by Lovelle Harris
Growing up in a female-dominated household in the frigid confines of Alaska, I learned the word “feminism” through the daily struggles of the women in my life: the anxiety of living from paycheck to paycheck, surviving the horrors of domestic abuse, and relying on a welfare system that was often demeaning and intolerant. It was through witnessing these experiences that I gained an awareness of just what the women’s movement could mean: women pulling together in a united front to bring about positive change for one another.
In a society obsessed with elective plastic surgery and the oversexed women of MTV’s Jersey Shore, it looks as if the women’s movement is currently in a state of decline, or perhaps in need of a shot of adrenaline into its failing heart. Gone are the days of picketing for equal pay in the workplace; marching in the streets for reproductive rights; and rallying in the halls of justice against the pervasive and destructive chain of physical, sexual and psychological violence against women.
While great strides have been made through the years, there is still much work to be done. Rather than the organized, grassroots activities that marked the first three epochs of the feminist movement, the issues have moved from the streets and into the corporate boardrooms on Wall Street and congressional quarters on Capitol Hill. From Sallie Krawcheck’s meteoric rise as wealth management chief at Bank of America to Barbara Boxer’s campaign to convince the United States to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, a global-rights treaty adopted by the U.N. General Assembly more than 30 years ago, women are poised to blast right through that proverbial glass ceiling.
In the last 20 years, I have seen the fight for women’s issues evolve from symbolic gestures into highly politicized, cultural hot buttons, fought on the political front lines. Take the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act in 2009, named after a former employee of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company who alleged that she was paid 15 to 40 percent less than her male colleagues. It’s a piece of legislation that extends the statute of limitations on pay-discrimination lawsuits, and clearly a monumental win in the gender-based wage-gap issue, yet I only recently became acquainted with its existence. The moment occurred with barely a blip registering on the teleprompters of the mainstream media.
Perhaps this is why so many women in my generation, women in their early to mid-30s, don’t self-identify as feminists: Politics is confusing, the corporate world is intimidating and, to be perfectly honest, both are downright scary at times. I don’t believe my generation has forsaken the ideals associated with the women’s movement; there are many examples of local, young, strong, empowered women exacting change in their communities all around the greater Sacramento area. But I feel that there isn’t a singular, grand agenda uniting the masses.
Maybe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With the expansion of the Internet and the emergence of the blogosphere, perhaps technology is poised to take the stage as the grand unifier of women in this decade. One need only type in “blogs + women’s issues” in a Web browser to see just how much potential this newest wave of the feminist movement has.
However, given the current state of things, it still might be a good idea to have a defibrillator on hand—just in case.
Lovelle Harris is a 35-year-old writer still aiming for her first Pulitzer in journalism. She is forever grateful to the literary gods for getting her out of Anchorage, Alaska.