FEMINISM OF THE ’60s: IT’S ABOUT FREEDOM OF CHOICE

Mar 13th, 2012 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: For Senior Women

Misunderstanding Feminism

The recent national debate centering on a talk-show host’s raging about the testimony of a law student in a congressional hearing brings back memories for me. The personal attack on her became the focus of the debate.  It boils down to the fact that he attacked her personally for her testimony and personal experience. Ah…  memories of the 1960s all over again.

Now a senior citizen enjoying retirement, I was one of the original feminists in Omaha, Nebraska, in the late 60s and 70s.  Single and full of energy and enthusiasm for the rights of women and children, I used my graduate degree in Social Work as the springboard for social reform. I quickly discovered that a lot of folk just didn’t understand what Women’s Rights was all about; and when I tried to explain in person or in a speech or in testimony before one committee or another, many still didn’t understand.  It was as if they refused to believe what I said.

My platform went something like this:  Women have been told for centuries how they must behave; how they must dress; what language and behavior is appropriate in one context, but not in another.  Women have been subjected to the dictates of society and not given opportunity or space to define their lives for themselves. We need to be allowed to do that.  We need to be allowed to choose motherhood and/or a profession other than secretary, nurse or teacher.  We need the freedom to make our own choices, and yes, our own mistakes.  Social control of women must be discarded.

There were a lot of people both in Omaha and nationally who chose to misinterpret what we feminists said.  They chose to re-write our script and accuse us of being against motherhood and for free sex and illicit behavior; one of the favorite phrases conjured at the time was ‘femi-nazi’ likening us and our cause to that of the hateful Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler.

They couldn’t have been more wrong.  And the talk-show host couldn’t have been more vicious in expression of his disgust for the young law student.

Freedom of Choice

Feminism was and still is about freedom of choice.  Womanhood is as dignified a position as every other in our culture, and we must treat women as equal partners in every facet of our society.  If a woman chooses to go to law school, she should be allowed to do that without being subjected to personal insult.  A woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mother should be allowed to do that without belittlement.  A woman who chooses to be a construction engineer should be allowed to do that without personal insult and taunting about it being a ‘man’s job’.

The apology of the talk show host about his poor choice of words is only part of what was insulting about his behavior. The other part was his inherent premise that a ‘real woman’ has no business testifying about birth control and contraception in front of a legislative committee.  A ‘real woman’ would be at home changing diapers, and absolutely no where else in the world.  His premise includes the assumption that he, a man, has the inherent right to tell a woman what she should and should not do.

Makes me wonder just how far we have, or have not, traveled since the 1960s.



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