The New West, Feminism in Society

While feminism has had a long history in the United States, it wasn't until the introduction of effective contraceptives in the 1960s that feminism began to reach out and affect the majority of women in this country. It seems that once women began to have effective control of the reproductive process, they began to realize that they could also control other areas of their lives as well. As a result there have been some significant changes in western culture.
Female activists have been a part of this country since the founding of the colony of Rhode Island. The abolition movement, the temperance movement, the labor movement, the women’s vote movement, and the civil rights movement all had recognizable female leaders. These women, while influential, were a minority, both within their movements and within the larger society. Their passionate speaking, effective organizing, and dedicated perseverance showed to the dispassionate observer that women could participate in all levels of our society.

It wasn’t until the anti-war movement of the late 60s and early 1970s that the women’s rights movement began to effect society as a whole. It is not a coincidence that introduction of effective birth control and the liberalization of divorce laws on the west coast preceded the wide spread rise of the women’s liberation movement. Giving women the ultimate control of the reproductive process by preventing conception provided the average woman with the first true measure of control over this important part of her life. This combined with the rise of the newly single mother arising out of the increased divorce rate forced more women to take control over more and more aspects of their lives. Finally, the women’s movements began to gain audiences in the middle class and working class that they had never experienced before. Along with that came political power. In the west feminism began to move into the mainstream.

Today in the west feminism is so pervasive that it almost is not recognizable as a movement. While female leaders are still not the majority that the population distribution would suggest is reasonable and equitable, they are found in so many areas of government, education, and business that their appearance at a rostrum or on dais is seldom worthy of comment. The word female is used less and less as an adjective in describing a politician, a business leader, or a teacher. We are fast reaching the point where we can truthfully tell our daughters that she can become anything she wants, even President of the United States.

What affect has this had on western culture? As with any change in culture there are positives as well as negatives. First we can report with pride that our representative democracy is more effectively representing more of the population; we no longer have more than half of the people in the country relying on people unlike themselves telling them what to do. We are approaching equity in pay and diversity in the work place. At all levels, the work place is increasingly looking more like the population at large. More importantly, we are seeing an even more rapid increase in the number of small businesses owned and operated by women. More women are finding that an effective way to crash the glass ceiling is to start and run their own business. In the west, feminism is in the mainstream

On the down side, there are more single parent families than ever before. As a result more children are spending significant amounts of time without adult at home. While this happens without incident in the vast number of cases, some problems that do occur might not have happened if there had been adult supervision present. Additionally, there are undoubtedly increased levels of stress for the single parent, which have caused some medical, and or social problems.

In any case, it is too late to go back. There is no way we as a society are going to be able to return to the ‘good-ole days’ of the 1950’s with the nuclear family run by the father and assisted by the subservient wife. That subservient wife is an increasingly small minority in the west. Feminism has made a permanent mark on our cultural landscape.
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