FLIPPING THROUGH a recent issue of Rolling Stone, I came upon an advertisement for Es prit, a manufacturer of chic clothes for girls and women. A handsome face full of vitality and confidence fills the page, eyes clear and direct, mouth serious but pleasant. But what sex is this person? A short, blunt haircut combined with a cowboy-styled shirt buttoned over a white t-shirt create ambiguity, which the fine print at the bottom of the page does little to lessen. “Ariel O’Donnell, San Francisco, California, Age: 21, Waitress/Bartender, Non-professional AIDS Educator, Cyclist, Art Restoration Student, Anglophile, Neo-Feminist.” Wait a minute. Neo-Feminist? What is neo-feminism? Isn’t feminism chic enough for 21year-olds in chambry shirts? Or has it become pass? Is Madison Avenue telling us that women have now arrived? After all, clothing has always been a symbolic representation of societal attitudes towards sex roles, and here is Ariel decked out in masculine clothes. That we can wear comfortable denim and sneakers rather than corsets, tight skirts, or high heels must attest to our being equal. We can do whatever men do; we have the freedom to express ourselves in traditionally unfeminine terms. So who needs feminism? Being female is no longer synonymous with being helpless, vulnerable, sugar and spice. We can pursue positions of power that just 20 years ago were male provinces. Women are corporate executives, lawyers, bankers. Women dress for success; they carry briefcases and suffer increasing rates of heart attack; they often bring as much income to a household as their spouse if not more. And they are experiencing the stresses and frustrations of coordinating motherhood, or the desire for it, with their careers. In terms of individual self-fulfillment, feminism has led to tremendous increases in opportunity for women. But I’ll have none of this “neofeminism. ” The gains we have made are not an argument for discarding the Leila Levinson is a freelance writer living in Austin. movement and formulating new goals. For my part, I’ll take that good, oldtime feminism the brand that puts the creation of a just and peaceful society at the front and center. There is nothing outdated about the kind of feminism we find, for example, in the writings of Virginia Woolf. In Three Guineas, Woolf discusses the opportunities Victorian English society denied women education and careers. Woolf thought it important that women be able to pursue careers, the “procession of educated men,” because through them, women can seek to prevent war. That is the’ reason to be a professional, to risk entanglement in the male procession of which Woolf was highly skeptical. “Where is it leading us, this procession of educated men?” She concludes that it has traditionally led to war. Should women join it? There was no other way to acquire the power necessary to prevent war. This is the tightrope women must walk. This is the challenge. “How can we enter the professions and yet remain civilized human beings, human beings, that is, who wish to prevent war?” The prevention of war. Since ancient Greece, this goal has been a part of feminism. In Lysistrada, Aristophanes depicts women withholding their sexual favors from their partners to end war. Today women continue a three-year encampment at an American missile base in England to protest the arms race. Yet right now there is war in Central America, the Persian Gulf, Mozambique, South Africa, Afghanistan . . . and nuclear war remains the sword of Damocles. The success of career women has done nothing to lessen the chance of war; in a time of supposed unprecedented independence of women, our country has simultaneously experienced an unprecedented military buildup. Rather than create new concerns for feminism, we would do well to remember the original ones. And what about the women and children who are 77 percent of the American poor? The economic welfare of women has historically been a central focus of feminism. In 1898, Charlotte Perkins Gilman published Women and Economics in which she asserts that women’s subservience to men stems from their economic dependence. Only when women gain opportunity to earn an income will they achieve equality. Can we consider feminism obsolete when poverty has acquired a feminine face? Are affluent women successful feminists when economic opportunity is unavailable to women they called “sisters” 20 years ago? Success has always been open to wide interpretation. But as women have ventured out into the world, they seem to define it on a very personal level. What is my salary? Am I treated with respect? Do I get a secretary? We rarely ask, how does my work create opportunity for other women? Am I lessening paranoia in this firm? Am I helping these people to see that they can do business without undermining their competitor, without hostility and fraud? If we approach our jobs with a vision that extends beyond our immediate welfare, if we remember history and humility, it becomes evident that we have yet to make the real dent in the world that feminism asks of us. AFTER WOMEN GAINED the right to vote, many had high expectations that the world would change. It didn’t. Carl Degler’s At Odds considers why women’s votes failed to alter the political landscape and suggests that the reason was the resolution of the tension that developed in late 19th century American feminism, a tension between seeing women as individuals or as a special class of citizen. The suffrage movement initially argued for the vote on the grounds that being committed to individual rights, the country owed women those rights, including the vote. Women were people, too, individuals as well as keepers of the hearth. Surprisingly, this argument stirred much opposition from women. They liked being considered a special class, society viewed women independently of their roles as mother and housekeeper, it would impose harsh conditions and expectations \(just as Schafly depicts the ERA as holding harsh consequences for treatment society granted in return for their being guardians of the home. So by 1890 suffragists switched their argument for the vote to “Let us vote so we can exercise our special angelic influence on the public world as well as on the private.” Degler concludes that their vote did not alter elections, because not seeing themselves as individuals with intersts different from their husbands, they almost always voted the same as their husbands. Gimme That Old-Time Feminism By Leila Levinson 8 SEPTEMBER 25, 1987
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