The “end” of feminism

Just like various deities and communism and capitalism and everything else, the end of feminism is announced with distressing regularity. I recognize that my perceptions are not those of younger women. That is a good thing. They are not fighting the same battles, and that is a very good thing. But I do not doubt that they are still fighting, and that feminism or women’s rights or whatever name you chose is still valid.

This essay from The Chronicle struck a note with me. It is a critique of modern works of feminism. The specifics, including that the writing and ideas are much less than those of the giants that walked the earth in the 60’s and 70’s, made me stop & think, as I had not reached this conclusion myself. It seemed to be on to something.

But I was immediately suspicious of myself: am I seeing this because I’m basically the same generation as the author? Do the books that this author critiques speak strongly to someone in her 30’s? I would love to hear the interpretations of this essay from younger women – the comments at the web site aren’t much help.

But here’s part of the last para of the essay (or why I too read Betty Friedan):

At the end of the foreword of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan writes: “There would be no sense in my writing this book at all if I did not believe that women can affect society as well as be affected by it: that, in the end, a woman, as a man, has the power to choose, and to make her own heaven or hell.” 


3 thoughts on “The “end” of feminism

  1. I think that each time a thing (like feminism) is declared at its “end”, it really just means that it is the end of the way it was in the previous generation. Which makes sense since it’s pretty much always the old guard making the declaration about the how the new generation is taking on a massive ideological concept. And of course the next generation is going to do it differently than the ones before- for one, change and evolution of a social movement means that things were accomplished before such that the needs and attitudes around it are updated. Feminism as the first wave knew it (I’m thinking turn of the century suffrage first wave) is almost so beyond feminism as it is today that young girls can’t even conceive of not being able to vote or work.

    So feminism as Rachel Shteir knew it may be at an end, but it’s not the end of feminism. She states at the beginning about not wanting to hear about the liberal 20-somethings’ lack of husbands (if they’re complaining about not finding husbands they are probably neither a)liberal or b)well-versed in feminism. just saying.) or the conservative 30-somethings settling (can’t comment on that since it’s not my age bracket), but then she spends most of the rest discussing two women (Wolf and Slaughter) who are in their 60s. Feminism obviously knows no age, but if you’re going to talk about how feminism is declining, the best examples might not be found in women towards the end of their careers. Wolf and Slaughter do not represent my brand of feminism- of course they don’t because they are at a very different stage of their lives. I can’t comment on what it’s like to have their lived experiences either. Personally, I read feminist writers who are closer to my age and share some of my own present struggles. Moreover, pretty much all the best feminist writings and forums I know of are entirely on the internet. None of which would likely ever be deemed worthy of publishing by most editors.

    I think a lot of feminism today (at least as I experience it in my late-20s) is both understated and subsumed into a lot of other social justices. Feminism got kind of a weird and crazy name because of a few people (seriously, Naomi Wolf? Vagina?) and sometimes it becomes easier to represent feminism rather than try to discuss feminism. It’s probably why there is a dearth of published decent fem lit (that and the monopolization of the publishing industry back in the 80s/90s). Feminism also expanded beyond the scope of white lady problemz in the U.S.A. to things like workplace safety (ie. factory fires in India and S.America), education, and not subjugation of lady-folk in other countries, not to mention fair wages for all workers, U.S. immigrant rights, and health care rights.

    But to make a long response short… Shteir says she has a problem with how the feminist writers she critiques don’t really talk about the problems women face or the solutions. So the “obstacles” that Shteir wants to see written about aren’t what is currently getting published (and I take issue with her privilege of wanting to see what *she* wants to read about, as though the authors she wrote about did not have the valid experiences she required). Does it mean that no one is writing about it (intelligently enough for her) or that it’s just out in the world in other formats? No, I definitely was not a fan of any of the works Shteir cites, such books did not speak strongly to a woman in the last of her 20s. But I have read other really well-done, interesting, thoughtful pieces by other women over the last few years. You probably won’t find good feminist writing in big-name writers (Wolf) and players (Slaughter, Rosin), their self-importance gets in the way. And Freidan wasn’t a big name in writing or feminism before The Feminine Mystique either.

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful reply. It IS what I was looking to hear. There’s also a damned if you do, damned if you don’t aspect to this. People complain that nothing or anyone ever changes, and then when it does and they do, they complain “its not speaking to me”. I think it is hard to say “this doesn’t speak to me, but I still think it’s very important in general”. And I’m not talking about taking on a cause that isn’t the color of your skin, your genome, or your economic circumstances. I am talking about changes in your core issues.

    Side note: Naomi Wolf is not a boomer – she’s a GenX who is about to turn (or has turned) 50. And I have no clue as to whom she is speaking, or who finds her compelling (someone must, she sells books).

  3. Very late to the party, but I have to agree. There are a lot of great young feminists out there writing their hearts out, but this generation (late X – Y/millennials) is almost entirely on the internet and their focus is intersectionality. There are feminists of color, LGBT feminists, and plenty of men out there who are adopting the moniker on the internet. Feminists are looking at oppression through more than just the lens of the patriarchy, seeking out social justice however they can obtain it – Occupy Wall Street anyone?

    While the plight of the white 1950s American housewife was no joke, and Friedan brought forth an awareness and activism which we cannot understate, the transphobia of her work (among other issues) may cause it to leave a bitter aftertaste in the mouths of many young feminists today. I see that our best young feminists are busy *doing* feminism while trying to pay off college loans, put a roof over their head, find love, start families (or not), move cross-country (or around the world), and hold down a “real job” while doing work they love (feminist advocacy) which often pays little or nothing. I’d say if the author of this piece wanted more feminist writing, it would behoove us all to more greatly value feminist work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s