Feminism is alive and healthy

Myriam Marquez

April 03, 1992|By Myriam Marquez

IS FEMINISM a lost cause, a dead issue, much ado about nothing?

Ask the political pundits, women's rights activists, social scientists, psychologists or your mother. Everyone has a different opinion about the validity of feminism, especially now that conservatism seems to be at critical mass.

Lately, I've heard a few conservatives argue that the women's movement is partly -- if not wholly -- to blame for the number of single-parent households in this country, for the loss of children into poverty, for the lack of male role models in the ghettoes.

Yet those are the very problems that haven't been touched by the women's movement at all. If there is one legitimate complaint about feminism, it's that it has been a middle-income phenomenon, embraced by educated women who could afford to make choices.

In the 1960s and '70s, they were the women who chose between going back to college and having a career or staying home for their families. They were the ones who told the boss that they were sick of training young men out of college who wound up with the big raises to do the same work that those unappreciated women had been doing for years.

Poor, uneducated women never had those choices to make. They don't have those choices today. They work out of necessity. And they have to take the work that's available. Their only other choice is welfare, which is not the builder-upper of self-esteem that the women's movement promised to deliver.

In short, feminism has done nothing good or bad for poor women. It has simply ignored them, and they have ignored it.

Their plight is very much attributable to the old mentality in which women put their lives into men's hands. It just so happens that the men those women picked are sorry specimens who grew up thinking that women can be used and tossed away, that children are merely medals for their manhood.

Blaming the disintegration of the American family on feminism is like saying that men are solely responsible for women getting pregnant. It's a shared responsibility.

What rattles me is the myth that when troubled families stayed together the children were better off.

Children who saw their parents fight all the time, who had a father or mother who was a drunk, who had a father who was always "working" (with his girlfriend at his side) or had Mom running errands a lot (to see the boyfriend) weren't blind or stupid. Those children carried a lot of baggage into their own relationships when they grew up.

For those children, their parents' divorce, as painful as it initially had to be, was a blessing in disguise. They no longer had to come home to the fights or to live the lies their parents had become so adept at.

If anything, what women want in 1992 isn't much different from what my mother's generation wanted in 1962: respect and fairness at home and at work.

Of course, my mother wouldn't hold up a picket sign or march down the street to demand fairness and respect. Most women today aren't so predisposed, either.

No matter.

The difference between today and 30 years ago is that women now know that they can meet most any challenge that comes their way. We've had a whole generation to show our worth as individuals -- no more, no less.

The term "feminism" is what seems to be out of fashion now. Some people believe that it pits women against men. Call it "humanism" or "egalitarianism," if that's more politically correct nowadays.

Whatever you call it, there's nothing pagan or dirty about feminism. It's simply about allowing women the same choices that men have had all along.

That people are debating whether feminism is dead or wounded shows just how alive it really is.

Myriam Marquez is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel.

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