"The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone… she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question — 'Is this all?" wrote Betty Friedan in her best-selling book The Feminine Mystique. Half a century later the suburban wife is still asking herself the same question – the only difference is that it is in relation to her job within corporate America rather than within the home.
So what happened? Why has 50 years of activism, legislation, high-profile Supreme Court decisions, thousands of law-suits, and billions of dollars spent by women’s rights organizations only managed to exchanged one ‘gilded cage’ for another?
Perhaps the answer lays in what Friedan called the "bra-burning, anti-man, politics-of-orgasm" school of feminism that played a dominant role in the feminist movement of the past, and that ''repudiated all the parts of the personhood of women that have been and are still expressed in family, home and love. In trying to ape men's lives, [women] have truncated themselves away from grounding experiences. If young women lock themselves into the roles of ambitious men, I'm not sure it's a good bargain. It can be terribly imprisoning and life denying,'' wrote Friedan in her best-seller, The Second Stage, published in 1981.
So instead of truly liberating women, the feminist movement of the past century has ended up instilling a new status quo where women have become slaves to their employers and the workplace, failing to advance her rights within the home or marriage. Paradoxically, the modern woman of today in many ways is in a position worse off than where she was 50 years ago. She is ‘allowed’ to work outside the home, but she then must come home and cook, clean and take care of her children and husband just like her mother and grand-mother before her. Of course, she may be lucky enough to have a loving, caring husband who appreciates her and all that she does. But, on the other hand she may not; just like a century ago.
As stated by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in their report on discrimination against women, “Despite overall advances in women’s economic status in many countries, many women continue to face discrimination in formal and informal sectors of the economy, as well as economic exploitation within the family….”
The true ‘litmus test’ and measure of the rights of women in societies today can be found within divorce courts. With the advent of property rights, custodial rights, and finally no fault divorce, technically (and on paper) women are no longer ‘trapped’ in marriage. However, since courts are miserably failing to apply ‘modern laws’ in their decisions, women may now voluntarily ‘leave’ a marriage, but they must still do so on their husband’s terms.
So perhaps, it is time for women everywhere to re-examine the priorities of the feminist movement of the past 50 years. A movement that instead of liberating women, has just exchanged one cage for another, leaving the caged bird still singing for her freedom. A movement which has so over-taxed the female worker that she feels she must give-up her desire to have children in order to be successful in her career, and which leaves her resenting her stay-at-home mom counter-part. As Leslie Morgan Steiner says in her best-seller, Mommy Wars “my anger came from years of competitiveness with other women, and my own internal agony of seeing, in stay-at-home moms, what I was missing at home when I was at work, and in ambitious working moms the career sacrifices I was making by working part-time.”
So as Freidan states, “the second stage is where we must move, women and men together. We need a new and politically active consciousness-raising to get us beyond the polarized and destructive male model of work and decision-making and the undervalued women’s model of life… The greatest political need for women and men now is to make the restructuring of the work-home relationship a part of the political and economic agenda. Just as women must not allow themselves to be sucked into the classic male power games in the workplace, we must not allow ourselves to be diverted by the emotion-ridden issues of sexual politics.”