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« Boomers and the '70s | Main | American Religious History--Who Knew? »

April 10, 2004

Women and Jobs

Dear Friedrich --

As long as I'm in thinking-over-past-decades mode ...

Were you as taken aback by the vehemence and absolutism of '70s feminism as I was? Feminism hit when we were in college and it hit hard, god knows. All the protests, the obsession with rape and oppression, the unshaven armpits, the accusing looks, the professorial fury and theories ...

Not a great time to be (ahem) starting a sex life, for one thing. But the arguments seemed to make a kind of intellectual sense -- at least when I was at college. Back home was another matter altogether. For one obvious thing, my mom worked. (And, like nearly every other woman in the neighborhood, she was also clearly the boss around the house.) My mom had worked before marrying my dad, and she went back to work as soon as the kids were in grammar school. The lady across from us worked, and so did one of the wives down the street. Not a big deal.

For another thing: where was all the hostility between the sexes that the feminists claimed was fundamental to American life? To my eye, most of the couples in the town where I grew up consisted of a guy and a gal who respected and liked each other, and who were helping each other make it through this challenging thing we call life. I tried, I really did -- but for the life of me, I couldn't find the seething underbelly of thwarted ambition, resentment and anger that the feminists back at school were insisting was the raw, plain truth of it all.

So I hope I can be excused for having spent a few decades wondering about two things. The first is whether '70s feminism wasn't largely a movement of upper-middle-class gals. I'm not sure how many of the women from my small-town, middle-class background ever got enthusiastic about the movement. Besides, the ambitions the moneyed gals at our absurd Ivy college talked about didn't seem to have anything to do with jobs in any sense I found comprehensible. People where I grew up had jobs, dammit; they sold gasoline, were schoolteachers, drove buses, fixed things, worked in insurance offices. In my mind, a bigshot was someone with a white-collar job at Kodak. But the gals at school, profs and students both, seemed to be talking about another universe entirely, one where people naturally, and to my mind magically, went about "fulfilling themselves" by "pursuing careers." Ya mean, like bein' a lawyer, is that what you're sayin'?

The other thing I hope to be forgiven for wondering about was whether the town I came from was the only place in America where A) the sexes got along and appreciated each other pretty well, and B) where it wasn't a big, stop-the-presses thing for a woman to have a job. I suppose I'm committing Ultimate Heresy in saying this, but -- gasp -- as far as I could tell, the women in my neighborhood who didn't have jobs weren't remotely envious of their husbands and their 40-hour weeks. These women seemed to appreciate their guys' efforts, and also seemed delighted to be able to stay at home with the kids. A job was something you got only if your family needed the money. Otherwise, why would you bother? My people couldn't conceive of such a thing as a fun job, let alone a fulfilling career. Instead, our type put in the hours only when necessary, and only in order to drag home a paycheck.

The ping-ponging I did between home and college left my head spinning: was I alone in having a mother who had a job? How many women went to jobs (and careers) pre-'70s-feminism anyway? I suppose I could have, and should have, looked the figures up for myself, but it never occurred to me to try. Timothy Taylor to the rescue!

  • In 1900, 18% of the work force was female.

  • In 1940, 25% of the work force was female. (Wow: my mom was already working by this time.)

  • In 1960, 33% of the workforce was female.

  • And in 1970, more or less the year '70s feminism kicked off, and at a time when feminists were shrieking about, er, telling us how closed the working world was to women, 37% of the workforce was female.

I once asked a very successful, much-older-than-Boomer woman why she wasn't celebrated by the feminists. Here she was, accomplished and brilliant, and having made it all on her own -- wasn't she a perfect heroine for them? Her response, given without bitterness: "They don't like me because they don't want women to think that any woman could ever be successful without their help."

Hey, did I ever tell you about that one Salon article I read in which the young woman writer claimed -- with complete, breezy confidence -- that women didn't enjoy sex, let alone have orgasms, until '70s feminism set them free to do so?

An un-PC thought? I wonder how much my experience of all this was a consequence of the mongrel-northern-Euro, small-town, semi-Waspiness of my background. In other words, how big a role did ethnicity play in '70s feminism? Could it be that, while the stresses feminism addressed weren't a big deal for my vanilla people, they in fact were a big deal for people from different backgrounds? Women friends of Jewish and Italian descent, for example, have told me that there really was a lot of bitterness between the sexes in their families, that their families really were all about serving the male, and that '70s feminism really was needed in order to break those patterns up. And I'm not the first person to have noticed how many of the stars of '70s feminism were Jewish. But if so, then where in the feminist movement were the Italian women?

Your thoughts, memories, and reflections? Stories, insights and musings from visitors?



posted by Michael at April 10, 2004


My posting on American religious history suggests a hypothesis: maybe the feminism of our era was not a consequence of widespread disabilities encountered by women in American life, but the particular difficulties women had in entering the clergy prior to, say, around 1980. Doesn't a good deal of 1970s-style 'radical' feminism strike you as being sort of transposed religious sentiment? With the most radical rants on rape and pornography corresponding to hellfire and brimstone preaching? And now that the, er, appropriate venue for such sentiments is open to women, the stridency of feminist rhetoric seems way, way down.

Okay, so it's just a little speculation. But it would be interesting to graph female participation among the clergy of various religions over time...

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 10, 2004 10:12 PM

Some statistics from the website, (

Reform Judaism began ordaining women in 1972 and now has nearly 400 female rabbis….The Association of Theological Schools reports that the percentage of women in its member seminaries more than tripled in 30 years, from 10.2 percent in fall 1972 to 36 percent in fall 2002. The percentage of women enrolled in those schools' master of divinity programs grew by nearly seven times (from 4.7 percent to 32 percent) during the same period…The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America says the percentage of women ordained ministers has doubled from 8 percent in 1991 to 16 percent in July 2003….The Episcopal Church in 1973 had no women priests, but in the 1998 Episcopal Clerical Directory, women accounted for 13.8 percent of those listed…An Episcopal Church study reported 3,481 women ordained priests or deacons in 2002, compared with 855 in 1987, and 11 women bishops compared with none in 1987…

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 10, 2004 10:47 PM

1. Ms. Steinem told her awakening-to-feminism story, and your priveledged college classmates do seem to be pouty whiners compared to the actual genesis of Ms. Steinem's roots, which were very pragmatic. She was not trapped in the suburbs, she was a Smith grad and a writer in NY. She wanted to cover the Civil Rights movement. Her editor said, no, that's a serious assignment for---y'know---male writers, go cover the Pillsbury bake-off. She kept bugging him, and he finally said, OK, if you go underground as a Playboy bunny at the new Playboy Club, and write a cute piece, MAYBE you can go South. So she did. Fully expecting to find bimbos and husband hunters as her fellow cocktail waitresses. Instead she found several college grads. Several of whom were divorced or widowed single moms, not getting much child support. Or not seeking it, as they were hiding from abusive ex-spouses. When she asked what they were doing there---they said you made more money in NY in the sixties being a Bunny than you could make as a schoolteacher or a nurse or a secretary. Women's choices really were limited. She also noticed something odd: in those days, to get a job as a Bunny, you had to have a gynecological exam by Hefner's personal friend-doctor. When she asked to be shown the NY state health code where it says you have to have a doctor's exam to be a waitress (and, after all, they WERE being hired to be waitresses, RIGHT? she asked) she was told if she wanted the job (and several of her fellow waitresses needed the job) you take the exam.
When she asked some of these women why the ex-husband wasn't paying his share of the child expenses, she heard about the endless legal runaround in those days trying to enforce a divorce settlement. It had nothing to do with bra-burning.

2. What your post doesn't mention is the average wage of those women who were in the workforce. And the level of seniority of those jobs. Ruth Bader Ginsburg got all the way through law school in the fifties without the help of the feminists, to be sure, but after graduating from (I believe) Harvard suma cum laude, the only job offer she could get was as a paralegal. Men should be glad she finally got to be a real lawyer. She argued the first case in front of the Supreme Court which established that gender discrimination was unconstitutional and it was on behalf of...a man. A man who was taking care of his ill mother claimed her as a tax deduction. The IRS said no, a man would never be the primary caregiver of a parent, and disallowed the deduction. She successfully made the point that gender should not determine what role people can play.

3. At least your post does not say what Rush Limbaugh said: feminism was simply the refuge of unattractive women, because attractive women could get a man to support them. (oooohh---like YOU, Rush?).

4. My mother, a college grad teacher, wanted to go back to work after I, the youngest, was in junior high. My father basically refused. Why? you ask. (a) she wouldn't have as much vacation time as he would and so wouldn't be available to go on vacation with him and (b) she wouldn't make enough money to even cover the income taxes. He was German. He admits he feels bad about this today.

4. Yes, I think your little white middle-class neighborhood was not representative. Plus, my guess is, you didn't know everything that was going on in those tidy middle-class homes. But more power to your parents that your mom worked and it was just normal!

Posted by: annette on April 10, 2004 11:20 PM

Thank you, Annette!

Going back to the founding fathers, American women have voiced a need for equality: writing to her husband John Adams, who is attending the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Abigail Adams asks that he and the others who were working on the Declaration of Independence "Remember the Ladies." John responds humorously, saying the Declaration's wording specifies that "all MEN (my caps) are created equal."

Sojourner Truth said it best: "If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them. "

Do not forget it was our sisters who fought for our right to vote - and not too damn long ago - 1920's.

Nowadays, most American women do have NEARLY as much equality. Go out in the streets of America, from small town to big metropolis, take a poll: How many voters in America would elect a woman President of the United States?

I thought so. Nonetheless, to quote King Dylan, "the times they are a'changin'.

And, thank you, Michael for allowing me a voice about your post!

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 10, 2004 11:41 PM

But, my point is, the true origination of "feminism" wasn't about saying "men had screwed up the world and women needed to make it right"---I even agree that that's a pretty unfair generalization---but simply that the world WAS screwed up in certain ways and we all needed to make it right. In fact, acting as if men were the sole culprit and "the enemy" was a bad mistake of feminism. (However, John Adams' response may indicate why that tone got taken by some). The truth is that the world wasn't just one big happy place where everybody pitched in and showed respect. There were women in a different position who couldn't get credit on their own, who couldn't get the courts to view their complaints about violence and finances as seriously as they took John saying Joe stole his lawnmower, and who couldn't get a decent paying job even with qualifications. Those were reasonable statements. If men were as totally reasonable as your post describes, it shouldn't have even taken activism to fix them, remember. Maybe black people got along great and could eat and live where they wanted in your little hamlet, but I assume you don't mean that black people had no issues with civil rights anywhere in the country, right? Acting as if everybody should become a lesbian was a stupid position for feminists to take, however, and probably hurt their cause more than helped it.

Posted by: annette on April 11, 2004 9:41 AM

Oh, dear, this is turning into a political discussion about whether feminism is good or bad, etc. I've had a few too many of those. Well, dozens too many, really. My basic attitude, FWIW: no one should be denied opportunities on the basis of their sex; on the other hand, there's such a thing as excessive policing of "fairness" and I dislike an obsessive concern with equality of results. But I've heard all the standard "it's good, it's bad" points, most of them many times over. So I'll pass up the opportunity to squabble about it this time around.

I was hoping here to swap personal reflections and experiences. That'd be a fresh discussion, and, hey, we Blowhards like to offer a little something you can't find on the op-ed page of USA Today.

I'm thrilled to let go of the abstract/political discussion, but do find it fascinating to swap tales and musings. Feminism's been a big part of our lives for the last 30-40 years, and we've all had our experiences with it, and we've all had our observations and thoughts about it too, independent of the (to me) rather boring "is it good or is it bad" one.

Small plea? Can't we make the effort to assume that we're all basically fair-minded and wish everyone well? And that, except in very rare cases, we don't need policing or lecturing? For some reason, personal-experience-type discussions can be hard to have where feminism's concerned, I'm not entirely sure why. Thoughts about this appreciated.

Anyway, what interests me here (not that it has to interest anyone else) are such questions as Who (in your experience, not according to the polls) did feminism appeal more to? And who did feminism appeal less to? Do you have any hunches about why this might be so? And what was it like in your family, and neighborhood and school and job?

I mean, I've found it interesting that, for instance, in the NYC media world it's getting hard to find a straight white male, yet some of the young women (inclding some very successful ones) still feel they're experiencing bias. Another for-instance that I found interesting: a few years ago I looked into the question of how well women are doing in the film biz. At the time, half the studio chiefs were women, by the way. And what I ran into was basically this: the women who were doing OK in the business said, well, you run into some pigs, god knows, but it's no longer a big deal what your sex is. And the women who weren't doing well were prone to blame it on male bias against women. I don't know quite what to make of this, but these were the facts as I discovered them, and I find them interesting. There are lots of thoughts and musings to be had about this phenomenon, but we aren't going to have them if we just (yawn) get caught up in "it's good/it's bad" kinds of showdowns.

Meanwhile, I also find it interesting that many of the women from my background (and vanilla mid-American is not exotic, so I'm going to assume the experience is shared by a fair number of people) never, ever found feminism appealing. Having a job, sure, making their own way in life, sure -- but not party-line feminism. (Something very different than "feminism simply as fair play," by the way. Party-line feminism has a whole agenda.) I'm not entirely sure why, but I suspect it's because many of them never felt they needed it. They couldn't, for themselves, see the point -- living life as they saw fit wasn't really that big a problem, or at least whatever problems they had with it didn't seem to have to do with their sex. Maybe class and ethnicity play some role in explaining this, maybe not. I suspect they do.

If no one else finds these observations and musings interesting, or wants to pitch in, I can certainly understand that. But lordy, no need to get political about any of this ... Fair's fair, wish gals the best. But these observations and facts are some of what I've run across in life, and it's fun for me to think out loud about them.

On the other hand, if y'all are interested in re-running the same damn conversations about feminism people have been having for the last 35 years, don't let me get in the way.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 11, 2004 12:37 PM

"What do women want?"
--S. Freud

"I wanna have it awl!"
--The Great Unwashed Feminists

"Say what?!"
--Perplexed Male

Posted by: ricpic on April 11, 2004 1:42 PM

OK---personal experiences. I was 24 and out on my first "professional meeting" with clients. The older male VP whose bags I was essentially carrying and I got into town to discover that the only rental cars available were vans. At dinner with clients that night, one of the clients bellowed, "Throw Annette in the back of that van, then you'll really make some money!" Nobody, including me at 24, said a word to correct him.

A friend of mine was out on a similar call in the early eighties. She and several men went back to the client's home after dinner. She was the only female. What did the client want to do? Hey---let's stick some porn in the VCR!!! All the men sat there and watched, nobody objected, and she went and sat in the kitchen and looked through a magazine by herself until they were ready to go.

Two friends of mine, both of whom work full- or parttime and have husbands and families, say they work in part because it's something for them. Otherwise---and they love their husbands and kids---they feel like they have "no life except shepherding everybody else's life."

I think sensitivity has risen dramatically in the past twenty years, and I don't think the first two examples I just gave would happen today, or nowhere near as blatantly. But I don't think that sensitivity arrived through magic---I think it arrived through, ahem, conciousness raising. I guess it depends on how you define "withing everyone well." Maybe those men in my stories "wished us well"---but they behaved badly.

And, maybe the reason the women of your mother's generation weren't more eager to work if they didn't have to is because the jobs available WERE boring. I notice you didn't drive a truck or teach school or sell insurance when you made your choice. You wanted to be part of the "culture biz". You didn't just want "a job." You didn't even stay in your home town. Maybe those women would have wanted something else if they had thought it was available! My mother certainly did. It amazes me the way men assume that because their mother took mothering seriously and put a good face on the many things they may have done for love, that that means they found doing your laundry and cooking your dinner the most astonishingly gratifying work that they could think of in the whole wide world.

Posted by: annette on April 11, 2004 2:58 PM

Michael Levin puts it best in the concluding chapter of his masterpiece "Feminism and Freedom":

“As the number of female lawyers increases but the most powerful lawyers remain men, as childbearing remains fixed as a female concern - as men and women choose different adaptations to modernity - feminists will continue to offer what they have offered so far: grievance about sex differences. So long as feminism remains institutionalised it will purvey coercion. Feminists may be beyond rational persuasion, and will continue to proclaim their errors with complete assurance. But they are, in the end, asking women to make themselves unattractive to men and to forego love and children. Feminism will be forgotten, commanding only the loyalty of barren women whose genetic lines are running to extinction.”

For a review of FaF, go here:

Posted by: Charles Copeland on April 11, 2004 3:07 PM

So...Charles did finally say what Rush Limbaugh said!!

What I find interesting about comments like this is they say nothing while seeming to say something. I agree with Michael, personal experiences are more interesting.

What about what Gloria Steinem was after encouraged women to make themselves unattractive to men? If, after all, we all wish everybody well here. Why would a woman's inability to get a credit card of her own be "attractive to men." And who does that say more about---women or men?

What is the definition of "feminism" that would cause someone to write what Charles wrote. It ain't what I wrote about Gloria, is it? Coz what about those concerns would be so threatening?

Or is it the accusatory anger that so many who branded themselves as feminists adopted? I can understand that being unattractive. Angry men--like Charles and some of MBlowhard's comments here--are pretty unattractive themselves.

Posted by: annette on April 11, 2004 4:20 PM

Personal experiences- many. One that comes to mind, I was working as an assistant commercial property manager for a privately owned company. Put my five years in (two more up front as personal secretary to the elder patriach of the company, knew the properties, knew the tenants, knew the business. Senior manager ( male) retired (who was a really great mentor and expected the company to promote me), and instead of considering me for the position, they hired another man. A man who had been out of commerical real estate for over 7 years, and was teaching high school english. A buddy of the president of the company. When the new guy came in, I had to vacate my office which was the larger of the two in the real estate offices. Nevermind I had been in that office for over 5 years. President told me I would be invaluable to get "Mr. Smith" up to speed. So, I did my best. Then, when a large convention came up that spring in Las Vegas, I was not ever offered the opportunity to go; instead, "Mr. Smith" said his own "little woman" would be "great eye-candy" for the other men at the convention; better to draw in potential deal-makers, who were, ta da, men. Eye-Candy indeed. A fake set of double D's. Bet they did cost a pretty penny. I was needed to make sure everything at "home" got tended to. "Mr. Smith" was a womanizing, alcoholic, who pissed off every tenant we had. Rude, obnoxious and slimy like a used-car salesman.

Do I sound bitter? Perhaps. I left the company and now work in private investments, which includes some real estate. Commercial real estate does have a few women in the higher ranks, but they are extremely in the minority. By the way, less than 6 months after I quit, they fired the idiot. He got thrown in jail for a drunken brawl at a local bar. Much embarrassment for the company.

Anyway, Michael, I am sorry if I have contributed poorly for the direction you wished this conversation to go. So, this shall be my last post on this topic. Thank you.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 11, 2004 6:20 PM

Pattie -- Heavens, no need to apologize, fun comparing notes, and thanks for the story. Is anyone at this blog denying that men can behave like pigs? Is anyone rooting against women? Je ne pense pas. But it's great fun, and terrifically interesting, to compare notes and learn about other people's experiences.

I suppose what I was hoping to promote was a chat about our experiences with the whole women/jobs/partyline-feminism thing. Fr'instance -- does no one else find it interesting that in 1900 nearly 1/5 of the workforce was already female? Had you known that? I certainly hadn't. Or that by 1970, over a third the workforce was already female? C'mon, I bet you hadn't known that. What's wrong with admitting you hadn't known? It's interesting!

These facts were particularly fun for me to learn -- hence this blog posting -- coming as I do from a family where women routinely worked, and which wasn't remotely patriarchal. Imagine coming from such a family and living through decades' worth of partyline feminism. I mean, fine with me, that's what history brought along. On the other hand, I was experiencing severe cognitive dissonance the entire time. The world the partyline feminists were describing corresponded very little with the one I was experiencing -- a bit, but not a lot. When you thought abuot it, there were clearly a few laws that needed tweaking and lawsuits that needed to be brought, sure. Hey, why would I root against my mom, my aunts, my sister, and my cousins? Let alone my friends and girlfriends?

But where in the partyline-feminist picture of the world were the drudge jobs (instead of the fulfilling careers)? The happy families? The hubbies who appreciated their wives, and the wives who appreciated their hubbies? Where were the women who already worked? And where were, dare I say it, the women who didn't have jobs and who were thrilled not to have to work? All those elements were present on the block where I grew up. Given the figures Timothy Taylor passed along, it's safe to say that these elements were present in lots of other people's lives too. Fun and interesting, no? Also fun and interesting -- actually a great relief -- to find out actual facts rather than be stuck living with distorted and politicized images. But maybe that's just me.

I think FvB's point -- that partyline feminism always had a religious-like element in it -- is right on the money. It's a whole vision of the cosmos, with dogma, with devil figures (men generally), angelic victims, and promises of redemption. And it's since become an enormous checklist of beliefs and positions you need to get on board with, or else you're cast out. A partyline feminist of my acquaintance, for instance, doesn't think that any woman with the remotest lack of enthusiasm about abortion (including women who are pro-abortion but with reservations) can be termed a feminist.

Incidentally, y'all have run across the useful distinction between "equity feminism" and "gender (or partyline) feminism," right? Equity feminism is basically what the women were fighting for circa 1900 -- opportunity, knocking down barriers, no one being denied opportunities on the basis of her/his sex. (I don't know about your circles, but I've met very few people who have any trouble with this. Fair's fair, and what's wrong with that?) "Gender feminism" is partyline feminism -- feminism as a religion, anti-male-ism, careers-as-redemptionism, sexual correct-ness-ism, police-state feminism, basically. It's the "let's view all of life through the lens of male oppression and female victimization" set. I know a lot of people who have a lot of trouble with this kind of feminism. Anyway, I've found the distinction useful.

Annette -- I can't imagine why you're accusing me of being angry. Is it simply because I've pointed out that over a third the workforce was female in 1970? But it's a big leap to go from "he cited a statistic" to "he's angry," isn't it?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on April 11, 2004 8:32 PM

My mom was an RN and very independent. After WWII, she moved from California to Hawaii and worked in a hospital there. She met my dad there; he's an electrical engineer, and used to go there on business for the Navy. Neither of them were kids when they met; they'd both lived on their own, and worked hard for what they had. And they met, and two weeks later were engaged, and two months later were married--and Mom stayed home and took care of us kids.

Most of the families I knew growing up were like the ones Michael describes. Certainly my father wasn't oppressing my mother.

My wife's mother, on the other hand, always worked; she was a high school teacher. Her dad was an engineer, but due to health problems retired early and was at home a lot while Jane was growing up. And after high school, Jane went off and got an accounting degree.

And when we had kids (we now have four) Jane elected to stay home and take care of them. Not because I forced her to, and not because anyone said she should, but because she thought it was best for them. And also because, being an accountant, she did a cost-benefit analysis which showed that the additional income she'd bring in if she continued working would be completely eaten up by the childcare expenses.

So we've ended up with a family much like the one I grew up with, and that the radical feminists despise. And frankly, I can't see that either of us is oppressing the other.

What I can see, though, is that our kids are going to better equipped to have stable relationships when they grow up than a lot of their peers.

Posted by: Will Duquette on April 11, 2004 11:33 PM


Can't you distinguish between statements of fact and value judgements? The point Michael Levin is making is the empirical one that feminism is an evolutionary dead end. Cultures in which feminism rules the roost (all Western societies, that is) are simply being replaced by cultures in which patriarchy, old-style, predominates. It's a demographic issue -- where feminism reigns, the birth rate plummets.

But the 2Bs want some personal stuff as well. Here's mine. A former girlfriend of mine eventually married a leftwing academic cad, put on weight, became a feminist and then a faute de mieux or opportunist lesbian who was highly active in the now defunct 'Women against Fundamentalism(s)' movement founded in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair.

The movement fizzled out, presumably because it didn't fit in with the multicultural, Islamophilic agenda of the left. Anyhow, our sterile or near-sterile womenfolk may have "all the best arguments" but they cannot beat the low-IQ, fecund pack animals of the Islamic world when it comes to the reproduction game. The rest -- all that bullshit about gender equality and work/life balance, etc -- is just hot air.

Posted by: Charles Copeland on April 12, 2004 4:56 AM

A woman who bad mouths men because some jerk mistreated her makes me less interested than I might otherwise be in getting to know her better. Why should she expect otherwise? I try to treat people decently, so I don't enjoy being lumped with jerks merely because I and the jerks are male. As a matter of observation, rather than of theory or abstract justice, people who focus on their own victimization, even if they really were victimized, are typically not fun to be around. Nor are anti-male bigots. Life is short and there are plenty of women around who have more positive attitudes.

And women who refuse to go out of their way to be attractive to men will tend to find fewer men attracted to them. That's human nature. If that's what a woman wants, fine. But it's odd to see intelligent women, who would never feed the wrong food to their dogs, treat men as infinitely malleable creatures whom they would train to be attracted to women only on women's terms. Men and women have a lot in common, but they tend to get along better when they recognize and accommodate, rather than ignore or suppress, each other's unique qualities. I think that most people understand this.

Posted by: Jonathan on April 12, 2004 6:24 AM

Well, yikes. And Jeeminy Christmas, too. But, Charles, if there's a demographics problem, isn't the only long-term solution to make sure that women everywhere have the same educational and employment opportunities and the same control over pregnancy that women in the west have? Or do you think we'd all be better off living on potatoes and bean curd till even those run out?

I'm a long way from conservative—my major problem with Bill Clinton was that he was only marginally, and not always, to the left of Richard Nixon—but I think the problem with gender as opposed to equity feminism is not so much with its feminist as with its Marxist heritage. I've lived and married on both sides of that divide, and it's difficult to believe how willing my first wife and I were to shape nearly every decision and every relationship according to an ideology. It didn't work out well for either of us or for our daughter when the world decided it had something to say. I've posted about that at my own blog, but I didn't talk there about how much ideological feminism affected the outcome. How much support do you think I got from our carefully chosen circle of friends when I was accused of molesting our daughter?

Things are very different and much happier now, and not because my current wife isn't feminist or powerful in her own right—she was a sergeant in the Army, she's been a prison guard, and she has about 40 people working for her now at a company where she started as a bagger. But how wonderful to make our decisions together by looking at the world rather than at a system, and to be able sometimes to just say "that's your business—you can take care of that."

Posted by: Mike Snider on April 12, 2004 10:11 AM

Female prerogative to change her mind...

Michael, thanks for a very enlightening ( and heated) commentary! Whew!

Jonathan, I don't hate men. I love 'em. Semi-married to one. I do severely dislike those men who carry on the chest-beating Tarzan image, knuckles touching the ground. As you might see in my parenthesis, a very wonderful man taught me the ropes of commercial real estate. He and I still correspond, and he is a good friend.

I will agree that the feminist movement took a giant step backwards when radical lesbian women overtook the original agenda, as Michael points out. As is true of everything, a few bad apples spoil the barrel. I have been a stay-at-home mom, and I have worked. Both roles were satisfying, and now in my mid-life, I am tired and bored with the workforce, and would welcome a chance to sit at home and cook, etc. I suspect a lot of men would love that opportunity as well.

Which brings me to another subject, men who stay at home. Role reversals. I bet there are a few of these guys who say THEY feel discriminated against, that they are looked down upon by their male peers, and feel the arrows of jealousy and suspicion from other mothers in the grocery store or elementary PTA meetings. I, myself, have found that I experienced negative thoughts about Mr. Moms. And it is wrong. So, I suppose I can understand the SOMETIMES male emotion of being territorial when it comes to the workplace.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 12, 2004 10:13 AM


Sorry to jump into the conversation late, but I thought I'd add my two cents. In my working-class Italian family, all the women worked, and we (or at least I) thought nothing of it. Except for my grandmother and her sister - who were available for babysitting. My mother worked before my sister and I were born, and the went back after we were in grade school. Some mothers in my neighborhood worked, and some did not.

I have no idea whether the women were upset at this state of affairs, or wanted not to work. Maybe it has something to do with coming from an immigrant background, but we felt jobs were jobs, and should not be confused with family or what really mattered in life. (I cannot remember, for example, any discussion at any of our frequent family gatherings where work was discussed in any way other than a means to put food on the table). Work in other words, was not "fulfillment." In my own career as a lawywer, I miss that understanding, having had drilled into me the (what I now think largely false) attitude that "work" must mean fulfillment or the achievement of some higher purpose. Perhaps in some sense and for some people it does, but it is also a shell-game that convnces us to spend more time away from other things that also really matter. Taking depositions, even for a "big case," does not seem to me at least any more fulfilling than explaining to my 2-year old daughter how to color Easter eggs. Feminism, as well as frankly the traditional male-dominated post-WW II society, seems to have forgotten that satisfaction can come in different forms.


Posted by: Gerald on April 12, 2004 10:57 AM

C. Pattie - I know he can talk for himself, but in case he didn't see your question - here's an excerpt from one of Lileks' recent bleats (I think it was April 7th)

...Not until the last few years – a decade, maybe two – was the sight of a guy in the mall with a tot something normal, and even now half the women think: visitation. Or: lost his job. But it’s ridiculous to think that standard patterns of male behavior, i.e. HULK SMASH, have to be played out in offices. I am the cutting edge!

And then I think, well, I’m fooling myself. That’s nothing special, but I really have done a great job here. Oh, my career is doing fine, better than ever, but it’s not like I’m out there throwing elbows, stepping on the faces of my foes, clawing my way to the top. I’m standing outside Williams-Sonoma wondering if I Gnat would like those Easter-themed pancake molds. And I call myself a MAN?...

And he proceeds to the utter audience' delight, so go and read the whole thing.

Personally, I have many examples and musings on the topic, but since mine were mostly surrounded by Russian landscape I think they are irrelevant. I can only say I’m very grateful to whatever excess noise was raised around the issue in America before I immigrated here – I certainly benefited from openness and recognition of the problem, comparing with situation in Russia. I’m not saying I like PC campaigns like overblown sexual harassment, etc and I hate when people using their gender to get ahead - but at least these manipulation cases are not one-sided anymore.

Have anybody read “Ann Vickers” by Sinclair Lewis? My knowledge of the feminism history is limited to this book, which I’ve read more than 20 yrs ago. Interesting to know what “people from inside” think about it – apart from it’s obvious Marxist tone.

Posted by: Tatyana on April 12, 2004 11:02 AM

Just a few Monday thoughts pre-caffeination:

My brother and I grew up the children of a single mother, and as latchkey kids, just a few years before either was terribly common in our town. Mom went to college, Grandma had a Master's degree in psychology (which she got after spending a few years as a stay-at-home mom), heck, even Great-grandma went to teacher's college! Even when my parents were married, Mom was more the breadwinner than my dad (who never went past high school, except for a few courses in community college).

How's that for feminist? Mom certainly had plenty of books on the topic around the house (from Gloria Steinbeck to the late and much lamented [and, in my opinion, more truly feminist] Erma Bombeck), and I have certainly sympathized all my life with feminism ... but feminism doesn't just reside in writing and speechifying and leading rallies. It also resides in being the sort of quietly, terribly strong woman my mother is and that my grandmother was. It also resides in being a man who treats the women in his life as not only equals, but as friends, as my brother does and as I hope I do.

And frankly I don't think feminism resides, at all, in eternally playing the victim, as many of the young proto-feminists in my college days did. It _definitely_ doesn't reside in treating every man as a potential rapist, as a few of them did. (Aren't we your grandfathers, uncles, fathers, brothers, cousins, sons, husbands, friends? Aren't we your fellow human beings?)

On another tack, as someone mentioned—where is my beloved First Wave of feminism? Where are the suffragettes? They fought harder and bloodier to begin the American civil rights movement than the blacks (in the South) and the Hispanics (in the West) did to continue it. I think those brave soldiers, so much more like the women I grew up around, are infinitely to be preferred to the Second Wavers and Third Wavers.

Posted by: Luis on April 12, 2004 11:36 AM

My mother worked, and was widowed, in the 70's. She always lamented not having enough education to have a "profession" (she was a journalist for a small time paper for much of the time, there's a joke in there somewhere) but never complained of gender discrimination. Both my grandmothers worked -- as seamstresses. One didn't finish elementary school and had very interesting spelling. They didn't voice any feminist-style complaints, just some reproachful murmurs about one's husband (not a great marriage, though I don't see how female emancipation would have improved matters).

I was in elementary school and high school during the 70's so missed much of the feminist fervor. My only experience with feminism was after the most important battles, from my point of view, had been won. I always expected to work myself.

I am grateful for the laws that have made it more expensive for companies to employ piggish men. I do believe it cuts down on the numbers of pigs one must encounter.

That said, once the most important (and easiest) battles have been won, feminism's tendency to attract and validate the anti-male attitudes of a few women have made it repellent to many others, myself included.

Posted by: Eloise on April 12, 2004 12:19 PM

Has anyone else here read _The Bostonians_? It seems to reinforce MB's view that 70's feminism was a creation of upper-class women; specifically, those from New England endowed with a hearty dose of modern-day Puritanism. Henry James' novel features a group of 19th century Boston women who sit around talking about how women are inherently superior to men because of their greater sensitivity, ability to work together rather than in competition, etc. One of the women has as a tenant a female doctor. Of course the other women don't like her because instead of sitting around being part of the sisterhood and bonding, she's out working.

Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.

Posted by: C.S. Froning on April 12, 2004 12:29 PM

Cowtown Pattie, points taken. I have known women who were as I described, and also some very capable women who I think were too quick to attribute personal setbacks to sexism when there were simpler explanations. It's generally unproductive to do that, partly because there are so many false accusations of sex discrimination that a lot of people discount all such accusations, and also because many successful people are going to wonder about the commitment to success of someone who complains a lot. After all, men have setbacks too, and some ethnic minorities have thrived in countries where they were systematically mistreated to a profound degree.

I'm not trying to rationalize sex or other bias, merely to point out that some ways of responding to life's vicissitudes are more productive than others. A lot of ordinary people understand this; I think that some feminists, particularly those from upper-middle class backgrounds, do not -- they simply don't know how to play the game. (Camille Paglia made related points.)

Posted by: Jonathan on April 12, 2004 12:30 PM

Point and counterpoint, touche, Jonathan.

But, I am not at Checkmate, yet.

Long live the Queen!

*see Pattie grinning*

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on April 12, 2004 12:36 PM

It's a demographic issue -- where feminism reigns, the birth rate plummets.

I can't let that one by. Japan is one of the most partiarchal societies on the planet and has the lowest birthrate. It doesn't take a genius to understand why. For many, many Japanese womenm there's nothing even remotely attractive about getting married and having children with a Japanese man. (I'm talking culturally Japanes, not genetic, of course.)

Plummeting birth rates are a natural outcome of being given the choice to have children. In fact, I'd say its no coincidence that in the United States, where all most basic notions of equality have taken deepest root, has one of the highest birth rates in the industrialized world. Families that recognize that child-rearing isn't just the woman's job are a heck of a lot more likely to find the woman willing to have children.

As for career aspirations Michael, the big difference is indeed the kind of job. As a middle class fellow, I know of very few people who would stop working if they could. Much of their identity and validation is found through their job and the contribution they make.

If you are faced with a situation where the only real reward of a job is the paycheck, you're not going to seriously envy the person who holds the job while you hold the fort at home.

Posted by: Tom West on April 12, 2004 1:31 PM

I have known women who were as I described, and also some very capable women who I think were too quick to attribute personal setbacks to sexism when there were simpler explanations.

There are *always* a reasonably large group of people willing to ascribe failure to malignant forces. I don't see why feminism gets blamed for this, when if it weren't for feminism, they'd be blaming nepostism, classism, racism, etc. I've heard just as many men complain, and all that's difference is which 'ism' is responsible. That's not to say that any of these groups are not be right *some* of the time. But it bothers me to see such 'feminist' complainers treated with contempt when if it was a male complaining about nepotism costing him advancement, it would be taken more seriously (or at least not dismissed).

Posted by: Tom West on April 12, 2004 1:37 PM

Feminism is the weirdest topic. I keep trying to go back and focus on memories from the 1970s that specifically deal with feminism per seand they seem very fuzzy indeed. Did feminism reinforce the sexual revolution, or was it more of a backlash against it? (I can remember situtations that would suggest both.) I can remember a lot of fulminating about rape and sexual harassment, but I also remember big, good-looking thugs who never seemed to lack for companionship (despite what seemed to me an obvious dose of misogyny and a clear prediliction for date rape.) I do remember a lot of cognitive dissonance on the whole topic; frankly, it seemed as if a lot of women wanted you to talk 'modern' but act 'traditional.' Or something. I'm sure it had a revolutionary impact on some people, but mostly it suffered from the underlying defect of all emanations of the Vietnam-War-era zeitgeist, a lack of clear role models to coach us on the alternative life styles we were supposed to be adopting. Well, we learned something: starting with theory and trying to work backwards to practice confuses the heck out of most people.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 12, 2004 1:57 PM

Michael, you noted that many of the '70s feminists were upper-class women. I have a small musing on the potential explanation, but please note that this has only just occurred to me and I haven't thought it through. FWIW: I think it might be an issue of whether one has an economic safety-net. Upper-class women probably had a trust fund behind them, or at least a truckload of jewelry they could hock, if their caretaker-men got ticked off and stopped supporting them. My mother, on the other hand, with eight children to raise, could never have taken the chance of angering my father to the point of abandonment - so she was pretty much stuck putting up with whatever he dished out (thank goodness he was a reasonably decent person!).

Posted by: Dente on April 12, 2004 2:17 PM

Have read all (well, almost all) of the above posts, and I STILL don't know what women want. Nor, methinks, do they.

And O yes....bonding. The very thought of bonding gives me the jimjams.

Two parallel tracks fated to run parallel and never meet; be it to infinity.

Posted by: ricpic on April 12, 2004 3:20 PM

Tom West: I wish I could beleive that modern American attitudes toward women childrearing were stimulatory to the birthrate or at least not retarding it. But that's not what the numbers say. Among those Americans who hold such attitudes (whites) the birthrate is almost as low as in Europe. Only among those groups in America which still have the old attitudes (hispanics, blacks, etc) is the birthrate still strong and they are what bring up the average making America's birthrate look decent.

Posted by: E on April 12, 2004 10:36 PM

Well who else had the time and hence the luxury to trumpet feminism but upper-middle to upper class women?

Jewish women being at the forefront of women's rights isn't shocking to me at all: the Book of Esther is the tale of perhaps the first crusader for equal rights ever! Of course she was the queen, but she did put her life on the line in pursuit of equality for her people (which is much more sacrifice than most of the harridans of gender feminism were willing to countenance!)

While backing gently away from the underlying immigration issues related to fertility in the US, I'll offer up what we've decided in our household as a (statistically meaningless) anecdote. After my wife's BA and teaching cert. are done (and she's still in her later-20s), we've decided to have 1-3 kids, preferably a boy-girl combo, depending on how well the pregnancies, deliveries and our finances go. Which could be iffy, depending, as I've got type A blood and she's O (which can make for nasty morning sickness if the baby get's the A blood type gene from me, as mommy will be having a partial immune system reaction, commonly much more severe than the normal mild one pregnancy always induces. Which is why pregnancies on my dad's side have tended to be icky, as that's were the A came from! Joy!)

Anyway, after they're safely along in grammer school, she intends to teach music and/or english. But we certainly do NOT want to wait for her to get a career started and then have kids in her 30's, which stikes us both as maddness. Whelp a couple-few when young and it's easier, and THEN have a career, and your employer also won't be afraid that you'll bail 'cause yer clock is tickin'.

Both our mothers had 5 children each, and both held jobs between husbands/batches of kids. Serial monogamy in the religious right (Baptist in her case, Mormon in mine) anyone? And ALL of the partners involved in both of our families have had multiple marriages (most with kids). I've seen a tiny bit of research about such patterns arising in the US with the de-fanging of divorce, but I know there MUST be much more out there.

Posted by: David Mercer on April 13, 2004 5:04 AM

personal experience re: feminism

year: 2000
setting: prestigious graduate school

me, successful grad student with 4.0 and several publications

professor: important, sees himself as "fair-minded", even liberal, and someone who would "wish others well"


After attending a talk by Big Name Scholar, I got in an elevator with the professor who had sponsored Big Name, and 4 of my male grad student colleagues.

Professor asks me: "Margaret, are you coming to my house for the reception this evening for Big Name Scholar?"

Delighted, I reply, "Why yes, Important Professor, I was thinking of attending."

Professor responds: "Good, because we need a babysitter."

Why we still need feminism, 101.

Posted by: Margaret on April 21, 2004 5:09 PM

You didn't need feminism, you needed to tell those clowns to go to hell. I grew up urban Irish/Italian/Catholic/Etc.. Just TRY to repress us and see what happens!

Posted by: Bradamante on April 23, 2004 1:56 PM

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