Last Thursday, I did my brief spiel about feminist literary criticism in my class. I asked how many of them considered themselves feminists. Out of 8, only 4 raised their hands. Two women didn't.
That's fine. It's understandable even. We've gotten to this post-feminist moment (god, I hate that phrase) where most of my generation and the generations following me think that feminism equals bra-burning man-haters and that everything has already been fixed. These are young women who never grew up thinking that there were any limitations to their lives. No one told them that someday their brothers would go to college and they'd become mommies. No one tells them that they need to make a choice between being a partner and mother or having a career. And perhaps, for many, they never will.
But the cold hard truth is that someday most of those young, bright women in my class will hit the glass ceiling so hard that their teeth will rattle. Maybe they'll grow up and get married and no one will expect them to start having babies, so they'll be safe. Maybe their husbands will even "help" around the house--how lucky they will be to have such enlightened mates. Maybe, even, they will make more than their husbands.
The cold hard truth is that for many of them--feminist or not--they will reach a point where they have to choose. Where they have to make sacrifices that their partners never even think about making.
I've been reading some of my favorite bloggers lately, and it's made me curiously aware of my own situation. While they've been struggling along, I've been very, very lucky. My own husband is a partner in every sense of the word. I cook, he cleans the dishes. He gives little man a bath, I put him to bed. I nursed, he changed every diaper. He doesn't help around the house. He doesn't babysit for me. It's his home and he maintains it; it's his child and he cares for him. Period. There is no sense that we are anything but completely equal. And that's the only way I would ever have it. I've never been willing to be someone's maid, chef, and nanny.
He was raised by a second-wave feminist--one that marched on Washington for the Equal Rights Amendment and still curses Phylis Schaffley's name if it comes up in conversation. He wasn't raised to expect anyone to cook or clean for him. He's a better feminist than many women I've met.
But the job market it coming fast. Very fast. And I am very aware that his discipline makes more money than mine. If we have to choose between positions, I will loose if it comes down to money. It makes me angry. Very, very angry. And sad. Very, very sad. Because I've been reading the saga of another mother an wife who was denied tenure and who has decided to give up her hope of a research career to keep her family together. I can't help but see the pain and anger in her posts, and she should be sad and angry. It's not fair in a lot of different ways.
Studies have shown that women with families suffer in academia. In one study about the California system, the research showed that women predominantly hold those non-tenure track positions while men who were married and had children actually did better than their non-married counterparts. For women, having children is a liability. For men, it's proof that you're stable.
And I've been reading the blog of a local mom whose husband is a grad student and who stays at home with her daughter. Except that she, too, works as a freelance writer. And she laments being the one in charge of the household alone. It's a choice, I know, but she's also fighting against a society that sees her work as less valuable than his.
And it makes me sad and angry, because this is where we've gotten. To a place where the young women don't need to be feminists, don't identify with feminism as a cause, and won't fight for it.
We still don't have an equal rights amendment. We still have a presidential candidate that claims that women are paid less because they have less education and training. We still live in a world where I cannot put a picture of my son on my web page because it might cost me a job, when it will probably get my husband one. We still live in a word where smart women pick up their husband's messes, even when they have work of their own to do. And we still live in a world where it's a given that mothers will nurture, but its emasculating for men to nurture as well. We still live in a world where the media can call a presidential candidate a bitch or some other misogynistic slur, and there's not a thing she can do about it. We still live in a world where a woman is raped every minute and for the cost of one fighter plane we could test every one of the rape kits sitting on shelves because of lack of funding.
It makes me sad. It makes me glad I have a boy. I'm not sure that I could raise a girl in this world, because how do you tell her that she can do or be anything she wants, when you know that it just isn't completely true?
Post-feminist my a$$.