"What's a Modern Girl to Do?" asks Maureen Dowd in this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Apparently, in this day and age, not much. Feminism, says Dowd, has suffered a massive blow in that the forward momentum of the female empowerment movement at the start of the Feminist Revolution in the 70s has now reverted back to about 1955. Dowd is no lover of the hardcore feminism of the 1970s in that feminists wanted (according to her) more of a conformity to a uniform lifestyle. Dowd writes:
What I didn't like at the start of the feminist movement was that young women were dressing alike, looking alike and thinking alike. They were supposed to be liberated, but it just seemed like stifling conformity.Though I would take a bit of an exception as to when this "feminist movement" that Dowd speaks of started (see Wikipedia for a history of feminism from the 1850s on), Dowd goes on to say that what she dislikes about what's happening now to women in America is just as bad:
What I don't like now is that the young women rejecting the feminist movement are dressing alike, looking alike and thinking alike. The plumage is more colorful, the shapes are more curvey, the look is more plastic, the message is diametrically opposite - before it was don't be a sex object; now it's be a sex object - but the conformity is just as stifling.Dowd is promoting her new book, Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide, to be published in December. I'm not sure if I'll read her book when it comes out, because the essay in itself scared and depressed me to no end. Advanced critiques aren't so great, either. But still, Dowd's premise might be apropos: Apparently women are making great strides backwards, back into the dark ages, though it can be argued that even the 1970s Feminist Revolution didn't bring us too far forward anyway.
Glass ceilings, lower wages in high and low positions, sex sells. It's hard to be a woman in a 'liberated' Western world. Granted, it's hard to be an unliberated woman in a small Third-World backwater as well, but when I was growing up, I actually had the nerve to believe that I could, as a woman, have a career, make my own money, and make my own way. I was never big on the family thing, but the career was something I wanted badly. Of course, it was a career in acting, but hey, it was something I loved to no end, and I was pretty damned good at it, too.
As to the family thing, well, the sexual thing, I missed the chance at full-on sexual experimentation and debauchery. I could have done some wild and crazy things, but both Jesus's and my mother's voices were way too loud in my head when I had the chance. It's like that sometimes. And as I approach 42, I'm about to miss out on the family thing, too. I think that's suppose to mean that I'm not fulfilled as a woman, and maybe that's true. The little box that is suppose to be a woman's life makes me wanna punch something sometimes.
Dowd also talks about the games that women are suppose to play in courtship. She writes that her mother gave her the book How to Catch and Hold a Man by Yvonne Antelle and how her friends are now clamoring to borrow her out-of-print copy of the precursor to the the 199o's book, The Rules. I tried to read the latter book. I thought I was going to be ill. I can't play that game of look coy, look hot, flirt, be skinny, be tall, be thin, be dumb, I've never gotten the whole thing down. I've never liked to play the game. Therefore, I will probably end up sitting in front of my t.v. for the remainder of my life.
So, what's a 21st Century Woman suppose to do?
Well, let's hope it doesn't come to that.
Let's take a quick look at what women are facing right now. Reproductive rights are under attack, and while not likely to be overturned in America, these rights could certainly suffer major blows. Playboy Club bunnies, clad in new sadomaschist chic, are back and while I wanted to be a Playboy pinup when I was younger (and still do), there is a part of me that objects to the image of women that bunnies project. Religious zeal is hotter than ever, and with many religious tenets, there rests the idea that women are second-class citizens, unclean at certain times of the month, and liable to death at the whim of the village elders. Political leaders in our country claim that they have won a "moral mandate" upon the 2004 election, even beyond the clear blunders of waging a war in Iraq and inept leadership in America. If "moral mandate" is code for "Christian or fundamentalist mandate," we'd be well advised to remember exactly what evangelicals and some other Christians believe about the delineation of the roles of men and women (but if you really want to be a Christian, you can always check out "Christian feminism," for a hoot).
All I'm saying is that I personally don't want to be a 1955 lady. I want women to move forward, into a new 21st century, a new century that I dreamed would be different from all the centuries that preceded it (unless, of course, Jesus does come back and then, everything is pretty much moot). Today's Yesterday Woman is a myth that should be ripped to shreds. Move forward, ladies, and never look back in fear and trepidation. Easier said than done, granted.
Malcolm X, after he traveled throughout Africa, came back with an insight regarding women.
"If you are in a country that is progressive, the woman is progressive. If you're in a country that reflects the consciousness toward the importance of education, it's because the woman is aware of the importance of education. But in every backward country you'll find the women are backward, and in every country where education is not stressed its because the women don't have education."
While Malcolm X would not have condoned a promiscuous lifestyle, his insight is apt. Progressive societies need thriving, educated women, ones that are aware of the value of knowledge. We've come too far and have much too far to go to stop educating ourselves and moving forward.
While I wouldn't want to live under the conformity of rigid feminism, neither would I want to live under the conformity of the sex object. Neither role is fully appealing, and neither role is fully fulfilling. As soon as I figure out what exact role, if any, that I would want to conform to, I'll let you know.
After all, what's a 1964 Girl to do?