>I am coming out of the closet…"I AM A FEMINIST"

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August 10 2006
New Jersey
I think its time I finally came out of the closet….” I am a feminist “
I started writing, about six months ago, about my contemplations, ideas, feelings in regards to the world I inhabit and as a result, have been much more outspoken and confidant about my observations.  Since then, those closest to me have raised suspicions as to whether I was a feminist or not.  I usually smiled and did not deem to reply.  
How does one reply to such a statement, when phrased as an accusation, after all?
But, after recently running across a piece, in a popular fashion magazine on feminist Linda Hirshman’s article “Homeward Bound” my curiosity was peaked?  While reading the article, I found myself intrigued, mildly amused at some points and severely offended at others.  
What is it about this particular ideology that can get us so irritated?
And why now, after all these years we’re still discussing the same old things?
Here was an obviously intelligent and respected woman (a retired professor and lawyer who argued cases in the Supreme Court) who was saying that women should resist the traditional female responsibilities of child-rearing and house holding, that these were not solely the women’s natural and moral responsibility.  
She had some very useful and interesting advice for today’s women.  
Ms. Hirshman very wisely suggested that women should prepare themselves for financially secure jobs, for example not to choose liberal arts as a major in college since it doesn’t really prepare one for a financially rewarding career.  
She argued that women should marry down; in her opinion a starving artist will be much better husband material than a male who is your counterpart, trying just as hard to climb the same steps for success.  
She also insisted that if they must, women should not have more than one child, stating that with most women the second child is the final clincher to keep them home forever.  
These were interesting points but I could not figure out for the life of me why I had to choose finance as a major instead of art history when I had no inclinations what so ever in regards to the former.  I was happy with my husband with the big career and my two children who were the reason for my trivial existence.  None of this meant that I was happy to be staying at home though.
It would be grossly unfair to my own intelligence to put down Ms. Hirshman’s ideas as erroneous because all of the points she made were very valid and in fact the truth but they were not my ideals.  So I had to agree to disagree and move on to see what other theories were out there on this subject.
I went to the source after this – “the Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan.  For those of you who are not familiar with it – it’s ok, I was not either, until very recently – her book is said to be the impetus for the ‘second wave of feminism’ and that ” 
She changed the course of history almost single-handedly” (this, a quote from her ex-husband, is a big admission, indeed.)  I had run across her name in the past, quite frequently (must be reading the wrong kind of materials) but had not had the opportunity to read her work as of yet.
As I read her opening chapter I was mesmerized by all that she had written.  I felt that in some parts she wrote about me before I was even born.   All of the symptoms she detected in the women of America back in 1963, I felt I had today.  She researched and found a problem that had no name in most women back then.  They were told they had the perfect life because of their comfortable homes and shiny new cars and modern appliances that they could use in the care of their families.   These women were considered socially equal to their husbands, they could make some decisions, they just couldn’t have a life outside of the home because it was assumed they couldn’t possibly want one.   They were expected to be happy because they got to live the life women all over the world could only dream about.
The part I found particularly interesting was about the assumption of the mystique of feminine fulfillment.  She talked about the pretty pictures of the American suburban housewife who kissed her husband goodbye as he went off to work, chauffeured around a station-wagon full of kids and who smiled as she vacuumed with makeup on.   This all sounded oddly familiar except for the part about the makeup.
Of course there was an underlying feeling of resentment in all that she said because as I understand it the idea was that this was all a woman could and should possibly want for herself in life.   Words like emancipation or careers were not the issue here but rather the ignorance of the desperation women felt about being ‘the suburban housewife’ was.  So in her own way Betty Friedan freed the American woman from her house and appliances and brought her into the real world.
So far there is nothing wrong with that; but this was almost 40 years ago and women have been in the real world working along with men since then.   The glass ceiling has been shattered, although Linda Hirshman argues that the real glass ceiling today, is in the home.  
I got the impression that these two highly intelligent ladies did not seem to have too much respect for housework or mothering for that matter.  If one was to just read what they said and take it to heart, it could be devastating for the stay at home moms of today.   We all know and accept that housework as Friedan said ‘is not work that takes enough thought or energy to challenge any woman’s full capacity.’ BUT there is sooo much work to be done at home if you want to be particular about it; they suggest and I can’t help but agree that we should not be so particular.  
There was another thing that caught my attention about the feminine mystique that I couldn’t help but contemplate in today’s terms.   The period Friedan talks about in the 50’s and the beginning of the 60’s was about ultra soft femininity.  When you look at the clothes and the hair and makeup, it all screamed out ‘woman.’    There seems to be a return to that today, just take a look at any fashion magazine and you will come face to face with women in crinoline even a bustle? who are hanging out with their children.  I remember my Vogue’s from the 80’s were full of women in power suits with serious briefcases. 
According to Maureen Dowd of the New York Times women have gone back to trying to be sex kittens in order to catch and hold a man.   In her article ‘What’s a Modern Girl to do?’ she talks about the daily concerns of the single working woman and it doesn’t sound like they’re too happy with their lot either.  It seems these women whose breed did not even exist, let alone be a very prominent part of society back in the 50’s have benefited from the woman’s movement, have pursued successful careers and now find it hard to get married and start a family, theory being that while the powerful male is revered by women, the powerful female is an object of scorn for men. 
Ms. Dowd also talks about men’s preference for “young women whose job it is to care for them and nurture them in some way’ instead of the educated, successful women who might be their counterpart.   
“So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel hoax? Do women get less desirable as they get more successful?” asks Dowd.  She says that more and more women out of Ivy League colleges are looking to get married, stay at home and raise their children.   She almost makes it sound like an offensive job to the point that I might even find myself defending the position.     
There seems to be some kind of a pattern here albeit a zigzag but a pattern none the less.   Both Hirshman and Dowd mention their concern over the best educated, most affluent women trained to be the leaders of this country who are opting for staying at home. 
The loss of this potential work power seems to be affecting even Wall Street.   There was an article this Sunday in the New York Times about women going back to banking after leaving to take care of their families and what the companies are willing to do in order to attract them.   It was stated that twenty years ago, the gender debate was about breaking the so-called glass ceiling that kept women out of executive suites, and equal pay for equal work. Today, however, it seems to be about reshaping Wall Street itself in order to keep women involved, including compensations for managers who achieve the diversified goals and reach out to female employees with families.”  
In a world where even Wall Street is trying to attract female workers, I don’t think anyone can honestly say that there is any kind of taboos left in regards to gender.    I think everyone with a mind knows that women are definitely equal and sometimes superior to men in a variety of fields.  The issues of today should not be about the enslavement of women in the home but how we have the fortitude to overcome such trivialities.   We live in a world without boundaries, without walls; thanks to the internet, cellular technology we can be connected to the rest of the world whenever and wherever we choose.  In a world where everything is becoming more homogeneous, I don’t think we should give up our femininity or maternal instincts in order to become more like men.   Having said all that, we should accept some are more feminine or maternal than others, and this constitutes for all the different flavors in our lives. 
I am stating it one more time.  I am a feminist because I believe in the equality of women in mind, stamina and soul.   I have faith that we will overcome this obstacle as well.
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