That well-worn feminist slogan "the personal is
political" has taken on a new, exclusive meaning in the past several
years. The personal, it seems, is all that's political anymore.
Feminism--on college campuses, in the media and even in Washington--has
become overwhelmingly personal at the expense of political action.
While the economic chasm between rich and poor widens, why have
many feminist sources repeatedly trumpeted Monica and masturbation,
confessionals, Kegel exercises and Courtney Love?
The one big feminist political issue of the '90s
was abortion. Feminists have obsessed over Roe v. Wade and
championed Clinton and Gore for defending the right to choose. But
at the same time, most women in this country have watched their
ability to obtain an abortion disappear. As Miranda Kennedy points
out in "Access Denied," 85 percent of counties nationwide have no
abortion provider. It's still true that women with money can always
access abortion, but women with less cannot.
From health care to the workplace, one important
question has been lost: What about women who still lack the basic
rights middle- and upper-class women now take for granted? In this
issue, In These Times looks at a few of the problems facing
those left behind in the feminist revolution. As Barbara Ehrenreich
wrote last year in these pages, "While middle-class women gained
MBAs, working-class women won the right to not be called 'honey'--and
not a whole lot more than that."
It's time to move on to a "fourth wave" of feminism.
It's goal should be to close the class gap and extend feminism's
gains to all women. Old-time "women's lib" feminists and my generation's
riot grrrls need to get busy and get radical. Instead of sticking
up for politicians, we need to get in their faces and demand greater
economic equality and, in turn, greater freedom for all women.
When the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, feminists were wearing
buttons emblazoned "59¢," reflecting how much women earned on average
for every dollar earned by men. Today the buttons would read "72¢,"
a marker of progress and frustration on the road to gender equality
on the job.
There is both statistical and anecdotal evidence that women, who
now comprise nearly
47 percent of the labor force, have made significant gains since the
'60s, especially in earning advanced degrees and moving into professional
fields. Despite continuing evidence of corporate glass ceilings, women
have assumed more high-profile positions in management, politics,
nonprofit administration and operation of their own businesses.
But a closer look shows that the gains have not been uniformly
shared--and in most cases, the closing of the gender pay gap has
been a hollow victory. The main reason why women on average earn
a higher percentage of the average man's income today is simple:
Over the past quarter century, men's wages have been falling sharply
in real, inflation-adjusted terms, while women's wages have increased
According to The State of Working America, an annual report prepared
by the Economic Policy Institute, "falling real wages among men
can explain 64.9 percent of the closing of the gender gap between
1979 and 1989; correspondingly, only 35.1 percent ... was due to
women's rising real wages." In any case, even that spurious progress
has slowed in the '90s. If men's real wages had not fallen since
1979, as a joint study by the AFL-CIO and the Institute for Women's
Policy Research reported last year, "women's earnings today would
be only about 66 percent of men's, representing a remarkably small
overall decline in the gender wage gap."
In addition, as economic inequality for the work force as a whole
has grown since 1973, there has been growing inequality among women
workers: Women in the top fifth of the work force have made significant
gains, but women in the bottom half remain--in real terms--only
slightly above where they stood a quarter century ago.
Conservatives, led by Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the American Enterprise
Institute, claim that the wage gap either has disappeared--or simply
reflects women's choices and differences in experience and other
"human capital." Among people ages 27 to 33 who have never had a
child, they argue, citing the National Longitudinal Study of Youth,
women earn nearly 98 percent of what men do. Such a small slice
of the work force, however, is not proof that gender inequities
are vanishing, but simply a reminder that they often show up in