Rebooting feminism?

It’s the 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, which has led to some interesting reflections on the achievements or otherwise of feminism.Here’s The New York Times view, here is Salon, and here is the Guardian book club discussion.

The Feminine Mystique (Penguin Modern Classics)

My goodness, what a timely anniversary reminder that there’s a long way to go still. Yesterday over breakfast I stumbled on this extraordinary ad for Microsoft software:

Women too stupid for computers, or just too busy doing the housework?

Today I read Maureen Dowd’s bitter review of the new book by Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, apparently advising women on how to have it all, version 2.0 (version 1.0 being of course Helen Gurley Brown’s Having It All). And also a report in the Observer of the past progress of women in public life in the UK going into retreat.

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

It makes me think that perhaps the gains made by the feminist movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s were one-off, that they helped one or two cohorts of women only. The economic evidence that the labour market is stacked against women is pretty strong – there is a large earnings penalty for having children, and then some. One of the most depressing books on the subject is Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever’s Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide – the good news is that men do ask for more pay and women don’t, so a woman who does ask will earn more. The bad news is that her male colleagues will think her a ball-breaker for doing so.

I hope younger women will re-read Betty Friedan’s book, and some of the other classics – Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics, Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. And I hope women of all ages will roll up their sleeves, and reboot the struggle – when the washing up is done and the man has finished with the computer, of course (*irony*).


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