Welcome to the modern day woman. It is 2012, the Global Recession of 2008 is lingering as predicted and the fall out is a stunted economy in most countries, a disappearing middle class in the Western World along with a continued loss of disposable incomes combined with increases in fuel cost, food costs, housing costs, delayed wage increases, inflation and deflation. North Americans are still more affluent than during the Great Depression but it is no longer the 50s when idealism was high, Research and Development was strong, the money was flowing and the continent was engaging in some of the greatest changes in decades. One of these movements was the second wave of feminism which was predetermined by women obtaining the right to vote, women’s surge into the workforce during WWI and II and the rebound back to the married homemaker role that lasted until the late 60’s.
That was when women stood together (well a lot of them anyways) and said enough. They desired an education, not to meet an affluent, educated husband but to have their own careers. They wanted to be in parliament making laws and decisions about policy. They wanted choice, to be single or married, a mother or not a mother, to stay at home or to work if they did have children, to go to church or to say they were atheist, pagan or buddhist, to be with men or to be a lesbian, as long as they were the one to chose. Alongside these currents dawned the New Age movement and countless Self Help movements that are only now becoming post-main stream. They wanted everything that men had including power in the office, golf on Sundays, prestige and independence. It was going to be a Utopia with women becoming more equal than men. Yes, a young woman actually said that on the CBC during a Women’s Day broadcast in the 90’s. I love that, more equal, as if that were in fact the goal of the then 3rd wave feminist. To upset the cart, dump the apples and stamp the feet and say, so there! All the while thinking this is how the war is to be won since it is the war of the sexes we were fighting after all.
Fast forward to 2012 when feminism is still a slightly maligned word and 2nd wave feminists cringe at magazine covers of sultry, nearly naked celebrities. Yet are we experiencing a 4th wave? Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, an article by Marie-Anne Slaughter that appeared in the July/August edition of the Atlantic magazine, sheds some light on this new wave from the point of view of an American White House executive. (I suggest ignoring the push to put Clinton in power since the article should be about all of us and not the political aspirations of one woman, but I digress.) “It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.” You can read the article but it is mostly about balancing motherhood and career if you are rich and does not really provide a lot of solutions to those women who aren’t. The fact that she is publicly denouncing the myth that motherhood and professional success are accessible to all women is refreshing however. I can only sigh with relief. I watched the woman of the eighties try to do it all, the superwoman who watched Oprah, and I have spent a lifetime feeling a great sense of inadequacy for not also acquiring a high-powered professional position, a loving and committed marriage and a couple of kids to nurture and shape into over achieving, genius adults. Even though my own mother was a stay at home housewife, as a woman I felt I had failed, …and it was my own fault. Or so I was willing to believe.
Have feminists sold women a fiction?
Even previous to the 2008 Recession, the economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers wrote a paper about women living in the industrialized world. The Paradox of declining female happiness states that these women are less happy today than their predecessors were in 1972, both in general terms and relative to men’s happiness. Whether one asks about happiness or life satisfaction, the study finds that the decline is not because of a single social phenomenon such as a sudden increase in single mothers or a spike in divorce rates, and that it is ubiquitous for all women, working and stay-at-home mothers, married and divorced women, the old and the young, and across different education levels. It suggests that if women no longer report being happier than men and, in many instances, they report a happiness that is below that of men, then maybe men were the real beneficiaries of the women’s movements. Although it is difficult to be certain of the exact reasons this hypothesis might be true from analysing data and statistical findings one idea is proposed. “If the women’s movement raised women’s expectations faster than society was able to meet them, they would be more likely to be disappointed by their actual experienced lives.”
The 4th wave needs to regain contact with reality and with what it is to be a woman internationally and not just here in the Western societies. I have been noticing a global outrage at the levels of abuse experienced by women in every country and every situation. The One Billion Rising organization is a container for this determined movement. This is not a Western movement, but is being powered mainly by women in Third World countries enduring wars, famines, poverty and a complete lack of legislated protections for women. They are being raped, beaten, forced into marriages, held as sex slaves, being denied educations, watching their children die of illness and starvation and countless other injustices. These are the women now saying enough. And it is not a suggestion of war or a sense of entitlement denied. These are mothers and women who are finding the courage to say, enough. Enough of the man’s way of doing things, women are also creators, innovators, leaders, teachers and they are demanding the chance to see things done from their point of view.
It is not a pleasant thought that only when we are desperate and in great pain will we start to demand change yet this seems to be human nature. I think of the women in Egypt who risked their lives to support a peaceful demonstration against a dictator. Or of a 14-year-old schoolgirl campaigning for a girls right to education that was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman. There are many other examples of the demand for change. Some are frightening, some are distressing, some are encouraging and some are humorous such as the Walk a Mile in Her Shoes Protest. The point is they are happening, everywhere.
Again we come back to the modern woman, living in a staggeringly complex world brought to light by shifts like globalization and tools such as the Internet which constantly shrink the distances between us all. Humans are the most diverse, adaptive species on the planet and we have complex societies, religious beliefs and cultures that often contradict each other. Yet what is it to be female, and how is the 4th wave, if that is indeed what we are seeing, different than the previous women’s equality movements? Women’s studies courses reminded us that the history books left out half the equation in most of the stories we were told and part of the demand when these courses were developed was to reveal the truth, although there was sometimes a tendency to state more truth than might have in fact existed but that is the problem with the past, we sometimes lose our knowledge of it. Yet beyond the notable names overlooked or omitted, let it not be forgotten that behind every great man was a great woman, if not a wife or lover than a mother. This is what I see in women, a desire to hold up others before they hold up themselves. I saw this first hand at the Woman’s Day march in Montreal in 2008. Under the wings of the marching women were Communists, LGTB rights, Socialists, police brutality protesters, First Nations land claims protesters and a big red van driven by large guys playing rap music. We were carrying everyone who needed it! I think this is what Marie-Anne Slaughter was listening to when she decided to leave her career of prestige and power to be present for the need of her two teenage sons and why women often turn away from the responsibility of work or of family depending on which one their heart is longing for.
In this current wave, I also see a desire for conflict and violence to not be the means or the method to the next stage. There is a growing aversion to continuing to dialogue in terms of war against the other, with an us or them fight for dominance. Instead there is a desire for education, for democracy, for community and for collaboration and inclusion. The next United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 2013 will present as a priority theme: The elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. This is a fact, that violence and abuse of women has to stop because women are our mothers. How can we be well when the place we come from is not? This is the point of the environmental movement, the Earth is the mother of us all and it is no longer a healthy place so we have to do something about it. The pain is no longer bearable so we have to make a change. Can the dynamic of these two realities really be separated? The peace movement of the 60’s is resurfacing and instead of two rock stars to headline it, there are millions of women with access to the Internet and to YouTube and to the media to explain what they are feeling and people are listening. Kathlyn Schaaf was overwhelmed one day by a powerful thought while watching violent images on television. She had a gut feeling that it was time to “Gather the Women” and that there was an untapped reservoir of energy “like oil beneath the common ground the women share.” I admit I have been seeing the same image for several months now and how fascinating that, independent of any discussion or communication and living miles apart, we had the same insight.
All of us need to be saved, we long to be saved, we are terrified that we won’t be saved. I am not sure that the Dalai Lama’s intel was correct, and I would be willing to go on record and correct his 2009 statement and simply say that Women will save the world, and they will do it by rising up and saying what we must do together, men and women; end war, end violence, learn to love ourselves, try harder to love one another, and find the way we can see ourselves as part of the whole movement because we are all moving on the same planet together.