80%, or you’ve come most of the way, baby

A (male) student of mine once said to me, in an amazed voice, “you’re a feminist? but you’re so calm.”

We were in the midst of a class discussion where it seemed like every girl in the class was doing the “I’m not a feminist but…”  and then finishing her sentence with all those radical things that of course happened totally without any feminist interventions whatsoever: revolutionary things like, oh, expecting their husbands to be partners in childcare; assuming they could have any job they were qualified for; or that they could choose whether or not to have children.  So that’s when I said that actually their assumptions seemed pretty feminist-y to me, and then I did the deed: I identified as a feminist.

Much to the puzzlement of this particular male student  I wasn’t waving my arms and ranting; I had set no undergarments on fire; and in fact, I think this kid even got an A in the course.

I’ve never quite figured out why “feminist” became such a dirty word…or why it’s been so difficult erase the taints of eras past and reclaim it for the 21st century.  Is it wrong to want families to have access to clean air and water; to want life choices that aren’t predetermined by biology; to think that if two people helped make the baby, two people should take turns cleaning up the various effluvia produced by said baby; and then this particulary pesky thought: that if we work the same jobs and have the same qualifications, we should make the same amount of money?

Oh come on, I can hear you thinking, not that whole women-only-make-seventy-cents-for-every-male-dollar thing, that’s sooo 1979.

You’re right. In fact, now, in the progressive 21st century, women are making about EIGHTY cents for every male dollar.  This story, from CNN.com breaks down in depressingly familiar terms: in just about every profession you can think of, from Architect to Registered Nurse (the article had no listing for Zoologist, but I’ll bet it’s the same story), women earn about 80% of what men do. 

But then again, maybe it is fair that women don’t make as much as men. I mean, you know, how on earth can we expect women to get paid the same amount as men when women are always busy with other things?  What with all the child care, house work, food preparation, maybe toss in an elderly parent … women just aren’t available the way they should be if they want to earn that full 100% pay check.

What happened to the promises of those long-legged Virginia Slims ladies, the seductive song of the Enjoli babe? 

It’s enough to make a feminist lose her composure, I swear it is.

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2 Responses to 80%, or you’ve come most of the way, baby

  1. KSB May 15, 2010 at 2:28 am #

    Some students (both female and male) had kept me after class, chatting, and one of the topics they wanted to talk about was Sex and the City. A male student announced that he thought it was “a totally strong feminist show ,” and got bug-eyed when I responded to his statement by pointing out the very traditional and patriarchal limitations of that show, and then promptly remarked, “Gee, I didn’t know you were a feminist. I mean, you’re so nice and reasonable. You’re not an angry man-hater.” This was several years into the 21st Century, at NYU.

  2. deborahlquinn May 15, 2010 at 7:25 am #

    @KSB: If it weren’t so sad it would be funny, the way that the image of the “man-hating” feminist has endured for more than 100 years. The cartoons of 19th century suffragists were horrible caricatures of devouring, ugly women. Grr. Thanks for the comment.

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