Fighting for the Future of Feminism

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Is feminism dead? Leslie Sanchez hopes so, and her new book has more than a few feminists up in arms. Debates about female politicians, or the backlash to women's liberation, aren't new, but the New Yorker's Ariel Levy is wondering how feminism got to be so divisive. She addresses some of the book's pressing questions: What is feminism now? Has Sarah Palin broken the mold for politically ambitious women? What does the feminist movement, after the victories of past decades, still have anything to offer? As liberal advocates of female empowerment engage in some soul-searching, here are their answers:

  • Bra Burning Never Happened  Ariel Levy clears up a few myths, touching on women's liberation as well as Sarah Palin. She takes issue with Sanchez's assertion that Palin "so very clearly reflected the lifestyle choices, hard work ethic, and traditional values that so many women admire." There is nothing traditional about a female governor, Levy says, even if she is also a mother. "Feminists have long been criticized for telling women that they could have it all. But conservatives have done us one better: apparently, you can have it all and be traditional, too." Furthermore, both sides seem interested in "evading" a fundamental truth: "if the father works and the mother works, nobody is left to watch the kids." Childcare, Levy seems to be arguing, is feminism's final frontier, not the "identity politics" of the Palin crowd which aim for "feminism without feminists":
We live in a country that has been reshaped by the women’s movement, in which the traditional family is increasingly obsolete. As of September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than sixty per cent of American women aged twenty and over were working or seeking work, and, according to the Shriver Report, women are either the primary or the co-breadwinner in two-thirds of American families. For many of them, this isn’t an exercise in empowerment; it’s about making a living and, for working mothers in particular, often a hard living ... President Nixon vetoed the Comprehensive Child Development Act, declaring that it "would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing" and undermine "the family-centered approach." He meant "the traditional-family-centered approach," which requires women to forsake every ambition apart from motherhood. So close. And now so far. The amazing journey of American women is easier to take pride in if you banish thoughts about the roads not taken. When you consider all those women struggling to earn a paycheck while rearing their children, and start to imagine what might have been, it’s enough to make you want to burn something.
  • Breadwinning Females in Need of Help  The American Prospect's Shani Hilton seconds Levy's call for help for working women. "And to go further, it's important to remember that 22 percent of black families are headed by women, as are 14 percent of Latino families," she adds. "Too often, the lives of poor women and women of color are ignored in the battle over feminism's relevance ... these women need the support of feminism and feminists more than any group, even if Sanchez thinks feminists are obsolete. And maybe especially because of that."
  • X Chromosome Shouldn't Be the Deciding Factor  Jezebel's Anna North latches on to Levy's remarks on "identity politics," writing that "the message of Sarah Palin's entire vice presidential bid was that women were supposed to care not about issues, or even about competence, but simply that one of 'their own' appeared on the ticket." Mere representation, North argues, echoing Levy's point, is not enough:
There are many other issues from reproductive rights to equal pay that won't be resolved by electing George W. Bush clones with two X chromosomes. In order to resolve them, women need to claim not just representation, but another right that men have always taken for granted: the right to stand up for what we believe in, even if it means disagreeing with one another.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.