But will it keep changing?

I am reading Gail Collins’ book “When Everything Changed,” and it is freaking me out. Starting with the 1960′s, she tracks the experiences, legal situation, and struggle for equal rights of American women. I’m at the part about the 80′s, but I had to pause and write this.

It isn’t that I didn’t know about the stuff she’s describing. I had whole classes about this stuff in college. But it’s easy to forget.

It’s easy to forget and it’s difficult to imagine that so recently, women had to apply for separate jobs from men, where there was no question that they would be paid less than half as much, and where they would have to sue to be promoted. It’s easy to forget and difficult to imagine that so recently, women weren’t admitted to most colleges, and the women’s colleges they did go to promised that they would acquire an excellent education in being good wives, and gain access to appropriate young men to marry. And of course, the unchecked physical abuses that women suffered without legal intervention are a part of the story. And the specific experience of black women, who definitely didn’t have access to the suburban life that was quietly driving housewives of Betty Friedan’s generation insane.  I’m connected to it all. I mean, my mother was around then. She was a kid in the 60s, but she was there.

And now people are fond of imagining that everything is taken care of. That we don’t have too many issues with sexism anymore. Yeah, there aren’t many women in the most powerful jobs and roles this country has to offer, but they’ll be there soon. It’s really just a matter of time.

This book makes me wonder something that I kind of wonder somewhere in the back of my head anyway. I wonder if time is not enough. I wonder if change has slowed, because people imagine that it isn’t necessary. I have this sense that, in general, people are complacent.

(Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny for an article she was writing. That is a piece I wish I’d written. source)

Which is part of what I love about the book. Gail Collins points out that not many people were involved in anything related to women’s rights for a long time. Most of the women polled in the 60′s said they loved being housewives. They thought they already had equal rights. They voted for the same politicians their husbands voted for, even though those politicians were going to institute policies that would impede women’s ability to, well, just be people. This sounds more like people to me. They seem to think that whatever is going on at the time is mostly fine. It’s normal. It feels familiar. Unless they’re actively being hit over the head with a club every day, they can pretty much deal, and if they have enough money and food, they can feel like life must be perfect. Or at least as good as it gets.

The amazing thing about women’s liberation for me is that even comfortable, privileged people fought back against normalcy.

Some of them are still fighting, but I don’t really know who or where they are.

So now what? We wait? We don’t even really know that we’re waiting. But I’m waiting. I’m waiting for  a little bit more than fifty percent of all major CEOs to be women. And senators. I’m waiting for people to talk more about how weird professional sports are, and ask a lot of questions about why people only want to watch men play them, and why those men are paid such an obscene amount of money. I’m waiting for young women to start founding tech start ups, and starring in a lot more action movies, and being on TV shows even when they don’t all look like each other. It’s starting to happen. It’s started. Look at entering freshman collegiate classes. Always more girls than boys. Schools are panicking and admitting boys with much lower SAT scores and GPAs (this explains a lot about my undergrad experience). They’re talking about men’s oppression. More and more women are flooding the limp, dragging workforce. But it’s all too soon to tell.

And you know what? I’m sad that I’m not growing up in a world where we’re already there. I want some sort of guarantee that it’ll be substantially better for my daughters. And that it MUST be better for my granddaughters. But there isn’t one. And I don’t like waiting for everything to change again.

*  *  *

Un-roast: Today I love the way I look in the bathroom mirror, from the bedroom. That angle is pretty much always awesome.

New post at Un-schooled, about writing fantasy novels.


Kate on December 23rd 2010 in feminism, life

20 Responses to “But will it keep changing?”

  1. San D responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Things to think about. As long as women are the only ones that can be “handicapped” by physically having children, there will always be a lag in pay and ceo equity. (which is not fair to those of us who don’t have children, but that’s another point entirely). Why? Because two things happen that ultimately impact the corporate “bottom line”. a) Women have to give birth physically and take off from work to do so, b) Women opt to stay home more than men to be the primary child raisers (and yes, this includes homeschooling). By making these two choices the powers that be decide that “training, and developing” employees that will be taking off because of childbirth/rearing is not optimally dollar spending effective. In a span of as little as 8 weeks things can change on the job, and one can be surpasses by a colleague. Also until and unless men become equal in the childrearing responsibilities (unfortunately they can’t give birth), it is often the woman who will take off from work to accomodate children’s illnesses, vacations, sporting events, bake sales, etc. We are not “equal” on many levels because of the nature of our bodies, and hormones. As I have said in previous posts, when you give birth you are changed profoundly, and in ways that you can not imagine. You may choose not to return to work, or you may choose to telecommute, or you may choose to downsize your responsibilities, or in fact you may choose to get a nanny and continue up the corporate ladder. What HAS changed for women over the years is that within the context of the term “working mother” there are many more choices for women.

  2. Emily responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 12:34 pm #

    Hi Kate,

    Longtime reader, first time commenter. I’ve been reading Gail Collins lately too, and am struck my many of the same things.

    I think it’s interesting that you write this after your post about changing your name. I struggle with understanding how adopting your husband’s name is not participating in the traditions that Gail Collins is writing so much about. I don’t think it would occur to men to feel at-home in their wives names, they way you describe recognizing yourself in Bear’s, and I think that’s a problem. What might feel right for you is all well and good, but the name-taking tradition has always felt like one of the more insidious relics of earlier eras of coverture, because of forward-thinking, feminist women like you who believe it “feels right.”

    I don’t meant to attack your decision, as each couple is entitled to call themselves how they will. I’m just curious how you see the name-change in the context of Gail Collins’ writing.

    I do love your blog, though, I swear!

  3. Leslie responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    The line “maybe time is not enough” really resonated with me.
    I’ve often thought that outright hatred, racism, sexism etc – while much harder to endure – are “easier” to fight for because no one can deny that it’s happening. (well… At least not reasonable people. Which, of course are not the people you are likely protesting against. But you get the point, right?). I certainly don’t mean easier in the sense of what the oppressed are dealing with of course.

    But, once the big fight is over – for example equality “achieved” – now it goes to the realm of the more subtle. A place that is harder to fight for, especially for women, because the argument that we are “too sensitive” or that it’s “just in our minds” gets hurled at us. So, I guess it is a matter of time, but the remaining – let’s say – 20% of the fight – takes much longer than the first 80%. Actually, this argument could be made in just about any civil rights arena.

    This was my first time posting using a small device -hopefully the format looks okay once I work up the nerve to press “submit comment”!

  4. Kate responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    @San D
    Good points. But why not imagine that corporate culture needs to change as well? That the fundamental systems that exclude women by forcing them to choose between kids and a career might undergo rerouting? And why not imagine that men should become a lot more involved in childrearing? I think we don’t ask for nearly enough change. Often, we’re stuck asking for little improvements.

    Jobs continue to change as it is, with more and more entrepreneurs entering the playing field, now that traditional jobs are becoming scarcer. Maybe we need to keep pushing in that direction.

    And even if women choose to devote all of their time to raising kids for a while, kids grow up. And women should be able to become CEOs after that happens.

  5. Kate responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Ha! I like that you call me on this. Good luck avoiding all of the insidious little ways in which our culture is incredibly patriarchal, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be aware of them.

    Bear was actually willing to take my name, or to choose a new name together. But honestly, I didn’t want to have to deal with explaining it to everyone constantly. That’s probably lazy, but it wasn’t a battle I felt like fighting. I am guilty of the feeling I describe in this post— of feeling comfortable with a lot of social norms. They are comfortable because they are familiar. Which doesn’t prevent them from also being problematic.

  6. Kate responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Love this comment. So well said.
    And it looks fine. Good job! :)

  7. rachel responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 1:56 pm #

    I’d quibble with the statement that Black women in the sixties didn’t have access to suburbia, only to say that because they had to fight much harder for “normalcy” the nuclear family, which from an outsider perspective can seem like endorsing patriarchy is also about rejecting the limitations of racism. Michele Norris’ book The Grace of Silence provides examples of the burdens and trials her family went through to make it to suburbia. It also does a fabulous job reminding readers how recent our country’s racism was legal.

    I think one reason we are so likely to forget is that America prides itself on equality. When we talk about racism or sexism the emphasis always seems to be on how far we’ve come and stereotypes of extreme bigots. We don’t want to think that those feelings belonged to our parents. As a teacher I struggle to push my students to think about how race and gender affect lived experiences, but they want to think class is the only factor. Their responses are telling, “I can see how not having money effects things, but I don’t think race is a factor anymore…I mean “I” don’t see people that way.”

    To acknowledge that racism and sexism exist seems like saying each of us shares these bigotries. The truth is, we do. We’ve matured in a culture that circulates those values. That doesn’t mean we are racist or sexist, etc, but pretending those ideologies aren’t dominant perpetuates them. It’s sort of a denial of individuality to admit that we cannot escape culture, and you know it’s very un-American to reject individualism.

    I’m wondering, Kate, would you say now as you did months ago that you don’t want to call yourself a feminist?

  8. San D responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    Anyone who has a grown a business from a seed, will tell you that it is all time consuming 24/7, just as child rearing is. I do think you have a valid point that entrepreneurship (sp?) is the way to go in terms of achieving to the max both in terms of personal satisfaction, monetary gains, and titles. However not everyone is interested or equipped to take the necessary risks involved. When I talked to my students about working for “the man” vs. working for yourself, I reminded them of mundane things such as sick days, health insurance, child care, buying in bulk, advertising budgets, comraderie and support and, working in a void. We all, men or women, have to work at something in order to survive. We all, men or women should be able to do that which pleases and sustains us, no matter the title or compensation. I say that because as an artist, I am rewarded in many other ways than by the dollar alone. And so are teachers, social workers, nurses, etc, all professions that are not necessarily the best paid, but touch many hearts, souls and minds, and are traditionally dominated by women.

  9. Trisha responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    I believe one thing we women can do is make it our firm resolve to unite, not questioning weather one truly believes in or fights for feminie causes simply because she…oh I don’t know, takes her husbands last name. Small compromises are made and small victoires won everyday, at the very least we should respect eachother and the decisions we make, whatever reason we make them for.

  10. Kate responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    I think the point is more that the suburban experience that is emblematic of that period was not one that was available to black people. Different, hard-won suburban lifestyles were accessible, but the familiar story isn’t about those experiences.

    I’m still torn on the whole identifying as a feminist thing. In many ways, I clearly fit some very common definitions of a feminist. But I’d still rather have these conversations without calling myself anything and having to get into semantic debates about what feminism means and what type I represent and participate in.

  11. Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    I agree that time is not enough, and that complacency is rampant. I know this is a widely discussed issue, but among many of my friends and peers, theren both an implicit and explicit desire to return to a more domestically based existence. I myself crave the excitement, comraderie, and ambition associated with a career outside the home, but I certainly can understand the desire to return to the home for those women in my generation who have been pressured to have successful careers as the women before them were pressured to be effective homemakers. It of course comes down to choice and that’s where I feel that our complacency is failing us – women in my generation don’t on the whole seem especially interested in the idea of feminism or even equality. It saddens me.

  12. Just Josie responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 5:44 pm #

    I often wish I had grown up in an earlier era, like second-wave feminism. Or even the third wave. One of the biggest problems is that people seem to think we live in a post-sexism society. Denying the reality of sexism is so dangerous simply because it *does* allow you to trivialize and discount any account of sexism that one tells about. It’s like pretending we live in a post-race society. For some reason, people seem to think, “Oh, ya know, they can VOTE now, we don’t need feminism anymore”, which is ludicrous. It stems from privilege obviously — the assumption that since you’ve got your rights, everyone must have them. Complacency — what you said. And it’s dangerous. We live in a society in which young women are afraid to identify as feminists, because they “like boys”, or wearing makeup, or any number of (inherently, though not always contextually) patriarchal things. And that’s how feminists have lost. I believe we can still try to bring about social change, but it’s pretty much petered out. I’m waiting for the new uprising of radical, take-no-prisoners ideology. And the world needs it, now more than ever — we need women and the (actually) feminist men to spring up and say “Fuck it” to the status quo. We need it to be known that rape isn’t fucking funny, and that women aren’t irrational, and that “Bridalplasty” isn’t entertainment, it’s a misogynyfest, that we don’t have to fit their standards for beauty. There’s so much the world needs to know, but no one will listen, because “Feminists are gross”, and “Well, if you dress like that, you’re gonna get raped — we’re MEN”, or my personal favorite: “You just don’t understand, because you’re a GIRL”. Whoa, no, don’t tell me I don’t understand the institutionalization of misogyny when you’re a braindead pawn in its sick games and you don’t even know it.

    Gug, I totally lost my point in a rant, but I guess it just makes me sad that so many people are unwilling to identify as feminists either because it will “emasculate” them, or make them less “feminine”. (God, gender is such a fucked-up construct.) I’m very much an unapologetically radical feminist (which is decidedly odd for my age and the place/era in which I’m growing up), but I can “tone myself down” to reach out to people — although even then, I’m not heard because I’m “probably just bitter that I’m not pretty so I have to resort to feminism”. Stuff like that. I once had someone tell me I was just so mad about sexual assault because I wasn’t “hot enough to get raped”. Oh, it burns. :(

  13. Just Josie responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 5:45 pm #

    P.S. And I’ve always really admired that piece of Steinem’s. :)

  14. Valerie responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 6:48 pm #

    I must be alone. I feel that we’ve already got what we needed and wanted. I like the possibility that women CAN have and achieve what they want. It’s there for the taking and, while you may have to fight for it harder than you expected to, it’s still there…sitting and waiting.

    I’ve always been the type of “feminist” (I even hate using the word due its negative connotations) that believed a woman can do whatever she wants and as long as that’s what she wants…more power to her. If she wants to be a mom and housewife, cool. If she wants to claw her way up to a CEO position, cool.

    I don’t feel like women should HAVE to excel at business or ventures outside of the house simply because we, as women together, made leaps and bounds socially toward gaining that equality.

    That being said, I read an article awhile ago about man-children and how, since women have been so successful lately, men feel that they either can’t stack up or don’t have to stack up. I wish I knew where I read that article now so I could link you to it.

  15. Valerie responded on 23 Dec 2010 at 6:55 pm #


    I also don’t believe that a woman is any less of a feminist if she decides to take the last name of her husband.

    The women before us fought for women to have a choice.

    If a woman chooses to take her husband’s last name because she likes it, because she’s a traditionalist, because she knows who she is as a person and that is what she has chosen to do…good for her.

    In my opinion, people blasting a woman for making her own choice is just as bad. But instead of feeding into the patriarchy, they’re feeding into a matriarchy that can be just as oppressive whether you’re a man or a woman.

  16. Loraine Elyse DeBelser responded on 24 Dec 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    After having owned my own business, while raising two children, and then going on to an executive position in a national company, I can tell you that sexism is still rampant. I am now retired, though consulting, and when my husband and I meet new people, they will ALWAYS ask my husband what he did before he retired, and NEVER ask me what I did…..because, of course, I stayed home and raised kids, and did nothing else.
    Even now, when projects from my first business are mentioned, the credit goes entirely to my male partner, though I was the one who did the majority of the work, and kept the business afloat.
    I don’t expect it to change in my lifetime, but there is a continuum of change, and perhaps in your children’s lifetime…we can only push and hope.

  17. Amelia Jane responded on 25 Dec 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    I think it will keep changing.
    You say that ‘some of them fighting, but you don’t really know who or where they are’, well, I think there are a LOT of feminists on the internet trying to raise awareness and make change. back when you wrote that post about not identifying as feminist, I sent you a link to the Tiger Beatdown blog, well, sady doyle who runs that, just finished a week long + protest on Twitter at michael Moore to apologise to disregarding the rape allegations against Assange (the wikileaks guy) as ‘hooey’, and he went on Rachel Maddow’s show and they had a conversation wherein he said that every rape allegation should be taken seriously, so, people are protesting, things are happening..
    When I studied history, my teacher pointed out that someone actually living through those times wouldn’t necessarily notice the change. With the French Revolution, someone who was a girl when all the ’causes’ were going on, would have been middle-aged during the ‘course’ and 90-odd for the ‘consequences’. Change takes a certain amount of time, but your grand-daughter will, hopefully, look back at the time when silly men thought it was appropriate to sell beer with posters of sexy ladies, or certain political parties were trying to ban abortion & so.

    Also @Valerie, I don’t know where you live, but there are women all over the world who don’t have those choices, because they’re women. Women all over the world who are getting raped in wars, as a method of war. Most famers in the world are women and these women do not get paid appropriately for their labour. Maybe you and your neighbours have all these choices, but globally, there is a long way to go. And we in the developed world have the tools and resources to make change.
    For instance, conflict minerals in the Congo. You can write to companies which use these minerals and fund these wars. The Congo is one of the many places where rape is used as a weapon of war to subdue the population. Even an email or a letter adds up to making a difference.

    Things will keep changing so long as we keep trying to change them.

  18. Alii Silverwing responded on 27 Dec 2010 at 1:42 pm #

    @Kate and Valerie

    I just went and reread the ‘not being called a feminist’ blogpost and the followup. Interesting stuff, and I didn’t know whether or not to put my response here or there. >_>;

    I don’t agree with the sentiment that you might want to drop a label associated with an ideology because of connotations and baggage. I call myself a feminist now (when I didn’t in college) because not wanting to be associated with the ‘illogical and unreasonable feminists’ is no longer an excuse that holds water for me. It’s not a good enough excuse to keep me saying ‘I’m not a feminist, but’ which is a false disclaimer when I explicitly go on to make a feminist-style point. I’m a feminist regardless of the the fringe participants, no matter how embarrassed I am about having them associated with me, how many times I have to explain myself (or not, assumptions can be illuminating), or how warped the stereotypes applied by haters have gotten.

    I have the perspective that labels applied to me do not define me. They are, “This can describe me.” They are not, “This is my identity.”

    On the topic of this post, though, I think role models are really really important now more than ever. We’re in the sea-change part of it, your last 20%. If one woman confident in her skin, confident in business, and ok with handling the pressure on her to be the one who stays at home even though she has a perfectly acceptable househusband can make a difference in 10 lives, then that’s 10 more role models to carry on the change. If a person can work, be able to share responsibility in childraising (absent parents of every gender suck, imho, whether there are two or ten doing the parenting), and employers understand that time being a mother/father is _equally as valuable_ to an employer as sitting at a desk or pouring concrete, then I think we’ll have made a start on the progress we need to.

    Though, I think we have a lot of trouble with interchangeable-worker business culture, which assumes that the individual is just a part that can be swapped out. The argument that raising a child means that a woman is ‘falling behind’ a man only applies when her individual skills and personality are not valued, and when it is assumed that taking care of children is a business setback. That assumption only really works in a culture that assumes that it can steal and monopolize one or more parents from a family.

    It’s all interrelated. :/ We’re really hitting the ‘hard to move forward because the easy fixes done got fixed’ part.

  19. Dana Udall-Weiner responded on 27 Dec 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    Just got the book for Christmas. Thanks for the post on this, as I was ambivalent about opening it and diving in. Sometimes I end up feeling disappointed after reading about such topics, like life would be much easier if I weren’t a feminist and didn’t care so much about the state of the world…

  20. Kate responded on 27 Dec 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    Yeah, this is tough. I’m still not sure how much of one’s identity a label has to describe before it’s appropriate to use. I’m also not sure how much we need new terms, and when that transition point from old terms to new terms should occur. There’s a good chance that I’m over-analyzing. I do that a lot. Thanks for these thoughts, though. I appreciate your perspective.