The New Anti-feminists: Have They Talked to Their Mothers or Grandmothers?

Today, in support of the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., I am posting a blog I published a little over two years ago. It is more relevant than ever. I also want to call your attention to an Op-Ed piece written by Gloria Steinem that appeared yesterday in the Boston Globe. In it she explains how sexism and racism are intertwined and how equal rights for women and the fight for racial equality under the law came to be joint goals of the pioneers in the Women’s Movement for Equality.

 

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Thanks to the young bloggers I follow, most especially Natacha Guyot and Jennie Saia, my attention has been drawn to a trend among young women, who are posting photos on Tumblr and other social media sites proclaiming, in effect, that they are anti-feminists. The first thought I had after seeing these photos was a question: Have these young women spoken to their mothers, grandmothers, or aunts about what they encountered as women in society or in the workplace when they were younger? I can’t imagine they’ve had those conversations. As a woman who lived through the decades of the push for equality in the workplace and encountered anti-equality attitudes at various points in her career, I feel compelled to address these young women who don’t know what it was like to pursue a career in an unequal and unregulated work environment.

We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach—Gloria Steinem

 

I was graduated from high school at the time that Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem were just speaking up for equal rights for women. It was a time when women in the workplace were expected to support the men, who did the thinking and the “important” work.  Women served in clerical roles, typing, filing, and making coffee and cleaning up afterwards. Yes, the world of Mad Men prevailed. You could have shone a light on any profession in the 40s and 50s, and the same ethos would have been apparent. In medicine, with rare exceptions, men were doctors. Equally bright, and sometimes brighter, women were nurses. In the Fortune 500 corporations, men were executives, and women were lucky to be administrative assistants or secretaries, wholly without decision-making duties. In Western society men were still considered the breadwinners and the women who worked were assumed to be marking time until they had children, or they had returned to work after their children were grown in order to earn extra spending money. And it was open season on women in the workplace. Sexual harassment was unfettered and unregulated by law. If you need film reminders of how women were treated in the workplace, just watch Nine to Five or The Apartment.

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During my senior year in college (1968 to 1969), I started looking for a position as a teacher. I was lucky to land an interview with the Superintendent of Schools in a town not too far from where I lived. He said he had reviewed my application and letters of recommendation and I appeared to be qualified for the position. He needed to know one thing, however. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No,” I stammered.

“Good,” he said. “At least I’ll get two years out of you before you leave to have babies.”

Can the young women, posing as anti-feminists on social media, imagine themselves in a similar situation during a job interview? Of course, the answer is no. Today, women are protected by legislation that was hard won by feminists who marched and organized and worked for equality—equality in pay, career advancement, and educational opportunities—as well as freedom from sexual harassment at work. These achievements didn’t come about overnight. It took years of advocacy to change the laws and to change the thinking that had created second-class citizenship for women.

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And the feminists worked for equality in more than just the work environment. They worked to give women control of their bodies and reproductive rights, equal financial rights, and protection from domestic abuse. A review of some of the protective legislation shows the far-reaching efforts of the feminist movement in the United States, as follows:

The Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Equal Pay Act mandates equal payment for equal work with provision made for seniority, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or a differential based on any other factor other than sex. See the website of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII protects applicants and employees against discrimination. It prohibits employers from making employment-related decisions, such as hiring, firing, or promoting, where the decision is motivated by a person’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin Title VII is also the federal statute which makes sexual harassment unlawful.

Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court Ruling of 1965. In a landmark case the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Constitution protected the right to marital privacy. The case involved a Connecticut statute that prohibited people from using a drug, medical article or instrument to prevent conception.

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Yes, if you are following, that means that birth control was prohibited in Connecticut until the Supreme Court ruled. I am hoping this glimpse into what feminists helped to overturn will open a few eyes among the young women anti-feminists, as well as their significant others.

Other equally important legal victories that the feminist movement helped to win included the following:

  • The 1967 Executive Order giving full affirmative action rights to women
  • The 1968 EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) decision that sex-segregated help wanted ads were illegal
  • Title X of the Public Health Service Act in 1970, creating the only American federal program devoted to the provision of family planning services
  • Title IX in 1972 and the Women’s Educational Equity Act in 1974 that mandated educational equality
  • The1973 Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that laws prohibiting abortion are unconstitutional
  • The 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, prohibiting discrimination in consumer credit practices on the basis of sex, race, marital status, religion, national origin, age, or receipt of public assistance
  • The 1975 law requiring the U.S. military academies to admit women
  • The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, banning employment discrimination against pregnant women, prohibiting firing, denying a job to, or failing to promote a woman because she is pregnant

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The feminists fought for equal status for women in society in general, within the educational system, the workplace, the home, and within the financial world. In the United States today a woman can qualify for a mortgage, buy a car, apply for credit, have equal access to the educational system, exercise control over her reproductive life, and pursue a career, as a result of the feminist movement. These are not rights to be taken for granted. They were neither my rights when I entered the workplace nor were they the rights of my mother or grandmother. Sadly, many women in too many parts of the world still do not have these basic rights.

As Jennie Saia pointed out in her blog on the anti-feminist postings, feminists fought for equality. They didn’t seek to diminish the rights of men. They wanted to be considered equal under the law and to have the rights guaranteed under the U.S. constitution. As a wife and the mother of a son, I would never support legislation that disenfranchised men or promoted women to the disadvantage of men. Like other women and men before me, I support equality and freedom for all.

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If we are going to become a society in which there is equal opportunity for all, we need to be vigilant to preserve the rights already won as we move toward winning rights for all disenfranchised groups. As Emma Watson said in her address at the United Nations, feminism is just a word. Let us look beyond the word, men and women together.

If you’ve been following the Feminist Friday discussions organized and promoted by GeneO’, you know that the latest round of posts related to feminism ended on Friday. If you missed this last round, check it out on his blog; then follow the links to the bloggers who posted. If you have something to say about feminism, say it. Send me a link to your blog when you do.

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About jsherwin2013

Jennie has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in counseling. She is the author of Intentional Healing: One Woman’s Path to Higher Consciousness and Freedom from Environmental and Other Chronic Illnesses and is a contributing writer to Conscious Life News. She has been a teacher of English on the junior high school and senior high school levels, as well as a writer and editor in the field of public health. She has mentored writers and editors. She is certified in Reiki I and II and has studied energy therapies at A Healing Place in Richardson, Texas, working under the direction of Deborah Singleton and her healing team. Jennie also acknowledges the guidance of Christine Gregg, Australian spirit reader and healer, and Maya Page, intuitive healer, Reiki Master, and VortexHealing® practitioner, now retired. Jennie lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband, Roger, a retired physician and epidemiologist. They provide editorial services to university researchers in the fields of medicine and public health. Her son, Colin, lives and works in New York City with his wife, Colleen.

15 responses to “The New Anti-feminists: Have They Talked to Their Mothers or Grandmothers?”

  1. ericamelliott says :

    Wonderfully thoughtful post, Jennie.Thank you, Erica

  2. Natacha Guyot says :

    Reblogged this on Natacha Guyot and commented:
    A very inspiring post by Jennie Sherwin about feminism, how it has helped improving society and how it still has more to achieve.

  3. Beth Caplin says :

    You could say that the early feminists did their work well if young women today feel entitled enough to say they don’t ‘need’ feminism anymore. Great post.

    Against my better judgment, I spent way too long looking at the entries of that tumblr and was incensed enough to write a rebuttal: Privileged People Don’t Need Feminism, But the Rest of Us Do: http://sbethcaplin.com/2014/07/12/privileged-people-dont-need-feminism-but-the-rest-of-us-do/

    • jsherwin2013 says :

      Beth: I read your rebuttal, and I agree that the early feminists did such a great job that younger women have no idea what our society was like for women up until the reforms of the mid- to late twentieth century–brought about by the activism of women. Women activists, or feminists, transformed our society and opened doors that were shut to women in education, athletics, and many careers, to say nothing of credit and finance. I loved your post. Jennie

  4. Susan says :

    Great post! The younger women need reminding. We tend to forget it was a very short time ago that women gained to right to vote. Much sacrificing has been done….

    • jsherwin2013 says :

      Exactly, Susan. So many women my age have told me of obstacles they had to overcome to achieve parity at work. As you said, we need to keep reminding younger women. Jennie

  5. Kathryn Chastain Treat says :

    I remember my first big job interview. I was being interviewed for a secretarial position at a county schools office. I arrived for my interview and was SHOCKED to find myself at a huge conference table with one woman and seven men. I was asked questions that would never be allowed today. I was asked if I was married. I was asked if I was in a serious relationship. I was asked if I thought I would be having children in the near future. I was shell shocked when the interview was over and I was able to leave the room and breathe. I wasn’t a feminist at the time and it was several years later that I realized how much this helped other women down the line in situations such as I had found myself. Thank you for sharing.

    • jsherwin2013 says :

      So many of us went through interviews like that. Thank you for sharing your experience. Young women need to hear these stories so they do not reject the work of the women who fought to protect them. Jennie

  6. Jennie Saia says :

    Hello, other (clearly awesome) Jennie! Thank you for the wonderfully clear breakdown of feminist laws.

    A few days ago, a friend sent me this link to Confused Cats Against Feminism: http://confusedcatsagainstfeminism.tumblr.com/

    It helps when you start shaking your head at all the madness. 🙂

    • jsherwin2013 says :

      Jennie: So glad you stopped by. And thank you for the beautifully balanced piece you wrote on July 28, “No One Needs Feminism Anymore,” in which you demonstrated that feminism is still needed today. I’m so glad that young women recognize that the past leads to the future in which we live. Jennie

  7. roughseasinthemed says :

    Hi Jennie
    I suspect it’s rather fashionable to decry feminism at the moment. Sadly, even equality movements have their ups and downs and the mocking of feminism by so many sources makes it harder for young women to subscribe to the views.

    But it’s such a broad issue. As you say a lot has gone on—legally—in the workplace, but that doesn’t change subliminal discrimination. And look at the violence against women (UN international day violence against women only this week).

    That’s why anyone who really looks at the issue seriously can’t honestly say there is parity between men and women.

    I’ve written loads of posts about feminism on two of my blogs so I won’t add links. There is a brief mention in my last post on roughseas however about supposed humour perpetuating violence against women.

    • jsherwin2013 says :

      Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my post. I was moved to write my post because of what I had lived through as a young woman growing up in the 50s and 60s. You’re absolutely right that subliminal violence is still a serious problem in our society, to say nothing about violence against women in other cultures. Having come across the anti-feminist movement through my young blogger friends, I was not aware of how trendy it has become to support or dismiss feminism. I think we are dealing with a negative image of feminism created by a combination of many factors. If we think instead of justice for both sexes, rather than parity for one sex, we might overcome the negativity. Any thoughts?

      • roughseasinthemed says :

        I think you have ten years on me, but, makes little difference, I still got the crass interview questions, the men are in charge, assertive women are called aggressive, routine etc.

        Loads of thoughts, and too many for a comment reply! I should say, that my views are fairly radical feminism, so I don’t buy into the idea of this is really threatening to men that women might want equal opportunities and not want to be physically attacked.

        With my PR hat on, I would probably concentrate on non-western societies, not from a religious perspective, but rather using stats and facts about education, violence, death in childbirth, healthcare, poverty …

        It’s not the right time to bleat on that actually western women are STILL discriminated against in many ways. Change tack.

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