The Women’s Movement: Did It Work?

The Women’s Movement:  Did It Work?

womens movementGloria Steinem, Betty Friedan and the women’s movement made a huge difference in this country.  Many of us are old enough to remember a time when Harvard and Yale were for men only, when women were turned down for jobs because of their gender, when there was no “equal pay for equal work,” and no school sports programs for little girls.

I was one of a handful of women at an all-male university.  I paid the same tuition as the guys yet I wasn’t permitted to enroll in an art appreciation class because my presence would “hinder class discussion.”  I wasn’t even allowed in the gym.  After graduation, I entered what was then a predominantly male profession and was turned down for jobs, told bluntly, “we don’t hire women.”  The strangest part of it all was that it never occurred to me to object to these incidents.  Like many other women, I just accepted it.  It was the way it was.

When the women’s movement was in full swing, I ran consciousness-raising groups in my living room while my husband went out with the guys for the night and my kids were asleep upstairs.  I was living the life of a traditional suburban housewife and mother—and I loved it.  No complaints with my choice.  Still, the sting of days past made me aware of the unfairness and the need for change.

womens movementsteinem quote

Fast forward to today’s world.  Many things have changed for the better.  When I talk about the way it was, my daughters—both professional women—can’t relate at all.  What discrimination? they ask.  They haven’t experienced it personally.  Although they don’t vocalize it, my impression is that they think women of my era were radical extremists, over-reacting to being “slighted.”  The lack of appreciation in today’s generation for what my generation accomplished for them disturbs me a bit.

But then there’s the other side of the story that we hear so much about today.  If an essential objective of the women’s movement was to make life better for women, did it accomplish that mission?  When I look at the young women of today, what do I see?  They are highly educated, capable people with great, well-paid jobs but they’re also juggling the stress of the workplace together with raising a family, maintaining a quality relationship with their spouse and running a home.  They don’t really look happy to me.

What I hear from them most of the time is that they can never seem to please anyone, especially themselves.  They feel guilty: they’re not giving enough time to the kids, to the job, to the spouse…  They’re pulled in a thousand directions and exhausted all the time.

In contrast, my recollections of those days were playing with my kids, cooking a new recipe, having coffee with friends and chatting about the PTA while the kids ran around together.  Remember dinner parties?

I certainly would never give up the gains made as a result of the women’s movement.  Inequality is just plain wrong.  But how do we get to a place where life is good for women, men and children and no one is short-changed?  We’ve become a nation of people dependent on two-income families, three-car garages, kids taking part in a million activities, and most of all, stuff.  Lots of stuff.  Was the movement just a part of all the other sociological changes taking place in this country, or a heavy contributor?  What do you think?

by Rosy Prose



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