Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Female Dynamic

The history of feminism reaches far back before the 18th century, but the seeds of the feminist movement were planted during the latter portion of that century. The earliest works on the so-called "woman question" criticised the restrictive role of women, without necessarily claiming that women were disadvantaged. In both World Wars, manpower shortages brought women into traditionally male occupations, ranging from manufacturing and mechanical work to a female baseball league. By demonstrating that women could do "men's work", and highlighting society's dependence on their labour, this shift encouraged women to strive for equality.

Many feminists also fought to change perceptions of female sexual behaviour. Since it was often considered more acceptable for men to have multiple sexual partners, many feminists encouraged women into "sexual liberation" and having sex for pleasure with multiple partners leading to a new dating revolution were women offered to pay half the check with "woman money" as a way to show that a woman's worth in society was not determined by her looks, that she was not an ornament up for sale to the highest bidder.

Modern day feminism has taken a sharp u-turn back towards pre-70's ideals. “Jurassic feminists shudder at the retro implication of a quid profiterole. But it doesn't matter if the woman is making as much money as the man, or more, she expects him to pay, both to prove her desirability and as a way of signaling romance - something that's more confusing in a dating culture rife with casual hookups and group activities.”(“What's a Modern Girl to Do?” By Maureen Dowd, New York Times, 10/30/2005)

Since this reversion has affected the dating scene, it has also crossed into the institute of marriage. " ‘Ms.’ was supposed to neutralize the stature of women, so they weren't publicly defined by their marital status. When The (New York) Times finally agreed to switch to Ms. in its news pages in 1986, after much hectoring by feminists, Gloria Steinem sent flowers to the executive editor, Abe Rosenthal. But nowadays most young brides want to take their husbands' names and brag on the moniker Mrs., a brand that proclaims you belong to him. T-shirts with "MRS." emblazoned in sequins or sparkly beads are popular wedding-shower gifts. (Dowd) I’ve always wondered why their isn’t a moniker signaling a married man vs. a single man?

What about the man’s viewpoint? “I'd been noticing a trend…famous and powerful men took up with young women whose job it was to care for them and nurture them in some way: their secretaries, assistants, nannies, caterers, flight attendants…” John Schwartz of The New York Times noted the trend in 2004 when he reported: "Men would rather marry their secretaries than their bosses, and evolution may be to blame." A study by psychology researchers at the University of Michigan, using college undergraduates, suggested that men going for long-term relationships would rather marry women in subordinate jobs than women who are supervisors. Men think that women with important jobs are more likely to cheat on them. There it is, right in the DNA: women get penalized by insecure men for being too independent. “They worry that men still veer away from "challenging" women because of a male atavistic desire to be the superior force in a relationship.” (Dowd)

So it is not just a trend, rather a natural instinct, according to this research. But has this viewpoint been the cause of the 70’s feminism to retreat into modern day feminism where women seem to be looking for male approval? A ‘natural’ instinct to back down to a man in order not to intimidate him and in return, win his approval? Let’s hope not but my fear is that it is. Granted women are no longer burning their bras, rather ordering more breast-enhancing bras from Victoria’s Secret. But is this actually a new power assertion?

Note: You should never comprise who you are or your beliefs in order to conform to a standard or even to win someone's heart. If someone does not love you for who you are, then you are better off without them. At the same token, never hold yourself in too high a regard...for it is a lonely place you seek.