Modern Feminism has been brewing at least since the age of Enlightenment.
We have had the vote in America for almost 100 years. Yet our most visible sign of change today is the pink pussy hat. Everything else in the feminist pantheon is always in danger of being taken away—whether it’s women’s health care, birth control, abortion, maternity leave, or the opportunity for a sufficient number of female legislators to effect real change or a groundswell of opinion to support the human rights of women as mothers, wives, change agents or professionals. Are we never safe as women?
Why are our basic rights so tenuous even in a world where our needs have been expressed again and again? And why are women such poor partners in our own progress; sometime antagonists where we need cooperation more than ever?
Why is feminism so misunderstood? It only means equality between the genders—not women devouring men.
And how is it possible that our most qualified female presidential candidate could be defeated by a totally unqualified man assisted by our major geopolitical enemy?
It’s hard not to be discouraged by the many obstacles in the path to women’s’ equality. Sexism, ageism, violence against women, have to be acknowledged again and again until we grow weary of pointing them out. One administration acknowledges them as facts, the next denies them as myths. How can we as women not grow frustrated with our interminable revolution? We seem to be on an endless treadmill of writing, reading, hoping against hope, then losing heart. Intersectionality—the triple problems of race, class, and gender seem insurmountable despite many revolutionary movements to end inequality of income and race.
And why must a woman’s life be analyzed again and again? Is love enough? Are children? Why are women’s intellectual and artistic achievements seen as less universal than men’s? And so it goes endlessly unto the grave.
As a woman who has published 25 books in 40 languages over 50 years, I often wonder why women’s rights have to be fought for again and again.
Why does our progress never stick? Why do feminist ideas and institutions constantly suffer reversion? Are patriarchal structures so impermeable that we are still fighting for control over our own bodies after all these generations? We now have a healthy cohort of men who understand that feminist ideals can make their own lives better, and yet not enough of them seem empowered to revise societal structures permanently. We can still wind up with a President who asks women “to dress as women” and has no idea how antique he sounds.
So we are drawn back constantly into the past—to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald. We seem to leap forward then be dragged back, still in terror of losing Roe v. Wade and women’s choice in health care. It hardly seems to matter that the majority wants that choice. Right wing politicians keep trying to take it away.
Have we misread the human psyche? Are we in denial about our capacity for denial? Where women are concerned our whole culture continually succumbs to antiquated values. I know that change is frightening but where women are concerned change seems downright terrifying.
Our political structures seem so resistant to change that we keep experiencing a will to go backward—despite the fact that we are more than half the population.
Will we keep repeating this mad dance of death until more than half our Congress is female and we have a woman president? Is that what it will take?
Then that must be our goal: thousands of young women running for office and refusing to take no for an answer. We tried to do it another way—and what did we get? Trump and his swamp of a lying cabinet. The way ahead is clear. Women must have power that cannot continually be taken away. We must be able to make our gains stick. Health care for women and children is a human right. Proportional representation in our legislatures is urgent. Without such changes, we will keep going backward. Backward is an unacceptable direction. Backward is an impossible choice. We must be able to keep human rights for women and children even when reactionaries are temporarily in charge.
As we absorb the backwardness of a new antifeminist administration, we are treated to television shows with strong female leading characters that seem to promise change for women. These shows also show women of color having more power than our society accords them. It’s time to change our trajectory for good. Women’s rights are human rights, remember? It’s time to establish in reality the hopeful changes women have on TV and sometimes film. We all want to be Olivia Pope or Katniss, our contemporary Joan of Arc. As long as that remains a far-off possibility, we will wonder how our fantasy so outstripped the reality of our lives.
© Erica Mann Jong, 2017