What ever happened to feminism?


Betty Draper, Mad Men


Each year around the world, International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8. Hundreds of events occur not just on this day but throughout March to mark the economic, political and social achievements of women. The history of this day goes back to  1910 when an International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands.  The success of the first International Women’s Day in 1911 exceeded all expectation. In 1913 International Women’s Day was transferred to 8 March and this day has remained the global date for International Women’s Day ever since.   


We’ve got a generation now who were born with semiequality. They don’t know how it was before, so they think, this isn’t too bad. We’re working. We have our attache’ cases and our three piece suits. I get very disgusted with the younger generation of women. We had a torch to pass, and they are just sitting there. They don’t realize it can be taken away. Things are going to have to get worse before they join in fighting the battle ~ Erma Bombeck   

I am reminded of these words whenever I watch Mad Men, the award-winning TV show about the ad men of Madison Ave in the 60s. I love the show, and I love the women in the show; but the sexism is mind-blowing. As a woman who grew up in the seventies and eighties, I take for granted the freedoms that were won for my generation of women; but each time I watch this programme, I am so grateful for those freedoms.   

I am not sure when Erma Bombeck wrote those words, but what would she have to say of the new generation of women who believe the road to freedom is to bed a celebrity footballer or star on page 3? The height of their aspirations is to marry a man rich enough so they don’t ever have to work. Have these girls gone full circle back to the days of the wives watching life from the sidelines as beautiful appendages in Mad Men?   

Do I sound like some kind of terrible feminist wind-bag here? I never thought of myself as a feminist, but when talking to one of my friends recently, who is trying to cajole her daughter to study harder for her upcoming Leaving Cert, only to be met by the reply that she is going to marry someone rich (and preferably famous) so her exams don’t matter – well  it is such an alien concept to me that my feminist hackles were raised.   

So what ever happened to feminism and the women’s movement? It seems that it has crashed since its 1970s heyday; many young women,who either feel equality has been achieved, or that feminists hate men, view it as an irrelevance..or worse. Feminism has become, in the words of, Raina Kelly, in  a recent Newsweek article “a catch-all for frigid women who can’t catch a husband or who hate men so much they “turn to” feminism”.   

But are they missing the point?  Have we really achieved gender equality? In today’s society with its celebrity-obsession and conformist images of glamour, sexism has returned in another guise. Pop culture and advertisers bombard girls with harmful messages about how they should look–telling them they have to be thin, pretty, and sexy, no matter what career they aspire to. Far from having achieved equality, young women are now expected to take on the role of woman as sexual/fashion object,  yet are simultaneously seduced by the popular media to perceive this as empowerment. Girls like my friend’s daughter are being sold a form of pseudo-feminism by glamorous celebrities amidst the growing pornification of society.  

So today while acknowledging the many achievements of the feminist movement, we still have a way to go yet to achieve true equality for the next generation of young women. And yes, it does seem somewhat ironic that I am writing about this on a blog called Diary of a Country Wife, interspersed with home baking. But to me that is liberation. I can bake cakes, while still working outside the home. It comes down to choice for me – a luxury not afforded the Mad Men wives. What are your thoughts?


13 responses »

  1. Like you, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist, but reading your post today, I find myself nodding in agreement with so much that you have to say. We have exchanged one form of inequality for another!

  2. I too have a teenage daughter who is so heavily influenced by the media images of female “empowerment” that i feel powerless against it.

  3. I wouldn’t say that feminism has died, but the feminist movement seems to lack a clear voice, as it did back in the 60s/70s

  4. Yes, I think Gabby is right in her assessment of the situation – a clear voice and a movement seem to have disappeared.

  5. Great post Marie. I consider myself v lucky, I was in the rat race, was quite ambitious regarding my career but on having children, found myself becoming incredibly maternal and now consider myself to have the best of both worlds – having my own business and being at home for the kids. I’m alarmed to think teenagers think they can marry a rich footballer or prince!! And have to admit I detest reading stories like Cinderella to my 5 year old and will soon be looking for those fairy tales that tell the feminist ending.
    I have to admit I confused my children somewhat when they came home from school telling me about the Adam and Eve bible story and I was explaining to them how it was a story written by men who didn’t like women and how Eve was framed!! Maybe I am a bit of a feminist after all!!

  6. Thanks so much everyone for your comments. It is good to see that feminism is not dead! Lorna, thanks for the great points you make 🙂

  7. I agree that “feminism” has lost a clear voice. As one of those 60’s feminists (proud to be called that & proud to have worked hard for change) I have often been desparing of the failure to follow through and adapt to new realities of the equality movement. The voices are out there, but they are diffuse and no match for the corporate/advertising world which adapted (and sometimes subverted) much more quickly. I think perhaps we often thought that our example would be good enough. And it may have been for our daughters. Not as much so for our sons and granddaughters.

    Yet, I am ever hopeful because I believe in the old Nike catch phrase “There is no finish line.” The world spins. People grow in mysterious ways. Every generation has to learn lessons all over again. Change is hard work. Change is incremental. Between stagnation and cataclysm is life.

    Of course, maybe I’m just more patient now that I’m old :-).

  8. Marica, I really appreciate you leaving this comment – it is such an excellent summation of the question of what has happened to feminism, written by an original feminist. Thank you!

  9. Thanks Lily…I am just feeling my way on this one..didn’t realise I had strong views until I actually started writing it!

  10. Great post Marie and echoed a conversation i had with my husband recently. As I watched another “superstar’ search contest I was exasperated at how young people’s aspirations are so set on ‘being famous’. Our media’s fascination with celebrities- whether marrying one or becoming one- is very worrying. And I can’t see it ending anytime soon as it seems to get the readers and viewers- just look at the amount of magazines dedicated to celebs and their lives, when every other print medium is slowly dying. Real, intelligent, thought provoking, educational news is being slowly replaced by glossy celeb fixated trash.

  11. Pingback: 2010 in review « Diary of a Country Wife

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