One of the most liberating moments of my young life was when, at age 14, the school dress code finally loosened to the point where it ceased to exist (this was 1968.) I had always hated the compulsory skirts and knee socks that allowed the cold wind to freeze us girls as we walked to and from school. I definitely felt more comfortable in every way in my ratty, ripped jeans that I wore to school the minute I was able.
Feminism was blooming, although the death of the school dress code had more to do with the general chaos of the times. I was beyond excited to learn that there were girls and women who were looking at an alternative to what I saw as the uninspiring future destiny as a housewife or a member of the “female professions”—as in when my ex-Marine high school guidance counselor sent me crying from his office when he suggested that I attend secretarial school after the only course I nearly flunked was typing.
There was much to learn about the history of women’s rights, the fact that women couldn’t even vote not too long ago, the fact that women’s wages were often non-existent, or far too low, for the vital work they perform of raising the next generation, taking care of the elderly and infirm, and keeping the institutions of homes, schools, and healthcare humming along.
The main takeaway that I understood from the movement for women’s rights is that we pay large salaries to all the wrong people, and that dichotomy has gotten so much worse since the era of big tech has taken over. The message of feminism that I wish had been the dominant one is that we need to value the work of raising the next generation, of caring for those who need our help to live. In the era of climate destruction, I would add that those who are working to keep our planet sustainable and livable are also generally under-compensated—and often women.
I knew even as a teen that the idea that feminism is the vehicle for women to become CEOs, senators, president, or whatever other symbols of success this society rewards with prestige and monetary compensation was a danger, as co-opting the movement to promote strengthening of the current unequal and unfair social order was clearly the goal of some.
Fast forward to 2022. What we are seeing now is a crazy amalgam of attempts to put women’s rights back into the model of the distant past, and at the same time a movement of insane, far-right women who are mind-blowingly anti-feminist, but still are willing and able to talk a good game when it comes to their own rights to lie, cheat, and steal elections. Some of the anti-feminist proposals and statements that have been thrown against the wall like Donald Trump’s ketchup are:
- Men should burn all their wives’ pants—as wearing pants makes women transgender.
- A child bearing the fetus of a rapist should have the baby and it will make her a better person.
- Women should not be able to divorce, even in the case of being victims of violence.
- No access to birth control, no agency over the size of our families.
- Legal, safe abortion is a thing of the past.
In our current moment, I am sure there are those who are still thinking about the “breaking the glass ceiling” approach to women’s rights. So how many feminists actually would be delighted to have a president Nikki Haley, or how about the Trump acolytes Kari Lake, Marjorie Taylor Greene, or so many other monsters? Did Margaret Thatcher actually advance the rights of poor and working women (or any women who are not in the elite?)
Women are registering to vote at a record clip. For any of us working on issue organizing, whether it is climate, sane gun restrictions, immigrant justice, or voting rights, women are at the forefront. I recall being a young person in the anti-Vietnam war movement—all the leadership I ever encountered was male. Feminism has altered the internal thinking of so many of us—we would no more accept all-male leadership than we would accept a restriction that only white people are qualified to lead our organizations.
It is vital that we create a feminism that promotes humane and egalitarian values. Women’s health and futures are under attack from the political and the religious right. Career feminism that elevates the most talented, ambitious, and tech-savvy to positions of power while the vast majority of women continue to earn unequal wages to their male counterparts, work at the most underpaid jobs, and watch our rights erode daily has not created a better society. Some of the women who have been most successful are devoting their lives to making the U.S. a society where women are respected and have opportunities, such as the amazing progressive women in the House of Representatives.
I am not sure how these Republican, anti-feminist women look at their own power over others. Do people like Amy Coney Barrett, raised to be a “handmaid” to her husband in her People of Praise cult, then ignore all the teachings when they take on a job such as Supreme Court justice? Does her husband make all her decisions for her? Or does the far right justify a woman in this position because it ensures one more soldier in the ongoing war on women’s rights?