Whatever Happened to Women’s Liberation?

© Ms. Magazine

© Ms. Magazine

Any Boomers’ lifetime is a roll of milestones in the war on sexual inequality:

● 1963: Betty Freidan publishes The Feminine Mystique, inspired by her own survey of her college classmates revealing a deep, unseated unhappiness among middle-class, suburban housewives
● 1971: Ms. magazine debuts as an insert in New York magazine
● 1973: Ombudsperson Mary Rowe submits a report to the president of MIT entitled “Saturn’s Rings” about campus gender issues, using the term “sexual harassment” (Rowe denies coining the term)
● 1974: What is generally considered to be the first sexual harassment case is filed by a female worker charging discrimination after rejecting a supervisor’s advances

Maybe my life was different, but I was taught from an early age that women were to be treated as equals. My mother worked side-by-side with my father in his real estate office; her sister and sister-in-law both graduated from Cornell and worked outside the home. I have written about the experience of being the second-smartest person in my third grade class preparing me for college, where the girls were just as wicked-smart as the boys. Even today, the most famous people from both my high school and college classes are women, not men.

So what the hell is happening now?

The first signs I got that the world was regressing were when my nieces took their husbands’ names when they got married. That was a big non-negotiable when I got married, and I understood that; my wife’s diplomas all had her maiden name on them. And I begrudgingly understood my niece’s logic when she told me that – beyond the confusion that surname hyphenation bequeaths the second generation – it’s far more practical for schools when a mother and a child share the same name.

But recently, it seems that American culture is regressing even faster. To wit:

In early May, the Defense Department released a report estimating that 26,000 people in the military were sexually assaulted in 2012, up from 19,000 the previous year. The report noted that only 3,374 victims reported military sexual assaults, with 62 percent of those saying they were retaliated against professionally and socially. Of those who didn’t report military sexual assaults, 47 percent told the DOD that they feared reprisals.

In late March, Catalyst, a non-profit organization focusing on women’s workplace issues, reported three startling statistics:

● The median annual earnings for full-time, year-round women workers in 2010 was $36,931 compared to men’s $47,715
● In 2012, the median weekly earnings for full-time working women was $691, compared to $854 for men.
● In 2012, the median weekly earnings for women in full-time management, professional, and related occupations was $951, compared to $1,328 for men.

And last April, in my own supposedly enlightened hometown of Palo Alto, the editors of the magazine at my rival high school published a ground-shaking cover-story series on the subject of date rape. The most astonishing aspect of the stories: the ensuing abuse that the victims got for bringing the rape upon themselves.

It’s clear that the double standard – defined in Dr. Erwin J. Haeberle’s The Sex Atlas (1981) as holding “females to a higher degree of sexual restraint than males” – has returned, with all its inherent relegation of women to second-class status in society. This means that Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer aren’t examples of change, but merely outliers.

My late mother advised me to marry a smart woman so that “she’d always be able to help me.” It was the best advice I ever got. Looking down on women, denying their feelings, denigrating their opinions, is only going to get us into deeper trouble. One need look no further than the Middle East, where it’s easy to extrapolate that denigrating the rights of women extends into denigrating the rights of other people and other religions – even other sects of your own religion. That way lies madness.

What disappoints me the most, though, is the backsliding that has taken place in American society. Members of my own generation – both male and female, the ones who witnessed the revolution firsthand – didn’t impress upon their children the way it used to be and why we need to preserve sexual equality. Society, like adolescents, is supposed to become more intelligent and enlightened as it ages. The foregoing evidence indicates that we’re only getting stupider.


About middleagecranky

The Middle-Age Cranky blog is written by baby boomer Howard Baldwin, who finds the world, while occasionally wondrous, increasingly aggravating.
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5 Responses to Whatever Happened to Women’s Liberation?

  1. Dianne Jacob says:

    This post would be nothing new from a woman, but from a man — I love that you wrote this, Howard. Please read this piece from the NY Times about the women who get ahead and the compromises they make when they marry:

    • I appreciate the kind words, Dianne. But I can’t help but feel that it’s yet another kind of double standard that this only has impact because it comes from a man. Women have as much as right as I do to rail about this.

  2. Ann B. May says:

    Thanks for writing about this. After all of these years and changes in society, women still earn 75% of what men earn.

  3. Fran says:

    I appreciate your writing this and would add that another area in which we seem to be backsliding is fashion. While I, as a child, had to wait until the end of high school for it to be permissible to wear slacks to school, fashion for girls now is skimpier by the day, and highly sexualized.

    Ironically (and you may be horrified to know this), the automatic ads placed by WordPress on this post were borderline pornographic — which, I promise you, has nothing to do with my own browsing history!

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