The Women’s Movement—What Has Happened to It?
THE drive for women’s liberation has not been without its costs, particularly to the family unit. Women who heeded the call to escape the “slavery” of the family unit have contributed to a soaring divorce rate, which in some lands is as high as 50 percent of all new marriages. Adding to the strain is the increasing number of mothers who are joining the full-time work force, only to find themselves struggling under the load of two jobs—one at work and one at home.
A U.S. study found that while in 1960 one quarter of the wives with children were in the labor force, by 1986 the figure was more than half. “But while most mothers hold jobs, adjustments at home have not been made,” one report noted. “They continue to do the majority of housework and day-care facilities for their children are often inadequate or prohibitively costly.”
Feminists say that to be truly free a woman must have complete control over her own body, including the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies. This desire for ‘reproductive equality’ with men has contributed to the growing number of abortions—an estimated 55 million worldwide each year.
Even the Bible has not escaped the feminists’ wrath. “Trust in God. She will provide,” say the feminists, deriding the Bible as sexist in its depiction of a “male” God. “Some [feminists] . . . accuse the Bible of still being the most powerful weapon to keep women in ‘their place’ and would question whether anything so used can be the word of God,” reported The United Church Observer of Canada. Some churches have bowed to pressure from feminist members to adopt “inclusive” language in their worship, replacing male terms for God with names such as Sustainer and Nurturer.
At the same time, the women’s movement itself has entered what feminist founding mother Betty Friedan has called “a profound paralysis.” Feminist forces are divided on a number of fronts—the fight for equal rights under law, equal pay, more liberal abortion laws, Lesbian rights, mandatory maternity leave, and better day care, as well as a battle against pornography.
Feminism is going through an identity crisis, Newsweek magazine reports. “The rigors of building careers, cultivating intimate relationships and caring for children have proved more difficult than anyone could have anticipated in the first heady days of feminism.”
In Woman on a Seesaw, author Hilary Cosell records the lament of one exasperated career woman who had tried to fill a ‘Superwoman role’: “I’m spread so thin right now, I don’t think there’s anything left of me to devote to anything else. I’m an overworked professional, an overtired mother, a fair-weather friend, and a part-time wife. Superwoman, huh? Stuporwoman is more like it.”
Women who have sacrificed opportunities for marriage and having children in order to pursue a career are often tormented by regrets. A 38-year-old management consultant told Canada’s Chatelaine magazine: “There’s a whole generation of women like me who will go to their graves single . . . In spite of our success we lead very empty lives.” Newsweek reported the anxiety of a 39-year-old shoe-firm vice president: “My job is exciting and gratifying but I’m haunted by the fear that I’m missing out on the most meaningful part of life by not having children. Sometimes I imagine that if I died now my tombstone would read: ‘Here lies . . . She read a lot of magazines.’”
Even leading feminists appear to be having second thoughts about the sexual morality of liberation. Australian writer Germaine Greer, in her 1970 book The Female Eunuch, described marriage as “free labour exacted of right by an employer possessed of a contract for life, made out in his favour.” A woman’s desire to improve her condition “might have to be buttressed by actual ‘promiscuity’ to begin with,” she suggested. While Greer was seen by many as the leading advocate of the sexual revolution, in a 1984 book she astounded feminists by endorsing chastity and condemning permissiveness.
The feminist movement has left women worse off in some ways, claims U.S. author Sylvia Ann Hewlett. By stressing independence and equality rather than striving for reforms to help working mothers, the women’s movement has done little to improve the economic positions of most women, she argues. “The vaunted independence of the liberated and divorced often turned out to mean loneliness and penury [extreme poverty].”
One U.S. study found that in states that passed no-fault divorce laws, originally supported by feminists, divorced women and their children suffered an immediate 73-percent drop in their standard of living, while their former husbands enjoyed a 42-percent rise. Hardly an improvement for women!
In fact, the earnings of a woman in the United States still are only about 64 percent of those of a man—almost the same rate as 50 years ago. In European countries where feminists have focused on attaining better maternity leave and child-care systems, women’s earnings rose from 71 percent of men’s wages in 1970 to 81 percent ten years later.
Feminists now find themselves deeply split over one question: What really is equality? Betty Friedan points out that women are not male clones. She states: “The time has come to acknowledge that women are different from men. There has to be a concept of equality that takes into account that women are the ones who have the babies.” Other feminists argue that if women accept laws that give them special treatment not available to men—such as mandatory maternity leave—they are now admitting they are not equal to men, and that can open the way for discrimination.
“The dilemma of contemporary feminism,” according to one scholar, is whether the differences in outlook and desires between the sexes are inherent or are the product of social conditioning. Many women are not aggressive or competitive enough for certain sales jobs, employers have stated. “Women are socialized to be passive,” argues Jody, feminist director of a social research agency. “Part of the role as nurturer is to define yourself in relation to others and not to ask for yourself,” she explained to Awake! Many feminists believe that only a change in the way women are conditioned by their upbringing will bring real equality of opportunity.
Others argue that women can best achieve equality by recognizing they are different from men. Betty Friedan has called for a ‘second stage’ of feminism. “New feminist thinking is required if . . . women are to continue advancing in man’s world, . . . and yet ‘not become like men,’” she says. Others scorn this softening of approach and talk of taking feminism ‘back into the streets,’ picketing and marching for more liberal abortion laws and other reforms.
Will It Last?
Meanwhile, feminists wonder who will carry the banners of the future. “Young girls feel more threatened by it [feminism] than drawn to it,” reported The Toronto Star. Some younger women fear the independence that greater equality has brought. “A lot of women today are saying they’ve had enough,” says French feminist Benoite Groult. “They want to be taken care of again; they want to be protected by men.”
In some countries feminists have run into stiff opposition from other women’s groups determined to counter what they see as an attack on the family and other “traditional” values. One such group in Canada, REAL Women (Realistic, Equal, Active for Life), described itself as “organized and ready for battle.”
Elsewhere the women’s movement appears to be just fading away. In West Germany, writer Peter H. Merkl says women have abandoned feminism to a large degree. “Officially sanctioned motherhood is back in style. Women workers and employees are fleeing back into family ties . . . , while radical feminists have withdrawn into an isolated subculture.”
New scientific findings on the nature of the human brain may affect future thinking about the role of the sexes. Neurologist Richard Restak states: “Evidence indicates that many behavioural differences between men and women are based on differences in brain functioning that are biologically inherent and unlikely to be modified by cultural factors alone.” No, women are not male clones but are made for obviously different purposes and with different desires and needs in life.
But should these findings come as a surprise? Science has discovered a truth stated long ago in the Bible’s account of the creation of the first woman, Eve. Genesis 2:18 records the Creator’s purpose: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.” So men and women would each possess qualities that would complement each other. They were not made to be rivals of each other. Each would be more suited to a particular, complementary role.
And the “discovery” that women are not clones of men—that women are indeed ‘different from men,’ that women ‘bear the children’—is that really new? Again, the Bible made clear from the outset that God created them different, “male and female he created them,” and that the woman was specially designed to bear offspring.—Genesis 1:27, 28; 2:21-23.
But different does not mean inferior. There is no justification for treating womankind in a demeaning way. She is “from man,” and so in the Christian congregation, the husband loves his wife “as he does himself.” In that atmosphere she finds respect, love, and a sense of security.—Ephesians 5:28-33; 1 Timothy 5:2, 3.
Men and women are different, but they are not competitors. One complements the other; one completes the other. In Jehovah’s marriage arrangement, the two become one. Millions of true Christian women today are finding the real liberation in filling their role described in the Bible.
[Pictures on page 7]
A working woman’s life is hectic and fragmented