Not your grandmother’s feminism

The panel discussion on women’s rights I covered late last week seemed a little like something out of a time capsule. You just don’t see that sort of thing much any more.

During the sixties and seventies, my formative years, feminism went from zero to sixty in a handful of years. In 1963, the year Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, women had no protections against discrimination in the workplace. They could legally be denied contraception and kept off juries. Property rights within a marriage — and when dissolving a marriage — were sketchy, at best.

Most of that changed over the next decade, but the failure of the Equal Rights Amendments remains, to some, a symbol of unfinished business. Women still earn less than men, are more likely to live in poverty than men, and to be physically abused than men. Recent years have seen an erosion of the reproductive rights that were such an important part of the women’s movement.

One can frame the latter as protecting the unborn, but moral arguments aside, limiting a woman’s choices is undeniably a loss of freedom. And, many people believe some of the more extreme laws are more about control than saving lives.

In any event, last week’s discussion was unlike any I had heard in quite some time. Certainly, women do have far more opportunities than they did a half-century ago, and that has no doubt lessened the urgency of the women’s movement. Several of the participants said young women don’t like the term feminism, or to be identified as feminists.

The Tulsa World story I filed on the discussion, though, got a surprising amount of traffic, which makes me wonder if the old arguments are not as settled as we thought.


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