Friday, October 12, 2012

Where have all the feminists gone?

In the good old days of pretty party dresses!
I wouldn't call myself a trend setter. Far from it. It was at a birthday party aged about ten when this fact was made startlingly clear to me. I arrived at the party attired in what was an appropriate "party outfit" the last time I checked - a cute yellow dress with frills. But to my horror I encountered a room full of girls wearing jeans! It was as if I had missed the memo advising us that the trend had changed. We had reached the next stage of life and it wasn't pretty dresses any more, it was jeans.

I've noticed a similar change of trend recently with regards to feminism. Back in high school I think we had starry eyed notions of being super-women when we grew up. Surely we could have fulfilling careers, find Mr Right AND raise well-adjusted children - it was the 1990's after all. So much had changed since our mothers' and grandmothers' generations. Girls were doing better in high school than boys, there were women in parliament, and running their own businesses. And it was the era of sensitive new aged guys (SNAGs). The future looked bright.

During our twenties most of my friends focused on their careers and did very well. Many of the girls from my high school were already high flying doctors, lawyers, academics, journalists and politicians by the time the ten year reunion came around. But in the second decade since high school things have changed somewhat. We've entered the next phase, and I have watched as my peers take their husbands' surnames, trade in their careers for more time with little ones, and - let's face it - do most of the housework. The doctors are choosing family friendly specialties, the lawyers with children get overlooked for promotion, the academics are working crazy hours, and some have left their chosen career altogether to focus on family, starting on the bottom rung of the ladder in a new profession a few years later. Others don't have children at all, which is another form of compromise whether by choice or circumstance. All the women in my age group seem to be compromising one way or another.

So, where am I in all this? I now have a really fulfilling job that I would describe as a vocation as well as paid employment. I resent the sense of judgement I sometimes feel towards me that I must be selfish because I don't have children. I still get angry about men who don't do their share of housework and the way Australians pick on their female Prime Minister in ways they would never do if she was a man. Basically, I'm still a feminist, but I've turned up at the party and guess what? I'm told it's not about being an angry feminist anymore, it's more about "compromise" and "being realistic".

So, it appears that I'm still wearing jeans, having missed the memo telling me it's back to dresses! So, what am I to do? I don't want to be critical of the women in my life who have made difficult choices and compromises or of the many men who have gone out on a limb to challenge the old ways and carve out new models of parenting and role sharing. I just hope that the young men and women they raise have an appreciation for what their mothers, fathers and grandmothers have achieved in the name of feminism, a recognition that we are by no means "there" yet, and a determination to continue the work for greater equity when they grow up and are faced with the same challenges and tough choices.

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