Yes, what is a modern grrrrlll to do?

I just finished reading Maureen Dowd’s somewhat depressing essay on feminism in the Sunday Times Magazine. I’m sure this is going to be one of the more blogged-over things in the feminist blogosphere, but I felt compelled to write about it anyway.

I’m an old-school feminist. I’m not really sure how that happened, as I feel pretty cutting-edge, but I guess I’ve been left behind by those who want to roll back the issues of the women’s movement, so that someone else will pay for their dinner. It’s upsetting that the victories of the women’s movement are so often reduced to half-measures in this way–well, they didn’t win total pay equity in the 60s & 70s, so I guess I’ll just give up and let him pay for my vacation. I mean, what social justice movement ever won EVERY demand it was fighting for? None. In the words of a former co-worker of mine, “that’s why they call it the struggle, and not the picnic.”

Elizabeth from Half-Changed World had an interesting post last weekend about marriage & compromise, including the following:

I’ve written here before about Rhonda Mahoney’s book “Kidding Ourselves.” She applies the logic of game theory to compromise in marriage and argues that that the stronger an individual’s fallback position is, the better deal they can negotiate with their partner. So, if you can make a credible threat of leaving your partner — if you have the skills to support yourself, a decent hope of getting a new partner, a good chance of getting the custody arrangement you’d prefer — you’ll be better off even while married. Thus, many feminist women are suddenly unhappy with the division of labor in their relationships following the birth of a baby because they’ve been hit by a double whammy: the amount of total work that needs to be done has increased dramatically just when they’ve given up much of their credible threat of walking out.

It’s an interesting post to me, because I think that one of the things that people forget about the women’s movement is that there was a lot more on the table than pay equity & abortion rights. There were things like access to child care, and ending domestic violence & sexual harassment in the workplace, and affirmative action in college enrollment. We’ve won a lot of things that increase our ‘credible threat’ of leaving our husbands, because forty years ago, if your husband was beating on you or raping you every day, it was really hard to get anyone in power to make him stop doing it. It wasn’t even a crime in some places. And forty years ago if you wanted to leave your abusive husband and get a job to support yourself and your kids, you might not be able to find childcare for your kids while you were working. And forty years ago, if you wanted to go to college so that you could make enough money to support yourself and your kids, you might not be able to. Victories like that have mattered to a lot of women. The irony is that Dowd talks about a previous Times article (about women at Yale deciding to be stay-at-home moms) without even mentioning that the fact that those women are at Yale at all (especially in large numbers) is a victory that feminists won.

I’m frustrated that so many of these articles about the ‘death of feminism’ seem to focus so heavily on women of privilege, without mentioning the advantages that feminists have won for our working-class sisters. It’s not all about the ideals of beauty and the what men are looking for in a wife. It’s about the fact that generally, the idea that women are the property of the men in their lives is no longer widely accepted.

Dowd closes her essay wondering if, 25 years from now, we’ll be back where we were in the fifties, with a whole generation of women who gave up on the fights of feminism wishing for a new Betty Friedan to come along. As a parent, I surely hope not. I want my daughter to have that ‘credible threat,’ and I want my son to have to deal with it.


October 30, 2005. politically motivated.


  1. Sandra replied:

    I found the entire article trivial and irritating. Hard to believe she wrote a whole book like this. She’s using movies, celebrities, and women’s magazines, as well as personal anecdotes, to try to cobble together an argument that feminism has failed or is faltering?

    I agree, she is writing only about a privileged few: women who have prestigious educations and careers and care about shoes and handbags. I can’t relate at all. I think it’s articles like this that trivialize women’s issues and misrepresent feminism.

    It’s embarrassing to read someone like Maureen Dowd complain that men won’t marry women with high IQs. Boo hoo. Nobody will marry Maureen because they married all us dummies with lower IQs, and now we’re all wrecking her feminist dreams by raising our kids rather than staying in our cubicles, where she thinks we belong.

  2. Metrodad replied:

    I agree with Sanda. I found Dowd’s essay to be annoying, irritatingl and off-point. She seemed to personalize the entire feminist movement solely through her own experiences. Her anectdotal evidence only seemed to trivialize the whole discussion. In fact, I fond the entire article completely disconnected from the lives of the men and women I know.

    I should have prefaced this with saying that I’ve never been a big fan of Dowd. But I find that essays like this not only miss the point about feminism but also cloud the important issues of the day.

    Thanks for writing about this.

  3. Library Lady replied:

    I haven’t had a chance to read the Dowd essay yet–will try to in my copious free time 🙂

    But thank you,Landismom, for pointing out that the focus on feminism and the feminist movement does seem to be concentrated on upper class women. There was a recent Times article about women going to Ivy League schools, preparing for fast track careers, but planning on dumping it all the minute they married and became parents. Nice deal if you can get it….

    But then there are a lot of us who have the choice between not having kids and being working mothers. And though the feminist movement helped bring SOME changes, it’s still nowhere enough to create what we need–a society that is supportive of ALL women– working mothers, SAHMs and those without children, both in its laws and in its attitudes.

  4. christie replied:


    I think that sums it up 🙂

  5. SandraN replied:

    Hello, I found this page thru Salon, great page you have here. I’ve been looking for reaction to Dowd’s column. So nice to see some of the comments here, as well as landislom’s equally fine response to the article.

    There are a lot of essays like Dowd’s throughout the mainstream press, both in the US and in the British press (which I read regularly online). They’re inevitably all about a certain class/race of women and (to repeat what one commenter her already said) they make incredibly simplistic generalizations about men and women with little to no supporting evidence. Just a couple of years ago I was reading articles about how hard it was for women in support positions in the workplace to get upscale men because upscale men wanted high-achieving women for their partners. What happened to all that?

    Every other week it seems like I see some press coverage about some new survey done that proves some backward-thinking position about the sexes. These surveys always seem limited to white upper middle class western women. I noticed too that Dowd confined herself to young women (I’m 45 and was part of the third wave of feminism in the 80s). Nothing against young women but if they’re all just from a certain educated cultural class, then how representative are they when it comes to analyzing these issues?

    These discussions always talk about “men” and “women” as if the whole world lives in the same social/cultural milieu as white upscale people of rich western countries. I’m from a working class immigrant family and these discussions always seem irrelevant to the lives of the women in the town and people I knew. I also deeply resent the constant misrepresentation of the feminist movement (I find this is also done by many young women, feminist or not) as if it was all about just burning bras, paying for meals, having abortions and not shaving one’s underarms. I never read any intelligent representation of the feminist movement in any of these article, including liberal outlets like Salon.

  6. ester replied:

    There’s also the blanket problem with Dowd’s article, and the countless others like it: it deals in gender monoliths. Men think this (sex!), women want that (conversation!). I instinctively recoil from those kind of generalizations because their breadth renders them toothless. Not to mention impossible to disprove and SUPER irritating.

    The first NYT article about the girls at Yale fell into a worse trap: “some” girls scorn and pity those of us raised by working mothers. “Some” girls would rather raise children than be selfish careerists. Ugh. Gag me with “some” arsenic.

  7. Cynical Mom replied:

    Hear hear. To take one small point a little further, I was just lamenting to my husband today that one of the problems with “feminist mothering” is that as mothers, we have a reduced amount of time, and we have to choose to spend that time being political and outspoken if we so wish. Otherwise we risk just grumbling in private and having nothing change for another 20 years. I was born in the 70s so I don’t know what it was like back then, but through what I’ve read it seems like there was a more outward “movement” and galvanizing personalities that helped push reform and women’s rights.

  8. Comfort Addict replied:

    As a man who entered college in the seventies, I think that the feminist movement liberated men, too. Along with encouraging equality, it strove to strip away some of the artifice of gender roles and get people of both sexes thinking about how to treat each other better. Of course, it helped to have had a proto-feminist mom.

    Every time I see a woman who is exceedingly thin, wearing high heels or “playing girly,” I wince. I’m not saying that men and women should try to be the same in every sense. I do think, however, that the hope that I once had (that both sexes could try to get past the stereotypes and forge a common humanity) seems dimmer and dimmer.

  9. Caryn replied:

    I’m so jealous you got to read it. I get the headlines online, but I had to pay to read that one, and the subscription is pretty expensive. It sounds interesting, though.

    By the way, great blog template, and I enjoyed looking at your blog overall.

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