Friday, December 11, 2009

The Evolution of Feminism - A Mark Production

Last week we had the pleasure of welcoming one of the authors of the book Girldrive; Nona Willis Aronowitz. She and photographer Emma Bee Bernstein (who, sadly died recently) undertook a journey across America to connect with young women in all walks of life throughout the country to try to discover what, if anything, does ‘feminism’ mean to the women of generation Y. The answers were varied and illuminating, but there did seem to be a common thread that connected all these 20-something women, and that is a certain disconnect from what is generally regarded as the stereotypical image of a feminist; the man-hating/lesbian militant. An image distilled from the days of Gloria Steinem, ERA and the women’s liberation marches in the 1960s and ‘70s. These young women certainly experienced gender-based discrimination in their personal lives and they dealt with these issues as best they could. Yet, some of them seemed to have blinders on when it came to seeing the larger picture of the unique challenges that women face both here and around the world.

Along with Girldrive, there are some other important books that have been published recently that bring to the fore the important history of the women’s movement here in the US and the heartbreaking oppression that women face in many parts of the developing world. When Everything Changed: the Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins shows us our world as it was in the early 1960s when a women’s place was in the home, and she’d better have dinner ready when the man of the house got home from a tough day at the office (if you’ve ever watched the show ‘Mad Men’, you get the picture). That paradigm was about to change however, when a number of key women in what would come to be called the ‘second wave’ of feminism began to question and eventually begin to dismantle much of the time-honored patriarchal conventions of society. Obviously there have been many victories, but there are clearly more battles to be fought. The challenge appears to be that some folks are not aware that the war isn’t over yet.

Clearly feminism continues to evolve in terms of what it means to the modern woman and what it can achieve in the world today. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn focuses on the ways in which the female gender is under attack in many parts of the world, from sex trafficking in Cambodia, to honor killings in the middle east, to selective abortions based on gender in China, India and Indonesia. The hard facts and statistics presented in this book map out the gut wrenching degree of female suffering and death in many parts of the developing world, but the stories presented are ultimately about hard-won victories and hope. The common theme in these books is social justice, human rights and freedom. These books present women’s issues certainly, but at their core they are human issues.