Sunday, 12 June 2011
When Everything Changed - How the American Woman Turned from a Brainless Doll into a Heroine
Discrimination. In the American sense the first word that comes to mind is Negro. In the Bulgarian sense - gypsy. However, there is one discrimination that despite nearly 40 years of constant struggle still forms a huge part of the society we live in. Someone said that the worst thing you could be is a 40-years-old white man in the US. You cannot file against any part of discrimination. I would disagree. Despite the feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s it is still very difficult and challenging to be a woman.
Gail Collins, the first woman to hold the position of editorial page editor of the New York times presents a thorough study of the change in the status of the American woman - from a home servant to a heroine. It took nearly five decades for women to overcome the discrimination in universities, jobs, salaries, and lifestyle. Collins tracks this amazing story by providing numerous examples of women who have been discontent with the status quo and have fought despite the public opinion for the right to be human beings equal to men. Now, in the 21st century, I still ask myself, has anything changed that much?
In the 1960s the average American woman went to university with the sole purpose of finding a husband. Marriage took place at a very early age, usually 21 or 22. Afterwards, women began having babies and stayed at home. Men were in charge of providing for the family and women were in charge of raising the children and taking care of their husband. They were not only restricted to most jobs; most of these housewives didn't want to work. They were educated in the idea that the place of a good woman is at home, waiting patiently for her spouse to arrive. Women didn't need careers and didn't enjoy sex. They were simply an attachment to a man.
Understandably, some women indeed had to work if their husband didn't make enough money or if they were lonely mothers or (God forbid) old maids. However, there were the typical "female" jobs - waitresses, secretaries, flight attendants, and sellers. There were no women dentists, doctors, lawyers, or businessmen. In the 1960s, the situation started to change. The feminist movement and the movement for women's rights gained significant advantage. They fought for equal pay, for equal sharing of domestic chores, and for protection of women. Ironically, men were claiming to be protecting women by forbidding them to enter certain jobs or to engage in certain activities. The female was seen as the weaker sex, who needed protection against the harsh world. The feminists showed that this was not the case.
The 1970s witnessed the sexual revolution and the abolishment of the double standard. Women not only enjoyed sex but they were free to have as many sexual affairs as men before marriage. The age of marriage and of giving birth rose significantly with more and more women entering universities, playing sports, and reaching high positions in the work hierarchy. Still, in many areas, they were again discriminated. The law (which constituted still mostly of women) fought severely to keep the woman where she belonged - at home with the children.
The 1980s and 1990s witnessed more progress and women were now approaching the ever so desire for equality with men. The peak being when in 2007 Hilary Clinton was nominated for a president and Sarah Palin - for a vice-president. Yet, one thing remained unchanged - women even in the 21st century are still expected to manage between their careers and their family. Even though now, compared to the 1960s men help more with raising children, still the biggest burden falls on women. And although pay has approached equality, women continue to get paid less than men holding the same positions. So my question is: "Has anything changed that much?"
Well, some parts of life have indeed changed. We are no longer restricted of holding prestigious jobs, of playing sports, to having numerous sexual affairs, of choosing our own spouse and of divorcing him whenever this seems reasonable. We receive almost as much money as men and we can be managers, doctors, lawyers. More and more men accept the idea of having a woman boss and even of voting for one in politics. Yet, I somewhat feel that the discrimination against women is still present.
The typically female jobs are still mostly occupied by women. How many flight attendants, secretaries, or waiters have you seen to be men? Women are still expected to raise their children, to clean the house, to prepare a homemade meal, while at the same time working a full time job. And most of all, women continued to be perceived as sexual objects with lower intellectual capability than men. Even stating the growing old argument that women are worst drivers than women. So my point is, we have gained responsibilities but we have barely removed discrimination. Of course, it is not as tough as it was back in the 1960s, but I still feel the look :"You are a woman; you don't undersand".
The American woman - from a housewife to a manager and from a sexual object to a heroine - the subject of Gail Collins's book is as important and as controversial today as it was years before. A book definitely worth reading as contemporary society certainly witness a step back. More and more women prefer not to work and to leave the money-bringing and career-making to men. It seems that some of them voluntarily place themselves as sex objects, using their sexuality to get what they want from men. These women undermine the struggles for female equality and threaten to destroy the fragile respect we have earned so far. I am more than pessimistic about the future of the American woman. As we know, time tends to go circular. Now we are wearing the clothes of the 1960s and 1970s. How long before we return to our place in the 1960s and 1970s?