Feminism and the New Great Depression: What’s Next?

Elisabeth Garber-Paul

Looks like feminism’s at a crossroads, and there’s a very surprising group that could hold the key to the future of the movement: men. (So does this mean I should go buy my goldfish a new bike?)

Looks like feminism’s at a crossroads, and there’s a very surprising group that could hold the key to the future of the movement: men. (So does this mean I should go buy my goldfish a new bike?)

In a panel of cross-generational feminist writers last night at the 92YTribeca in New York City, Elizabeth Hines, Gloria Feldt, Courney E. Martin and Deborah Siegel came together for a Women Girls Ladies panel on the future of feminism, specifically about the way to balance a career, a life, and a family—an increasingly difficult prospect, especially in the midst of the financial climate—and how that prospect has changed for women over the past 40 years. In one particularly interesting portion of the discussion, the panelists discussed the need for women and men to work together to make choices—to have a family, to spend time with one’s family, and to have a successful career—available to everyone, regardless of gender.

Essentially, feminists need men on our side in order to have the movement progress, because women need to be able to take on more responsibility in the office while being able to rely on men to participate at home.

The perception that women have achieved equality with men in the workforce, it would seem, is false; very few high executive positions are filled by women, mostly because if a woman steps “off the track” even momentarily during her 30s in order to spend time with her children during the formative early years, it’s nearly impossible for them to hop back on. Policy at workplaces doesn’t necessarily retain the woman’s job when a woman chooses to come back to work months or even years later. Men often choose not to take advantage of the rare “paternity leave” offered by some companies because they are afraid of being singled out at work. In a blog post this morning, Martin summed up the issue:

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“American workplaces won’t change—in policy or culture—until men take this on as their own issue just as women have for years. If they can’t do it under this big tent movement called feminism, maybe they can invent their own way of owning the issues.”

However, the depression makes it a more volatile time for the discussion of gender roles—especially because 4 out of 5 laid-off workers are men, and that translates into a seeming crisis of masculinity. The image of the female breadwinner and the stay-at-home dad is increasingly common, and now that men don’t necessarily identify primarily through their title at work, how we define masculinity will need to change—just as the image of femininity has been changing over the past 40 years.

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