Feminism And Gender Equality In The 1990's

Overall, the rights and status of women have improved considerably in the last
century; however, gender equality has recently been threatened within the last decade.
Blatantly sexist laws and practices are slowly being eliminated while social perceptions of
"women's roles" continue to stagnate and even degrade back to traditional ideals. It is
these social perceptions that challenge the evolution of women as equal on all levels. In
this study, I will argue that subtle and blatant sexism continues to exist throughout
educational, economic, professional and legal arenas.

Women who carefully follow their expected roles may never recognize sexism as
an oppressive force in their life. I find many parallels between women's experiences in the
nineties with Betty Friedan's, in her essay: The Way We Were - 1949. She dealt with a
society that expected women to fulfill certain roles. Those roles completely disregarded
the needs of educated and motivated business women and scientific women. Actually, the
subtle message that society gave was that the educated woman was actually selfish and
evil.

I remember in particular the searing effect on me, who once intended to be a
psychologist, of a story in McCall's in December 1949 called "A Weekend with Daddy."
A little girl who lives a lonely life with her mother, divorced, an intellectual know-it-all
psychologist, goes to the country to spend a weekend with her father and his new wife,
who is wholesome, happy, and a good cook and gardener. And there is love and
laughter and growing flowers and hot clams and a gourmet cheese omelet and square
dancing, and she doesn't want to go home. But, pitying her poor mother typing away all
by herself in the lonesome apartment, she keeps her guilty secret that from now on she
will be living for the moments when she can escape to that dream home in the country
where they know "what life is all about." (See Endnote #1)

I have often consulted my grandparents about their experiences, and I find their
historical perspective enlightening. My grandmother was pregnant with her third child in
1949. Her work experience included: interior design and modeling women's clothes for
the Sears catalog. I asked her to read the Friedan essay and let me know if she felt as
moved as I was, and to share with me her experiences of sexism. Her immediate reaction
was to point out that "Betty Friedan was a college educated woman and she had certain
goals that never interested me." My grandmother, though growing up during a time
when women had few social rights, said she didn't experience oppressive sexism in her
life. However, when she describes her life accomplishments, I feel she has spent most of
her life fulfilling the expected roles of women instead of pursuing goals that were mostly
reserved for men. Unknowingly, her life was controlled by traditional, sexist values
prevalent in her time and still prevalent in the nineties.

Twenty-four years after the above article from McCall's magazine was written, the
Supreme Court decided whether women should have a right to an abortion in Roe v.
Wade (410 U.S. 113 (1973)). I believe the decision was made in favor of women's rights
mostly because the court made a progressive decision to consider the woman as a human
who may be motivated by other things in life than just being a mother. Justice Blackmun
delivered the following opinion:

Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and
future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed
by child care. There is also a distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted
child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable,
psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the
additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved.
(See Endnote #2)

I feel the court decision of Roe v. Wade would not have been made in 1949.
Even in 1973, it was a progressive decision. The problem of abortion has existed for the
entire history of this country (and beyond), but had never been addressed because
discussing these issues was not socially acceptable. A culture of not discussing issues