I opened up the Times magazine this morning and saw Maureen Dowd in red pumps giving us the dirt on feminism, work, botox, dating, money, and relations between the sexes. I rubbed my hands together and said "BLOG POST." This is so totally my topic.
Maureen is concerned that many gains for women from the 70s and 80s have been flushed down the toilet. And it's women themselves who are doing the flushing. (Much of this article is a retread of past columns.)
Women are back to calling themselves Mrs. and are changing their names. They aren't going dutch on dates. They want to stay home with the kids. They are buying frilly aprons at Anthropologie. They are back to flirting and holding back the sarcasm. Push up bras, anyone?
Why are women doing this? She doesn't spell that out all that clearly. She seems to attribute this slide to women themselves. They have forgotten the lessons of the past. Maureen sneers at their retro choices and pictures a future for them locked in a suburban hell and dumped by a philandering husband.
In her kinder moments, Maureen says that women have made these choices because they are between a rock and a hardplace. The rock is men and the hardplace is the office. Men still like their women dumb. In movie after movie, Hollywood depicts men falling for women below their station. In The Girl With a Pearl Earring, Vermeer goes for the maid with the fat lips and no eyebrows. That the maid may have brains regardless of her education and training doesn't occur to Maureen.
Maureen plays lip service to the fact that the workplace is inhospitable to women with kids, but also seems to sneer at women who aren't up to the challenge.
Maureen and I have a lot in common, aside from the hair color. As I read the article, I nodded my head quite often. Like Maureen, I like clothes, but don't like to be owned by fashion. I also love the smart repartee of 1930s romantic movies. I am disgusted by the dumb, silicone role models for girls today. Keeping my own last name was important to me. I do think that many men are intimidated by smart women, regardless of how many male bloggers write me to tell me that they think Daria is hot.
But here is where we part ways. People define feminism in different ways. I say that I am a feminist, because I love women. All women. I assume that women are smart and that they make rational decisions, even if I don't get it. I don't really care if you botox your face into a mask, blow your time in shoe stores, and have rhinestones glued on your nails. If more women are changing their names, because they think that it means a more solid marriage rather than because they want to submit to their husbands, whatever. I wouldn't go that way, but to each to her own.
Maureen also doesn't get relationships. If you want it to work, then you have to think about it as a team effort. Both players have to make sacrifices at some time. I've made my share, but so has my husband. He had to switch careers, because someone has to make money around here. Yes, you have to have some back up plan, but you also have to trust the other person quite a bit in order to make a marriage work.
Maureen, like other old school feminists, glamorizes the workplace. Most people hate their jobs. They mark off their weeks until retirement on the deskblotter. They do their time and dream about retirement. Why make the boardroom the ultimate life achievement? You can have economic freedom and security without being a CEO. And belittle the stay at home mother in my presence at your own risk.
I don't think that feminism has been lost. The two big candidates in the next election may be Condi and Hillary. Stay at home dads are rare, but increasing in number. There is increasing discussion about work-family problems, even if much change hasn't yet happened. There are more women in universities than men. Hell, Maureen herself ain't doing so badly, as a columnist for the New York Times with access to the best parties and power brokers in our country. How much would I like her life?
A note to Maureen -- Girlfriend, you need to stop griping that you are still single. You have a fine job and an exciting life. Brag a little.
Yes, I think that more needs to happen. The old dream of Having It All hasn't happened. I know of very few people who are able to manage a family and career without some compromises. I'm not sure if it is possible to excel in both areas without unique circumstances. But we need to think about what we are going to tell our daughters (and sons). They need a new plan instead of propping the old one.
Right now, in this imperfect world, we are still faced with two choices -- job/excitement/movies/cocktails/pantyhose without runs/urban life/dinnner alone vs. marriage/kids/compromise/compromise/contentment/hay rides/compromise/80 consecutive viewings of Dumbo. Until we get new role models and new ideas of how to get there, then women (and men) will be forced along one of those two paths.
I had to stop working after I had kids, because childcare in Manhattan would surpass my income as a professor. Also, my youngest son has a speech disability and needs special care. Then we had to move to the suburbs, because we lived with two kids in a four floor walkup and couldn't afford to move within Manhattan.
It's not a perfect life. I would love to return to work and will after the mute kid starts talking, but I will probably only work part time -- it's really very hard to do both well. In the meantime, I keep myself sane by keeping a dumb blog.
I made these choices, not because I'm an anti-feminist, but because there were real obstacles in my place. I never expected that I would be here, but here I am. In her article, Dowd minimizes the obstacles that women face and instead makes it out that women just want to be dependent, botoxed, and depressed. It's really not like that.