Tonight I am going to cook dinner for my friends. This might not seem so remarkable to you, but let me add this little tidbit — I am a feminist. Do I contradict myself? I think not, but it seems that there are some who seem to think that as a feminist, I would automatically decry any woman participating in traditionally “girly” activities such as cooking.
I will cook tonight, though, simply because I want to — not because I have to. And that is the basis of my kind of feminism: Women should be able to make choices, including the choice to do girly things, because we want to and not because we have to.
Yes, I am a women’s and gender studies major. I listen to Ani DiFranco, I paid for my own drinks at Toad’s the one time I went, I can build a fire in the woods, I know how to put oil in my car, and I sometimes don’t shave my legs. But my personal choices are my own, and I have those horribly maligned feminists to thank for that.
The second wave of feminism in the late 1960s and the 1970s was not a cohesive movement, by any stretch. Feminists never agreed on any single political platform, and for all the women who argued that, for instance, all heterosexual relationships were inherently oppressive, there were just as many who thought that lesbians were a danger to the movement, a “lavender menace” as Betty Friedan famously termed it. As with any vibrant movement, some feminists put forth some truly radical and even ridiculous proposals for a revisioning of society — a true revolution. Others just wanted to adjust the status quo so that women had the opportunity to participate equally.
The one thing that second-wave feminists were able to agree on was that women should have more choices in how they live their lives. In the end, all those revolutionary proposals came down to this: Feminists wanted us to think in a new way about women’s lives, so that we would be able to live as we chose, from the vast array of options before us.
So no, I am not a “victim of feminism,” as Liz Gunnison calls herself in a recent article (“WGST 273a: Getting Barefoot and Pregnant,” 10/25). Many of the choices that I make today are available to me only because of the efforts of the feminists that Gunnison decries.
Indeed, I would not be at Yale without those same feminists, and neither would thousands of women who are currently students on other Ivy League campuses that Gunnison claims are “haunted” by the “very real danger” of feminism. In fact, only two of the eight Ivy League schools (Penn and Cornell) were fully coeducational before Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem came along. The others gradually became coeducational starting at the end of the 1960s, when it became clear that women were demanding access to the greatest educational institutions that our country had to offer.
Nor would we have the opportunity to go into corporate law if feminists hadn’t open the doors to the higher professions. Not to say that most women before the second wave were actually the idyllic stay-at-home suburban moms of the 1950s that some depict. In fact, the vast majority of American women have never had that luxury. It took a certain amount of privilege (economic, social, racial and heterosexual — yes, you had to be married to a man), as it does now, to be economically able to stay at home.
If any woman, Ivy League or not, chooses to be a corporate lawyer or a stay-at-home mom or anything else, that’s fine with me — but count yourself lucky that you can choose. If you wear pink skirts with a pedicure every Saturday night on your way to Toad’s, more power to you. But at least you will have made your own choice about that. If a guy buys you a drink, realize that you’re lucky to be able to choose whether or not to sleep with him — because in the good ol’ days, you would have had to.
Let’s not rest on our laurels, though, ladies. A woman is raped every six minutes in the United States; 34 million women will be victims of domestic violence this year. If you do go into law or any other profession, within a few years you will most likely earn about 25 percent less than the men you work with. As the 1970s Virginia Slims ads said, “You’ve come a long way, baby”; but we still have a long way to go.
In the meantime, I will cook dinner for my friends tonight. Tomorrow night maybe I will go to Toad’s, or maybe I won’t, and maybe I’ll buy my friends drinks or maybe they’ll buy one for me. Maybe next week I’ll get a pedicure, or maybe I’ll shave my head and bleach my hair. Maybe I’ll walk down the street holding hands with a woman, or maybe I’ll hold hands with a man. Maybe I’ll be a corporate lawyer, or maybe I’ll be a stay-at-home mom. Maybe I’ll traverse the world by foot, or maybe I’ll make a rule only to travel first class. But whatever I do, I know I will have chosen it for myself, and I’ll be sure to take a moment to thank those unshaven, braless feminists for being able to do so.
Josie Rodberg is a senior in Davenport College.