5 February 2012

Feminism's legacy: contributing towards social inequality

updated Sept 9, 2012

  While feminism has changed the lives for many women in a positive way, it has left many other women, as well as men, in not such happy or positive circumstances. One legacy of feminism is the dual career, dual income family, a way of life that benefits only a certain segment of society. This also raises the feminist notion of 'having it all,' a phrase that refers to women having the 'choice' (a favourite word among those who have benefited from feminism and take it for granted), of having both a career and family if they wish, with the money and security to ensure they can live 'the good life'.

The way relationships come together has changed, enough to say here about modern values smply that professional men and women are more likely to join forces, than the earlier ideals of coupledom. In previous eras, a professional man might team up with a non-working woman, possibly educated, perhaps not, but providing him with a good woman to care for the family and look after his home, while also being able to entertain him and his business associates with her grace and wit. Most of us have seen ‘Mad Men’ on tv. In today’s world, however, that scenario is usually very different.

Having it all

‘Having it all’ could not possibly be the bliss implied by the term (see Have it All? Yeah, right!, 2012). Women enter the public sphere alongside men in the hopes of being as free as men seemed to be, to have the power, status and prestige, and the money to keep them safe and secure in this world. But most have to make hard choices about motherhood and work, and struggle to maintain the power they have achieved, at work and in the political arena.

One thing that does come fairly easily for many, however, is how they choose a mate. It looks as though many choose the best they can find, among their associates, friends, and family connections, and perhaps the internet. That may seem obvious, except that today’s world is different than it used to be, prefeminism. Instead of finding a mate and settling down to work part-time or not at all, in the traditional fashion, a woman may well be seeking the best she can while keeping in mind her career goals. That’s to be expected. But if the practice becomes a cultural norm, whereby women who do this become successful, then insist on women they mentor becoming like them, the result could be the closing of ranks on anyone who is different.

Gold diggers

That brings us to the meaning of the term ‘gold digger,’ another phrase that used to have a certain meaning, directed towards non-working women. Among the defintions of gold digger, see these that give no indication that the working status of the woman counts: ‘a woman who associates with or marries a man chiefly for material gain’ (Reference Dictionary), and ‘a woman who only wants relationships with men who are rich’ (Macmillan Dictionary). These definitions suggest that it is not women who marry wealthy men for their money only who are gold diggers. The resources the relationship offers is also important. See also Keli Goff’s piece on Justin Bieber, gold diggers, and feminism, and the blog that I wrote in response.

All in all, it’s a matter of perspective, attitudes, and definitions. Traditionally, women married men who became the breadwinners, while they raised a family. We wouldn't call them gold diggers. But society has changed. Due to feminism, or even though we have feminism, more than ever, women will still seek out the best male they can, and not to be supported and spend their money. It’s the career they’re after, and security in a world filled with insecurity.

Under what circumstances is it fair to apply the term ‘gold digger’ to women who seek wealthy men to marry. The money is what is important to gold diggers, although raising children and keeping a home, or having a career oneself seems to make the term nonapplicable. Perhaps the term is a bit harsh for women who only want what’s best for their family and themselves – or a career. But taking the label out of context or applying it to some situations but not others, and not including the effect it has on the rest of society, may be unconscionable.

Today's world is different. Instead of growing up with specific rules of behaviour, it seems that anything goes. If women act as though they have no fear - of limitations or doing the wrong thing - it's because they have been told for so long they are exceptional people (and that anything that comes out of their mouths is right). Just as it did for men, 50 years ago, the world revolves around them – some of them, depending on social and family background for starters.

When my Dr puts on my referral for a pulmonary test that I "fear cancer', she is not only making a value judgement about me but is placing me squarely within a generation that feared the big C, that couldn't cope with life or death, and that preferred to block out negativity rather than deal with it. And now I have to try to get a specialist to treat me seriously, not as a non-contributing citizen with no reason to make helping me worthwhile.

Social Inequality

Feminism has enabled some women to join the ranks of the well-employed and fulfilled, but left out far too many. Similarities in education between men and women aren't the main marrying point, it seems. Wealth is, or other indicators, as mentioned. Too many educated people are unemployed or underemployed, lacking the relationships or whatever it takes to get on the path to success or fulfilment and wellbeing.

In my blog (see ‘Occupy Movement,’ Dec 10, 2011), I have written about how the Occupiers have been encouraged to blame the top 1% for the world’s economic problems, while those in the top 30% or so must surely be enjoying economic security, well-established in their career, married also to professionals in many cases, living a life of entitlement while denying the real circumstances of those farther down the ladder. As I said there, “Many in the middle classes comprehend (or perhaps would rather not admit) that there are many capable people out there being pushed out, while they edge their way upwards.” Bernie Hammond (‘Don’t shrug off,’ 2011), may be right after all. In order to understand the lives of the poor we do need to study the structure of society, especially how the wealthy got where they did. I hope this piece I am writing will contribute towards that.

A commenter on a piece in the Huffington Post recently made me aware of a term I was unfamiliar with - hypergamy, meaning ‘marrying up’ – while explaining that “hypergamy as a theory has been all but debunked and is not taken seriously.” Yet I found an article about this in Time magazine (The truth about women, 2009), though not naming it hypergamy, stating that this subject – of women, money, and relationships, is taboo.

Traditional femininity

There's something going on behind this view that 'women can have it all.' And I think it might be this that distorts the significance of the phrase and leads to inequality and discord in society. Even though women are told they can have the career, the husband and the kids, there are still aspects of traditional femininity they don't manage to lose. And I'm not talking about being sexy or feminine. That’s just part of how many women are. What many of them might be unable to do, or don't want to, is marry a man with less then themselves and in this way, not only help him to achieve fulfilment and thus success, in this way, but on a larger scale contribute towards lessening social inequality and achieving a more balanced society.

If men and women with money and great careers wouldn’t be so reluctant to form intimate partnerships with those with less money but similar interests and personalities, then the result could be a more blanced society. Otherwise, what we have is the rich marrying the rich and the rest left to struggle.

Conclusion

At the beginning of this piece, I wrote that feminism had changed the world, and not always for the best. In my own life, not knowing anything about feminism until I was approaching midlife, I only knew earlier on that one married someone one felt close to, for whatever reason, and that money or potential had little or nothing to do with it. It was just something women did. In the 17 interviews with women that I did, several told me that they never gave marriage much thought before jumping into it. The interviews were intended to be for a PhD (see ‘Intimacy and Sexuality, 2009), but the university couldn’t/didn’t fund me and I was pushed out. That must have been at about the same time that my ex-husband was pushing for divorce, and I was pressured into signing off on any further claims, despite my situation being so insecure. I guess he wanted to secure his situation and find a new wife, his sister having fortunately been a good-size lottery winner a few years earlier. I was still naive enough to believe in a just world, and my financial situation was so complex, being part of both the UK and Canada, it seemed the best decision (uninformed) at the time. Na├»ve, yes, in a different world. But no worse, in its own way, than the world today.

Instead of women being suppressed and oppressed, now it’s both men and women who are being pushed down the economic ladder, due to their luck running out, or talents going unnoticed, or not having the money to get an education, or not having the talent or knowledge, or enough ability. Not all the oppressed are the same, just as not all of the well-off are.

Social inequality refers, to a large extent, to people without money being treated as lesser human beings, in so many ways – health care, housing, education, job-seeking, and practically any way you can think of, including not being given credit for contributions they make to their community or society in general. Feminism hasn’t helped in changing that. In fact, feminism has probably made it worse, as women seek power and security in their lives.

Added Sept 9, 2012

Another aspect of feminism and its legacy is the hiring of spouses within the same university While it may be seen as beneficial to the university (see Universities see benefits, Feb 16, 2010) I can’t see that using the excuse of ‘diversity’ to uphold the policy of hiring of academic couples makes any sense at all. Rather, hiring couples simply promotes the idea of coupledom, already an established mainstream norm. According to Professors Anabel Quan-Haase and J. Bruce Morton, the reason for such hiring is "an improved understanding of the needs of women and families." But dual-income academic families aren’t helping society adapt to a poor economy, and the problem of some men and women excluded and unable to find work, or left without meaningful work. Two salaries two health plans, two sets of pension benefits when the time comes – while others struggles. This is the legacy of feminism.

Before I realized that feminism was the fundamental cause of this social inequality I had already written a piece about the hiring of spouses at universities (see The two-career family, Feb 18, 2010). If universities continue to close ranks against unattached individuals with no powerful social network, and if feminists – or women academics – use their relationships with men to secure their own future with no consideration for others, how is this helping the ordinary person, including the unattached ones and the educated ones who wish to pursue a career within academia?

List of sources, by title

Don't shrug off the power of the Occupy movement
By Bernie Hammond
Opinion, Western news
November 17, 2011
http://communications.uwo.ca/western_news/opinions/2011/November/hammond_dont_shrug_off__the_power_of_the_occupy_movement.html

Gold digger: Informal definition
- a woman who associates with or marries a man chiefly for material gain
Reference dictionary
http://dic­tionary.re­ference.co­m/browse/g­old+digger
retrieved Feb 4, 2012

Gold digger: definition
- a woman who only wants relationships with men who are rich
Macmillan Dictionary
http://www­.macmillan­dictionary­.com/dicti­onary/brit­ish/gold-d­igger -
retrieved Feb 4, 2012

Have it all? Yeah, right!
By Barbara and Shannon Kelley
Jan 27, 2012
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shannon-kelley/have-it-all_b_1225945.html

‘Intimacy and Sexuality: single-again older women’
Summary of proposed PhD thesis topic
By Sue McPherson
S A McPherson website
2009
http://samcpherson.homestead.com/files/EssaysandWriting/IntimacySexualityOlderWomen.doc

Occupy movement may be most vapid of all
By Heinz Klatt
Opinions, Western News
November 24, 2011
http://communications.uwo.ca/western_news/opinions/2011/November/klatt_occupy_movement_may_be_most_vapid_of_all_.html

The Occupy Movement: UWO's Klatt and Hammond, and other perspectives
By Sue (Fulham) McPherson
Western News
Dec 10, 2011
http://suemcpherson.blogspot.com/2011/12/occupy-movement-uwos-klatt-and-hammond.html

The Truth About Women, Money and Relationships
By Andrea Sachs
Time magazine
Jan. 07, 2009
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1870066,00.html
retrieved Feb 4, 2012

The two-career family - profs in the ivory tower (added Sept, 2012)
By Sue McPherson
Sue’s Views on the News
Feb 18, 2010
http://suemcpherson.blogspot.ca/2010/02/two-career-family-profs-in-ivory-tower.html

Universities see benefits to hiring spouses as profs (added Sept, 2012)
By Misty Harris, Canwest News Service

Montreal Gazette
Feb 16, 2010
http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Universities+benefits+hiring+spouses+profs/2571425/story.html

What Justin Bieber and Gold Diggers Can Teach Us About Feminism
by Keli Goff
Huffington Post - Culture
Nov 15, 2011
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/keli-goff/what-justin-bieber-and-go_b_1094032.html?ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=111511&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief
retrieved Feb 4, 2012

What Justin Bieber and Gold Diggers Can Teach Us About Feminism
Nov 19, 2011
Sue’s Views on the News
http://suemcpherson.blogspot.com/2011/11/what-justin-bieber-and-feminism-can.html