Simone de Beauvoir is often credited as the foremother of second wave feminism. The Second Sex, which came out in 1949 in French, and 1953 in English, long predates what we think of as second wave feminism, all that 1970's style agitation over equal pay for equal work, etc. But Beauvoir gets it, 20 years earlier.
I'm teaching it in a class for first year students right now, and as we were walking to class yesterday I heard one of my students (a young woman) say to another (also a young woman): "She really makes me hate being a woman. I never hated it before, but she really makes me see how it sucks."
I told Mark this last night and he wondered what planet she'd been on. But I've actually never really met an 18-year-old feminist. Not in this country. American girls may indeed face discrimination (indeed, I'd argue that they do) but they often don't see it. Especially the high-achieving ones I teach. They have, after all, succeeded at the thing that matters most in one's youth: school. They have faced little or no discrimination there, at least not overtly. They have been offered the same courses as the boys in their schools, the same (or, usually, at least equivalent) opportunities for athletic competition, the same extra-curricular activities. They have not been told that their brains are too small for them to study science, or that they're too emotional to understand math. They have not been told, in other words, that their biology is their destiny. All of this is, in fact, the result of seventies feminism, of Title IX and heightened awareness of gender discrimination in schools and consciousness-raising among teachers. So when Beauvoir hits them with this right up front, they are taken back to a place they thought was long gone, and they don't like it. And she spends a good bit of time on biology, and some of it is hard to take: "woman is the victim of the species," for example. That's an interesting way to think about your mom in the minivan, isn't it? And not a pleasant one.
So. Because they have been offered these equal opportunities, if they have failed to make use of them they take it personally. That is, if they have stopped being interested in math they have not blamed the teacher or the way math is taught; they have simply stopped being interested in math. (Like Barbie, maybe?) In America we prefer to think of ourselves as autonomous individuals, after all, which means we prefer not to engage in analysis of systems: when someone stays home raising children we frame it as a choice, not a result of systematic decisions and social constraints (see yesterday's post and comments for a little more on this). I, too, want to think in terms of autonomy (so does Beauvoir, ultimately), but a little systematic analysis allows for a more fruitful discussion of it. Only when we see how our choices are constrained can we finally analyze the ones we can and do make.
So I put the text of the equal rights amendment up on the board. Not one student recognized it. That, to me, is a failure of seventies feminism, and every feminism since then.
If we have time, I want to come back to it and discuss Phyllis Schlafly as well. As many others before me have pointed out, Schlafly took advantage of any number of "second wave" advances for women, to deny them to other women. She argued for keeping our "privileges" as women over advancing our rights. But those "privileges" cease to operate as privilege in a time of economic scarcity, as we all know. And so as long as those second-wave battles are not yet won, I don't really know how we can call ourselves any sort of a "third wave."