paraphrased the Declaration of Independence with emphasis on women. Before 1848, vocal feminists had raised their voices within the Abolitionist Movement. Major concerns of pre-Civil War feminists were: property rights for women, custody of their children in cases of divorce, the right to their earnings, the ability to sign contracts and serve on juries, equal higher education opportunities, and equal opportunities in the workplace . The latter phase of the movement came after the Civil War. The feminists
had now formed associations and groups primarily concerned with getting the vote. The American Women’s Suffrage Association associated with a more conservative group, including Elizabeth Blackwell, the first women doctor, as a prominent leader. The two groups united in 1890 as the Suffrage Movement; because of this coalition, the older radical National Association lost influence. In 1920, after fifty years of struggle women were given the right to vote. The suffrage movement had no official ideology; its purpose was to obtain the right to vote. Its members and leaders came from all walks of life and had greatly varying views on current events. The second wave of the feminist movement began in the 1960’s. By this time, a very broad and diverse movement had developed a mass following. The National Organization of Women (NOW) was established in 1966. Within a few months, many other women’s organizations were established. NOW represented an older, more conservative movement; but many younger radical women’s liberation groups were emerging with no national organization. Young women were often involved with Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In the early 1970’s, the conservative feminists and more radical feminists began to work toward common goals. Ms. Magazine was first published in 1972. The second wave feminist movement wanted a complete restructuring of American society which included the restructuring of family, individuals free to determine their own life style, sexual preference, occupation, and personal values. They were concerned with the availability
of abortion, and called for 24-hour childcare, and equal education and employment opportunity.
In the 1980’s, the feminist movement had many of the same concerns. Women had lobbied legislatures, initiated lawsuits, marched in demonstrations, and boycotted major corporations to secure their rights. The women’s movement was still calling for equal pay, education and job opportunities, free contraception and abortion on demand, 24-hour nurseries under community control, legal and financial independence, an end to the discrimination against lesbians, freedom from the intervention by threat of violence of sexual coercion, regardless of marital status, and end to the laws, assumptions, and institutions that perpetrate male dominance and men’s oppression of women. Though the feminist movement had supporters from most of the political spectrum, many were associated with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Present feminists would agree they are still concerned with the issues they were in the eighties, but they would have something else to add. Feminists view femininity as a “trap that distracts women from the pursuit of power.” It appears that feminists are concerned more so now that the American woman is moving backward: she is giving into what men want, and is being brainwashed into believing it is her choice. “So why do these women and men mistrust feminism? The short answer is that they do not see
feminism as a story about their lives….” Starting in the late eighties, part of the feminist attitude seemed to be that all men were against women. Men did not want women in the workplace, and deliberately sabotaged them and conducted themselves inappropriately on matters of sexuality. Every smile, or compliment a man made was proof he saw a women as an object for his own sexual pleasure, and to ensure she stay beneath him. It is not possible to pinpoint the moment that feminism no longer became popular, but the notion that sexual attraction could be made extinct in the work place is reason to lose a few members. Americans know men and women are not identical, and any attempt to make them that way will make for a more confused and sexually repressed society. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, author of Feminism is Not the Story of My Life (1996), asks would “the liberation of women require the abolition of a common morality?”
Being female in America is not easy. The Feminist Chronicles (1993) has endless lists of monumentous abortion laws and states the Christian Coalition as a threat to feminist progress. Women are caught in a no-win situation; they want for themselves and their daughters the choice and empowerment feminist speak of. They also love their sons and husbands and do not want to be told the apple pie baking in the oven is another symbol of failure. Fox-Genovese states repeatedly many different women from many walks of life feel feminism ideas are destructive to the family. Feminist women speak for the poor when they really have no idea what it is like for the poor; they speak for the women when they have no idea what the average American women believes. Feminist
are not realizing that “any attempt to lump the lives of very different women under a single formula—any formula—is likely to exclude more women than it includes.”
It is no wonder why men and women feel they have been put on a battlefield and why women often feel they have no control over their lives. Modern poets, such as Elizabeth McKim, express their feelings of defeat on being women:
i have always been
a lonely woman
even in the beginning
not understanding the language
always wanting them to see me
always hiding from them
hoping they will not crush me with their anger
trying to make them smile
with my masks
and my veils
my dancing costumes
my magic and my bells
so thy would stop scaring me
so they would fall asleep
so I could take their power
Many women can relate to the feelings of powerlessness. It is not productive to blame men for these barriers; however, no one is without blame. Many women, however, do not feel helpless. In one of Fox-Genovese’s interviews with women, she writes of Maggie, who moved, with her husband, to a ranch in New Mexico. They split the work “traditionally” and Maggie was not enjoying her job. She discussed the situation with her husband who understood her dislike for the monotonous work. She joined him and the other male hands in the fields; she now loved her job. She stated she is not a feminist; that it “has nothing to with her life, and feminists… would not last two days on her ranch.”
How and when these battles began is difficult to say. Sociologists often agree that minority groups have subordinated their women because discrimination does not allow them to get ahead: their shame and diminishing self-esteem causes them to rule over those who are physically weaker. White American males are caught in a emotional tug-of-war; the messages of society, family, and religion (if part of his psyche) can jumble a man’s perception of his identity. Judy Mann, author of The Difference: Growing up Female in America (1994), mentions girls are “derailed” and kept from aspiring to their potential. This is not untrue, but boys are in a similar predicament. The most important fulfilling and difficult job in the world is parenthood. Men/boys until recently have been taught by society that fatherhood was the least important aspiration. Men and women are born to nurture their children; this gift when stolen from men put them, with women, in the boat of unfair gender bias.
The uncertainty of a young boy’s life is prevalent among parents and teachers. Even popular sitcoms like Roseanne, addressed the issue. In an old episode the parents, Roseanne and Dan, had an argument. It ended with Roseanne leaving the room angrily, saying, in a derogatory tone of voice, “…like some man.” D.J., their young son, had overheard the fight and asked, “Why did mom call you a’man’ like that? I thought it was good to be a man.” Dan replied “Oh no son, not since the late sixties.” Comic strips such as Calvin and Hobbes depict another type of male uncertainty.
As for grown men in this society, the feeling of disarrangement does not subside. Susan Faludi is one elite feminist whose opinion of the American male is often unfair and ridiculous. She writes in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women (1991), about her visit to a mannequin maker. She expresses her dislike for the perfection of the bodies of the female mannequins and the increase in plastic surgery among women. She forgets to mention the male mannequin’s rippling muscles. In addition, Baywatch’s David Hasselhoff has been fully dressed for the last two years to cover his aging body. Faludi’s entire book is filled with views that are extremely insensitive to men. Warren Farrell, author of The Myth of Male Power (1993), describes the male experience; one ‘tragedy” is that “historically, the obligations of dads deprive dads love while the obligations of moms provide moms with love. Deprived of genuine love, dads are deprived of genuine power.” In describing the father-son relationship in the song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” Farrell continues: “Ironically, the son had ached for connection with his dad so intently that he vowed, ‘Some day I’m gonna be like him….’ ” Farrell gives women a unique explanation to a man’s perspective of prostitutes. He explains the reason “why men don’t get as worked up as women” over the issue: “most men experience themselves as prostitutes everyday—the miner, the firefighter, the construction worker… they sacrifice their bodies for money and for their families.” Another misfortune for men is that they have not had the freedom of emotional expression, where it appears women have. Finally, when men are the “suicide sex,” it is everyone’s responsibility to find out why. Like Faludi few men have extreme views on the other side of the spectrum. Toni Grant, an on-air therapist, told a women caller, “Challenging one’s husband is a sure sign of a ‘feminist infected women.’ A big mistake.” Extreme views are rare; the average person is aware that these, usually wealthy, individuals have no insight into the real American experience.
Men have taken the rap for being the obstacle to women’s confinement, when it is children who are the barrier to her independence. Parents do not love their children any less than they did in previous decades, but children are receiving forty percent less time with their parents than they did thirty years ago. Children are coming up short in this time of lost identity. They are caught in between the rising number of divorces and visiting fathers, or having no father at all. Opposing forces that are telling mothers they need to be working or staying at home and other issues have put mothers at war with each other. Finally, the combination of women in the workforce, single parent families, and men struggling to find their nurturing father role has put children at loss. Fox-Genovese puts it perfectly, “These days the ability to enjoy ones children has become a rare and precious freedom that too few [people] enjoy and too few people recognize as freedom at all.”
Many Americans are lost in a storm of doubt and discontentment. There are no easy answers or quick fix solutions, but a place to begin would be for men and women to stop blaming each other for their unhappiness. Simply put, all people need to do for themselves what fulfills and rewards them and remove themselves from what does not. It is idealistic that all men and women will put down their imaginary weapons and live with mutual respect for each other. But if we did, we would not have a word like ‘feminism’. In the words of Nezahualcoyotl:
Even jade is shattered,
Even gold is crushed
Even quetzal plumes are torn…
One does not live forever on this earth:
We endure only for a instant!
Baywatch. NBC series. 1991-98.
Carabillo, Toni, Judith Meuli, and Jane Bundy Csida. Feminist Chronicles 1953-1993.
Los Angeles: Women’s Graphics, 1993.
Castillo, Ana. Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma. Albuquerque: U of N.M.
Chafetz, Janet Saltzman and Anthony Gary Dworkin. Female Revolt: Women’s
Movement in World and Historical Perspective. New Jersey: Rowman and
Farrell, Warren. The Myth of Male Power. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women. New York:
Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. Feminism is Not the Story of My Life. New York: Nan A.
Katzenstein, Mary Fainsod and Carol McClurg Mueller, eds. The Women’s Movement of
the United States and Western Europe. Philadelphia: Temple University Press,
Mann, Judy. The Difference: Growing up Female in America. New York: Warner, 1994.
McKim, Elizabeth. “i have always been.” Early Ripening, American Women’s Poetry
Now. Ed. Marge Piercy. 1987. London: Pandora Press, 1991.
Roseanne. ABC sitcom. 1988-97.
Watterson, Bill. Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel,
Word Count: 2571
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