Thursday, March 16, 2006

What happened to the two steps forward?

Completely by chance I happen to be reading at this moment two books about the position of women in society at distinct historical periods - Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, and a historical novel called Sex Wars by Marge Piercy. It strikes me in reading these two texts that so many of the problems for women that they describe continue to be an issue today. The novel is set in the post-civil war period and it talks about efforts to reduce women's access to birth control and abortion, as well as the difficulty for women business owners and political organizers. All of these are things I see reflected in what's going on around us these days. Friedan's opus addresses a different set of questions about identity and fulfillment, but there too I feel a certain resonance with the modern world.

Are we really making so little progress that 50 or 150 years ago we were facing some of the same issues? More and more often I get the sense that there's a movement underway to turn the clock back on all the gains made by women in the last century. Will we find ourselves defending our right to vote or to own property some day soon? It may sound farfetched, but these days I'm not willing to bet against even the craziest of ideas.

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