We are now two generations away from the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
SheByShe asked women participating in our recent “Wonder Woman: Work-Life Balance” study if they thought this movement helped women of today. We also asked women to share their own insights about this topic and received hundreds of colorful comments. SheByShe respondents tell the story better than we ever could.
An overwhelming majority of women in the study, 82 percent, said they feel the feminist movement has helped women of today. As one said, “I study movements and the feminist movement was key in altering many people's lives; the revolution, of course, is unfinished, but the activism of that period had an enormous impact on life in the U.S.”
Many women in the study feel the feminist movement has enabled careers and resulted in more opportunity overall. “They paved the way for me to be doing what I'm doing. The field I work in was and still is male-dominated but its getting better,” said one SheByShe respondent. Another commented, “Woman are capable of doing more than housework. Our contribution to all areas of the workforce has been amazing.”
Many women said the movement has made things more equal and one woman highlighted this point by commenting, “The change in laws to guarantee equal opportunities was an important step in changing the role of women in society.”
Some SheByShe respondents cited more freedom and rights as the way the feminist movement has helped women. One woman said, “There are still a great deal of gender discrimination and injustice but I have many more rights because of the feminist movement.”
Other positive outcomes of the early feminist movement cited in the study include giving women more power and confidence, giving women financial independence and getting equality started in general.
Several women commented that the movement gave women a voice, and said, “It's always important to have a voice if you feel inequality. Women and men are different but that does not mean one of us is greater than the other.” Another said, “We always need strong women in society voicing their opinions and changing the world.”
Not all women agreed.
Fifteen percent feel the feminist movement didn’t help women today with the number one reason being that it created work-life balance issues for women. As one respondent said, “I know it was necessary so women could have careers, and for equality, but it makes it hard to have a career and take care of the family at the same time.” And another commented, “They wanted it all without the help of men. So men got out of the picture and became less supportive in the role of father, husband, breadwinner, etc. Now, we are just alone, trying to make it all work and it isn’t working.”
Many of the naysayers feel the movement confused gender roles. One woman commented, “Our roles have switched which emasculates men thinking they can't provide and that women must work, thus leaving less time with their children.” And another commented, “I feel that we have made great strides as women in the work force. I also believe we don't need to become like men to find acceptance in the workforce. Women bring their own brand of strength and leadership.”
Some said the job isn’t finished because of the inequality issues that remain. As one said, “Yes BUT they dropped the ball on working mothers. What they were striving for was equal pay and opportunity. That was huge but at this point we need to start fighting for rights of working mothers. The demands are different.” And, “I feel we still have a lot more to accomplish. Women still earn less than men at equal jobs and they are still lacking respect from their male counterparts in some industries.”
Other reasons for feeling that the early feminist movement has not helped women of today include the sentiment that women should stay at home with the children; that it forced women into the workforce; created divisiveness; and did not deliver enough support for working moms. For instance, one SheByShe respondent said, “I just think a big part is that women should have more time allowed off work to raise their children in the first years of life."
On both sides of the question, there were hundreds of insightful comments shared by SheByShe respondents. One woman said, “I think any woman who puts all her focus and effort into their career goals looses their profound influence on their children and generally has a less satisfying marriage! I love teaching but my husband and kids are the most important part of my life!” Another shared, “To a degree but we have far to go. This is why I am very much into managing all my female rock bands, to get the women's movement more in the mainstream and to inspire other younger females to become ever more empowered and the cycle continues by my legacy.” And a third commented, “To some degree. It gave women freedom, the ability to earn a respectable income almost equal and in some instances equal to that of a man in the same position. However, in other areas I believe it harmed women especially where men's attitudes towards women are concerned in personal and social settings.”
One of the most succinct comments summed up the conversation nicely, and became our instant favorite:
"I'm in pants.”
How do you feel about the early feminist movement? Do you think it helped women today?