The Decade in Feminism, Continued

The Decade in Feminism, Continued

Surveying a decade of feminism in 1000 words was clearly beyond my powers of compression even after I’d jettisoned the whole world outside the United States. Several people wrote to remind me of things I’d cut or forgotten.


Surveying a decade of feminism in 1000 words was clearly beyond my powers of compression even after I’d jettisoned the whole world outside the United States. Several people wrote to remind me of things I’d cut or forgotten. More highlights–good, bad, odd — of the no-name decade:

In 2007, Nancy Pelosi became the first woman speaker of the House. In 2009, Elana Kagan became the first woman Solicitor General. Also in 2009, Michelle Obama became the first African-American First Lady, ensuring full employment for style journalists, who devoted five million womanhours to analyzing her clothes (fabulous? over-the-top? What, she wears dresses?) and that vague shimmering ladycloud known as her "role." Elsewhere in government, women inched forward : In 2000, there were three women governors. Now there are 6, (down from a high of 9, what with Sarah Palin quitting and all). In 2000, women held 22.5% of seats in state legislatures. In 2009, they held 24%.

There was a slight increase in numbers of women in the military and a big increase in reported Sexual abuse and rape. As Rep. Jane Harman put it at a 2009 congressional hearing, "A woman in the military is more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq."

Perhaps it’s just my flickering memory, but the discourse around feminism seemed livelier than in the 1990s. Some important books that sparked debate and discussion: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts, Get to Work by Linda Hirshman, How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, By Cristina Page, America’s Women and When Everything Changed by Gail Collins, A Jury of her Peers by Elaine Showalter, Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy, Stiffed and The Terror Dream by Susan Faludi, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and the Means of Reproduction by Michelle Goldberg.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring the status quo overturned by the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Ledbetter v. Goodyear, which narrowed the ability of women to sue employers for sex discrimination in pay. Also in 2009, the stimulus included incentives for states to change their unemployment insurance rules in ways that make it easier for women to qualify: benefits will now be available to workers who leave for compelling family reasons (including domestic violence when the abuser follows his target to work), to workers seeking part-time jobs, and to workers who made less money than was the case under the old rules. Historically, unemployment benefits rules have, in effect, excluded many women, with the result that in 41 states unemployed men were more likely to receive benefits than unemployed women. (For more, see Mimi Abramowitz’s report in womensenews. ) Toward the end of the decade, paid Family Leave became law in California and New Jersey, with Washington on the horizon. This may not seem like a lot, given that there are 50 states, but California is huge–as of 2007, if it were a country it would have the 10th largest economy in the world. And New Jersey has more people than the nine smallest states. And speaking of employment, women now make up 45% of union membership. Plus, the Great Recession puts end to all that chat about the Mommy Wars, because it turns out you can only stay home with your kids if your husband has a job. Who knew?

The Today sponge returns to the drugstore shelves.

Tina Fey became SNL head writer and huge star, thrilling smart girls everywhere. On the other hand, in 2007 Don Imus called Rutgers women’s basketball team "nappy-headed hos" and is fired for about two minutes.

In 2009, Anna Quindlen retired from Newsweek. Ellen Goodman announced the end of her syndicated column – the only column by a liberal woman in wide distribution.

Goodbye, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, Tillie Olsen, Barbara Seaman, Wendy Wasserstein, ,Susan Sontag, Coretta Scott King, Grace Paley, Eartha Kitt, Carolyn Heilbrun, Mary Travers, Octavia Butler, Rita Arditti, Deborah Howell, and, much too soon, the remarkable poet Rachel Wetzsteon.

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