Feminism And Gender Equality In The 1990s Essay

This essay has a total of 2330 words and 11 pages.

Feminism And Gender Equality In The 1990s

Overall, the rights and status of women have improved considerably in the last century;
however, gender equality has recently been threatened within the last decade. Blatantly
sexist laws and practices are slowly being eliminated while social perceptions of "women's
roles" continue to stagnate and even degrade back to traditional ideals. It is these
social perceptions that challenge the evolution of women as equal on all levels. In this
study, I will argue that subtle and blatant sexism continues to exist throughout
educational, economic, professional and legal arenas.


Women who carefully follow their expected roles may never recognize sexism as an
oppressive force in their life. I find many parallels between women's experiences in the
nineties with Betty Friedan's, in her essay: The Way We Were - 1949. She dealt with a
society that expected women to fulfill certain roles. Those roles completely disregarded
the needs of educated and motivated business women and scientific women. Actually, the
subtle message that society gave was that the educated woman was actually selfish and
evil.


I remember in particular the searing effect on me, who once intended to be a psychologist,
of a story in McCall's in December 1949 called "A Weekend with Daddy." A little girl who
lives a lonely life with her mother, divorced, an intellectual know-it-all psychologist,
goes to the country to spend a weekend with her father and his new wife, who is wholesome,
happy, and a good cook and gardener. And there is love and laughter and growing flowers
and hot clams and a gourmet cheese omelet and square dancing, and she doesn't want to go
home. But, pitying her poor mother typing away all by herself in the lonesome apartment,
she keeps her guilty secret that from now on she will be living for the moments when she
can escape to that dream home in the country where they know "what life is all about."
(See Endnote #1)


I have often consulted my grandparents about their experiences, and I find their
historical perspective enlightening. My grandmother was pregnant with her third child in
1949. Her work experience included: interior design and modeling women's clothes for the
Sears catalog. I asked her to read the Friedan essay and let me know if she felt as moved
as I was, and to share with me her experiences of sexism. Her immediate reaction was to
point out that "Betty Friedan was a college educated woman and she had certain goals that
never interested me." My grandmother, though growing up during a time when women had few
social rights, said she didn't experience oppressive sexism in her life. However, when she
describes her life accomplishments, I feel she has spent most of her life fulfilling the
expected roles of women instead of pursuing goals that were mostly reserved for men.
Unknowingly, her life was controlled by traditional, sexist values prevalent in her time
and still prevalent in the nineties.


Twenty-four years after the above article from McCall's magazine was written, the Supreme
Court decided whether women should have a right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade (410 U.S.
113 (1973)). I believe the decision was made in favor of women's rights mostly because the
court made a progressive decision to consider the woman as a human who may be motivated by
other things in life than just being a mother. Justice Blackmun delivered the following
opinion:


Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and
future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by
child care. There is also a distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted
child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable,
psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the
additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved. (See
Endnote #2)


I feel the court decision of Roe v. Wade would not have been made in 1949. Even in 1973,
it was a progressive decision. The problem of abortion has existed for the entire history
of this country (and beyond), but had never been addressed because discussing these issues
was not socially acceptable. A culture of not discussing issues that have a profound
impact on women is a culture that encourages women to be powerless.


The right of abortion became a major issue. Before 1970, about a million abortions were
done every year, of which only about ten thousand were legal. Perhaps a third of the women
having illegal abortions - mostly poor people - had to be hospitalized for complications.
How many thousands died as a result of these illegal abortions no one really knows. But
the illegalization of abortion clearly worked against the poor, for the rich could manage
either to have their baby or to have their abortion under safe conditions. (See Endnote
#3)


A critic of the women's movement would quickly remind us that women have a right to
decline marriage and sex, and pursue their individual interests. However, I would argue
that the social pressure women must endure if they do not conform to their expected role
is unfair. The problem goes beyond social conformity and crosses into government
intervention (or lack thereof). The 1980's saw the pendulum swing against the women's
movement. Violent acts against women who sought abortions became common and the government
was unsympathetic to the victims. There are parallels between the Southern Black's civil
rights movement and the women's movement: Blacks have long been accustomed to the white
government being unsympathetic to violent acts against them. During the civil rights
movement, legal action seemed only to come when a white civil rights activist was killed.
Women are facing similar disregard presently, and their movement is truly one for civil
rights.


A national campaign by the National Organization of Women began on 2 March 1984, demanding
that the US Justice Department investigate anti-abortion terrorism. On 1 August federal
authorities finally agreed to begin to monitor the violence. However, Federal Bureau of
Investigation director, William Webster, declared that he saw no evidence of "terrorism."
Only on 3 January 1985, in a pro-forma statement, did the President criticize the series
of bombings as "violent anarchist acts" but he still refused to term them "terrorism."
Reagan deferred to Moral Majoritarian Jerry Falwell's subsequent campaign to have fifteen
million Americans wear "armbands" on 22 January 1985, "one for every legal abortion" since
1973. Falwell's anti-abortion outburst epitomized Reaganism's orientation: "We can no
longer passively and quietly wait for the Supreme Court to change their mind or for
Congress to pass a law." Extremism on the right was no vice, moderation no virtue. Or, as
Hitler explained in Mein Kamph, "The very first essential for success is a perpetually
constant and regular employment of violence." (See Endnote #4)


This mentality continued on through 1989 during the Webster v. Reproductive Health
Services (109 S. Ct. 3040 (1989)) case. "The Reagan Administration had urged the Supreme
Court to use this case as the basis for overturning Roe v. Wade." (See Endnote #5)
Continues for 6 more pages >>