The Thirty Year Free Lunch
By John Page
A retrospective history of feminism's second wave
Feminism: An Unchallenged Social Revolution
1996 Bellevue, Wash. - In the early 1960's, a domestic revolution began which would become known as Feminism. Today, that revolution is an integral part of the cultural scene in the United States and so much integrated into our daily lives that
it is impossible to escape it for more than a few hours unless you are a hermit. Even then, it is headed for your cave. Beware!
As any anthropologist, sociologist, or historian can tell you, no true social
revolution will take place unchallenged for long, and the same is true for feminism.
What is most interesting in the case of feminism is that it has gone unchallenged
for a considerably longer period than any other equivalent, non-gender, revolution.
That lack of criticism, in itself, speaks volumes about real power relationships
between the sexes in our society.
Yet within the past couple of years, an emerging challenge has been forming and,
while disorganized, it is becoming increasingly vocal. Author Susan Faludi sensed
it and wrote the best seller Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women in response. According to Faludi,
Feminism is finishing its "Second Wave," the first wave being that which occurred
at the beginning of the century and before the Second World War. The Second
Wave, she states, was a quest for equality and access to social, political, and
economic power. The backlash she refers to in her title is supposedly the response
from the power elite (men) who don't wish to share.
But is it really? Or is Faludi's explanation just a tad too conspiratorially glib?
Might there be something else going on? Let's look.
Birth Control Key to Women's Power?
Any future historians of the twentieth century, with their facts arrayed before them,
would have to note that the emergence of "Second Wave" feminism correlates
more closely to the advent of wide spread birth control than to any other social or
economic fact of that time. And they would certainly note the "First Wave"
prophecy of Margaret Sanger about the relationship between birth control and
female freedom. They might also be forced to note the following in determining
the "meaning" of late twentieth century feminism:
Our future historians would also have to look at the contributions the women's
movement made to society after the acquisition of that reproductive freedom. It
would be a short list.
- That with the widespread availability of female controlled contraception, sex
and reproduction were no longer coupled, so to speak.
- That the ages old social mechanisms which had always required women to be
calculating and discrete about sexual behavior could now be suborned.
- That those mechanisms had always previously required a sense of social
responsibility in women which was now gone.
- That while women no longer had mechanisms in place which required social
responsibility on their part, men still did; nothing had changed for them.
Feminism's Lack of Utility
Despite the emergence of a large and vocal women's movement, social upheaval on
a scale not seen since the industrial revolution, and the insinuation of women's
issues into every aspect of daily life, there was, after thirty years, little of positive
value to show for it. Our historians would be somewhat puzzled that no one
seemed willing to point this out for decades. The most notable contributions
appearing to correlate with the women's movement would seem to have been
socially deleterious: the dismemberment of the family, the destruction of children,
and the devaluing of men, all accompanied by a steady stream of bitching that
required that everyone shape up except them.
Our historians would note that within the women's movement there had been no
"vision thing": no aspect of the movement concerned itself with contributions to
society, only with acquisitions. These feminists said they wanted their "rights," but
they never gave a thought about what they would do with them. And while they
kept acquiring more "rights," men, children, and society at large, were getting
nothing; not gaining, not staying even. If they were economic historians, they
might be inclined to make an analogy that they were studying the ultimate in a
consumer society with female "rights" classified as just another commodity: a
socio-sexual shopping trip; a forerunner of Reaganomics.
Laws of History
The result was that after thirty years of accomplishing almost nothing of socially
constructive value, the women's movement held that fact up as proof positive that
they were "still" being discriminated against.
And what would tell them that all this was an offshoot of female reproductive
freedom? Simply the injection by the women's movement of sexual themes and
undercurrents into every aspect of modern life which trivialized every issue from
presidential politics to education. If sex wasn't involved it didn't count. Sex
became their idee fixe.
Our historians would, the facts being as they are, predict the emergence of a
backlash against a self-indulgent, socially vacuous, and nihilistic women's
movement, and, seeing that it had finally happened, sit back with smug comfort for
having confirmed once again that there really are laws of history.