In the west, feminism has stalled. But elsewhere, women have found in it a new model of Enlightenment rights and freedoms
Legally, the gains are stronger. Abortion rights and equal access law are established in most western countries. Recently in the US, though, a new legislative push to subject women to intrusive vaginal ultrasound scans, if they contemplate abortion, has come in to play. Many European countries have daycare and family leave â€“ but not the US. Rape and sexual harassment are almost never prosecuted successfully â€“ 6-12% of reported rapes in the UK and the US ever go to trial at all. The mainstream media are more filled than ever with rigid fashion and beauty ideals.
Data for anorexia and bulimia in the west are static. Young western women report less and less interest in identifying themselves with "the- F-word" â€“ feminism; they say that the movement seems a relic of their mothers' era â€“ humorless, sexless, hostile to men and judgmental of young women. There is a lot of exciting new online publishing activity, from Feministing, to Bust, to Bitch; but the next generation still lacks strong institutions or a clear feminist political agenda.
The malaise is widespread: in 2009, sociologist Marcus Buckingham reported than since second-wave feminism, women in the west who "have it all" have become actually less satisfied. The most educated, privileged, affluent women I know â€“ women whose lives give them a million great "choices" â€“ that buzzword of "our" feminism â€“ do not generally say they are happy. They feel a vague sense of lack of fulfilment: "Is that all there is?"
This stasis has to do with a flaw in how we in the west see "feminism", where we are raised to believe that the feminism we inherit "is" feminism. But I argue that it is just one of several possible intellectual framings of feminism â€“ and it is not necessarily the best of the choices for us for this historical moment. "Our" feminism descends from three main sources: the 19th-century ideal of the "Angel in the House", existentialism and advanced capitalism. These turn out to fail, over time, as matrixes for a satisfying, effective feminism. [My emphasis]
Modern western feminism was codified by middle-class white suffragists in Britain, and crossed to the United States. These women, though they struggled against it, were immersed in an ideology described by the poet Coventry Patmoreas the "Angel in the House": women's influence was to be emotional, not logical; they were to create a "separate sphere", apart from the rigors of the male world; women were to be higher, purer and less sexual than men; and their role was to exert moral judgment.
Thus they focused on the emotions felt by victims of male oppression and appealed to men's sense of justice. This approach was, in many ways, successful: in 1864, 1866, 1885, 1894, until they gained the vote in 1919-20. Even subsequently, they used this framing to make laws more equitable...Â Â >>>>