I once told a wise woman that while I considered myself a feminist, I wasn’t hell bent on eradicating marriage or trashing men and burning my bra in my spare time.
She said that was okay because any kind of social revolution worth it’s salt is going to swing the cultural pendulum as far as it will swing in the opposite direction of the status quo. “Ultimately, it will swing back the other way, and land somewhere in the middle, where it’s supposed to be.”
She’s right. And the pendulum of the women’s movement has settled on goodly middle ground, I think.
Coming of Age
When I enrolled at the University of Texas in 1980, I took advantage of the fact that because of the feminist movement, I had the opportunity to choose any career I wanted. I wasn’t expected to go to college to find a husband or to go into one of only two female professions: teaching or nursing.
So I chose a formerly male dominated field: accounting. I suppose you could say that I chose that profession to make some kind of statement, and you’d probably be right. A female pre-med classmate of mine made her career choice similarly: “I’m really not sure I want to be a doctor, but I feel like I should because I CAN.
Today, I have three grown daughters and a son; times have progressed to a point that women don’t have to settle for any kind of extreme. Their educational choices are not limited to two career tracks, nor do they feel pressured to choose a “guy career” for the feminist cause.
Times, They’ve Been A-Changin’
On an anecdotal level, I’ve realized for a number of years that the feminist movement did what it was intended to do — enable women to choose the course of every aspect of their own lives.
That’s why I’m puzzled by statitstics showing a huge disparity between what women and men earn, respectively. Back in 1985, I went to work as a tax accountant for a major oil firm and I made just as much as my male counterparts. So why the gap 30 years later?
An excellent article by author Kim Hymowitz lifts the veil shrouding this issue.
Simply looking at the numbers in spreadsheet fashion doesn’t tell the whole story. She cites an article posted in JAMA which showed major differences in the salaries of male and female physicians.
What those numbers DON’T convey is that women spend more time with their patients than their male co-workers, which means less income. Also, women are more likely to choose to work part-time because of family concerns.
Male physicians are more likely to choose a medical specialty with higher income potential, such as surgery and cardiology. Women, on the other hand are more likely to choose psychiatry or pediatrics, specialties that bring in less than what surgeons and cardiologists earn.
To fully grasp how far we’ve come, let’s look back at where we were 75-80 years ago.
My great-grandfather was a physician from 1891-mid-1950s – throughout his practice, he was familiar with this harsh reality: women didn’t have much choice over their reproductive lives. His own daughter died in the mid-1930s during childbirth (her fifth pregnancy). Career choice wasn’t even an option.
He told my father about a family he treated regularly – a farmer and his wife in central Texas during the Depression. After their fifth child, he sat down with them and explained a new birth control method that was cutting edge at the time.
He told them that after every sexual encounter, the wife needed to rinse herself with a chemical solution he gave them. They were pleased to finally be able to have some semblance of control over how many mouths they had to feed.
Several days later, he got word that the farmer’s wife was suffering from excruciating abdominal cramps. When he arrived at their home, she lay near death. When he pressed her husband for details on when and how her symptoms began, he was horrified to discover that they’d tragically misunderstood his directive. Instead of using the chemical as a vaginal rinse, she drank it.
He never got over the incident – the sight of the grieving husband holding an infant and surrounded by six other motherless children was difficult to bear.
75+ years later, that kind of scene is unheard of in the United States. The good doctor’s great-great granddaughters can choose how many children they’d like to raise, or they can choose to not have children at all. What’s more they can choose to marry, they can choose not to stay single, they can choose their careers confidently, they can take a break from their careers to stay home with their children, or they can remain in the work force. That’s the point: they can choose and that’s stasis. And good, solid middle ground.