Saturday, February 24, 2007

(I'm) Down With Gloria Steinem

Ever since I joined the working mom ranks, I've been pissed at Gloria Steinem. I don't know the woman. I don't even know much about her. But for a long time in my mind she represented a failed experiment that has been the bane of my existence for the past seven years.

Wasn't it she and her feminist pals that espoused women having successful and dynamic careers like our male counterparts? Wasn't it their movement that inspired that #%@! "I Can Bring Home the Bacon" commercial that indoctrinated us as little girls and misled us all to believe we could, "Have it all?" What were they thinking? Did they not think through the ramifications of adding children to the mix? Did they not realize that women would continue to carry the burden of childrearing and that it would be simply impossible to compete with our male colleagues in the workplace and still give our children the full attention they deserved, leaving an entire generation of women to feel like complete failures?

Realizing that my anger was somewhat irrational and likely misplaced, I decided to educate myself about my nemesis and the feminist movement she ignited. As I searched the Internet, I came across a fascinating history of the women's rights movement. I was surprised to learn that the women's movement began way back in 1848 when a woman named Elizabeth Cady Stanton wondered why women did not enjoy the same freedoms as their husbands in the New World despite suffering the same risks and sacrifices to earn those freedoms. Since then, the movement has progressed slowly but surely -- from earning the right to vote, to drafting the ERA, to winning Roe vs. Wade -- incrementally improving the lives of women. It is clear from this history that each time we make gains in the women's movement, it is thanks to "a small group of people questioning why human lives were being resticted."

Gloria's contribution came when, in 1963, Betty Friedan published, "The Feminine Mystique," a survey that documented the oppression of average American women due to limited life options. This led the way for Gloria and her co-horts to champion equal rights, reproductive rights and sexual liberation. Thanks to their efforts, we now enjoy things like birth control and free choice to pursue a career. But these gains are only another incremental step toward fully realizing Elizabeth Cady Stanton's dream of women enjoying the same rights and freedoms as men.

Fortunately for those of us who feel the restrictions of working motherhood in the 21st century, the next wave of the women's movement is upon us. Today's New York Times article rightly points out that the proliferation of mommy blogs has sparked the modern mommy movement. Groups like Mothers & More and MomsRising are gaining traction and the Internet is making it easier than ever for us to jump on the bandwagon. Rather than blaming Gloria and the activists that came before her, we should borrow a page from their handbook. The only way to advance the female cause is to let our voices be heard and ask the tough questions. To quote my new friend Gloria, "Power can be taken, but not given. The process of the taking is empowerment in itself."
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