Living: Onward, Women!

The superwoman is weary, the young are complacent, but feminism is not dead. And, baby, there's still a long way to go

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Keeping house and caring for the kids fills a woman's day -- and more. But what if she had to earn a living too? Your wife will never have to face this double duty if you protect yourself.

-- 1963 ad for Travelers Insurance

She had breakfast with the national sales manager, met with the client from 9 to 11, talked at an industry luncheon, raced across town to the plans board meeting and then caught the 8:05 back home.

-- 1977 ad for Boeing

"I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan. And never, never, never let you forget you're a man."

-- 1978 ad for Enjoli perfume

"My mother was convinced the center of the world was 36 Maplewood Drive. Her idea of a wonderful time was Sunday dinner. She bought UNICEF cards, but what really mattered were the Girl Scouts . . . I'm beginning to think my mother really knew what she was doing."

-- Recent ad for Good Housekeeping magazine

Now, wait a minute. If Madison Avenue is any indication, American women are going backward. What happened to the superwoman in the tailored suit and floppy bow tie who brought home all that bacon? What happened to breakfast with the national sales manager and racing for the 8:05? What happened to aspiring to the executive suite, to beating men at their own game?

As women head into the 1990s, are they really so burned out from "having it all" (i.e., doing it all), so thoroughly exhausted from putting in a full day at work and then another full evening at home, that they dream nostalgically of the 1950s? Can they really be aching for the dull but dependable days when going to meetings meant the PTA or the Scouts, when business travel meant the car pool, when a budgetary crisis meant the furnace had broken? Is the feminist movement -- one of the great social revolutions of contemporary history -- truly dead? Or is it merely stalled and in need of a little consciousness raising?

Ask a woman under the age of 30 if she is a feminist, and chances are she will shoot back a decisive, and perhaps even a derisive, no. But in the very next breath, the same young woman will allow that while she does not identify with the angry aspects of the movement in the '60s and '70s or with its clamorous leaders, she certainly plans on a career as well as marriage and three kids. She definitely expects her husband -- present or future -- to do his share of the dusting, the diapering, the dinner and dishes. She would be outraged were she paid less than a male colleague for doing equal work. Ask about the Supreme Court's Webster decision last summer allowing states more leeway to restrict abortions: she'll probably bristle about a woman's right to chose.

Call them the "No, but . . . " generation. No, they are not feminists, or so they say, but they do take certain rights for granted. "I reject the feminist label, but I guess I'd call myself an egalitarian," says Leslie Sandberg, 27, a political-campaign worker in Boston, whose attitude seems typical of her generation. "I'm feminine, not a feminist," insists Linn Thomas, an Auburn University senior, in another variation on the theme. Adds Thomas: "I picture a feminist as someone who is masculine and who doesn't shave her legs and is doing everything she can to deny that she is feminine."

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