I first heard of Chloe Cole when she was a guest on Dr. Jordan Peterson’s podcast. At the age of 17, she became a public voice against transitioning children. Earlier, as an unhappy 13-year-old, she had quickly been “diagnosed” with gender dysphoria, leading to being prescribed hormone blockers and testosterone, and undergoing a double mastectomy at 15. By the time she was 16, she knew she had made a terrible mistake.
The horrors and abuse taking place in the dubious field of gender studies, as awful as they are, are not what this Musing is about. What is of interest to me today is how we moved from feminism’s stated goal for women to be respected and valued, to today where Chloe explained in an interview that as a pre-teen she heard nothing positive about being a woman. What she heard was that women were oppressed, being pregnant was scary, having children was a negative experience, and female biological realities such as menstruation or menopause were horrible. Surely being terrified of being female and despising themselves is not what most women meant when they sought “liberation” back in the 1970s.
I grew up in a middle-class community in New York City, reaching my teens and young adulthood after the first wave of feminism. It never dawned on my classmates or me that women couldn’t be doctors, lawyers, accountants and leaders. I never noticed our teachers having any lower expectations for the girls in our classroom than for the boys. Attending a highly academic co-ed Orthodox Jewish school, marriage and family were assumed to be in everyone’s future, but so was career. Any suggestion that having both a high-power career and a strong family might mean making trade-offs or involve lots of speed bumps was missing. The world was our oyster—or whatever the kosher version of that saying might be. Unfortunately, real life often doesn’t turn out that way.
As we entered and enjoyed our teens, we watched the Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Waltons, All in the Family and Little House on the Prairie. Perhaps that was indicative of the training we got that honored old-fashioned values and family life at the same time as it encouraged forward-thinking and ground-breaking new ideas. But while the shows were on at different times and could all easily be viewed by the same person, we didn’t understand that the values they espoused actually clashed.
The Walton family included mom, dad, Grandma and Grandpa and a bunch of children. Together they faced life’s challenges which were often serious, but never had to be met alone. Values included family, honesty, hard work, commitment and faith.
Mary Richards, played by Mary Tyler Moore in her eponymous show, epitomized the working single woman. I don’t remember meeting her parents or siblings. They certainly weren’t featured characters. The motto of the show was sung in the opening frame, “You’re gonna make it on your own.” Friendship replaced family and honesty was valued—sort of. Mary was an honest individual and hard worker but sometimes she was treated as naive and old-fashioned for being so. Other than an obligatory Christmas tree I don’t recall faith being mentioned, and commitment to marriage and possibly children meant giving up the fun of being single.
All in the Family was Norman Lear’s brilliant and influential show. The father, Archie Bunker, exemplified everything Hillary Clinton probably meant when she called Donald Trump supporters “deplorable.” Archie was sexist and racist, self-centered and arrogant. He treated his wife insultingly and his faulty command of the English language revealed a lack of education. His wife, Edith, was meek and servile; a lovely person but not one after whom you would model your life. While Archie’s son-in-law, who lived off his in-laws’ generosity, was ungrateful and self-righteous, he and his wife nonetheless represented a more attractive future.
Meanwhile, the parents on Little House on the Prairie playing characters from an earlier century were both wise and competent. The father capably protected and supported his family while his wife was his hard-working and loving partner. The children in that show had no difficulty respecting both their parents as well as understanding that respect was expected from them. Education was valued, but learning did not go hand-in-hand with despising parents. In fact, the older generation had more knowledge than their children and the youngsters aspired to be as wise as their parents. On this show too, a better future was in the offing. It would be available to the next generation courtesy of the sacrifices, courage, and diligence of the parents.
What were we left thinking? I can’t speak for everyone, but looking back it seems to me that we assumed we could take the happiness of strong family relationships and the matching character virtues with us to new ways of life, merging the best of both worlds. Looking around me, I’d have to say this was a quixotic quest. It made for a nice theory, but it didn’t play out in the real world.
Along the way, something went dreadfully wrong.
The rosy picture painted in the glow of 1970s feminism of a society filled with thriving and optimistic men and women happily relating as equals in the workplace and at home with fulfilling careers, enduring marriages and well-adjusted children has not come to pass. As a group moving towards adulthood in those years, we girls imagined that we would be powerful professionals, loving wives, and nurturing mothers. We could have it all!
Instead of a world filled with light, sunshine and joy as we frolic in a feminist utopia, we keep hearing about how unhappy and dissatisfied both women and men are. Workplaces are depicted as dens of sexual harassment rather than as places that fulfill dreams of cooperation. Marriage and birth rates tumble. Loneliness abounds. The world we wrought has betrayed a young generation filled with an appalling number of young girls miserable in their own sex. Incited by online groups as well as by teachers, therapists, and doctors, they can’t wait to discard their own bodies. They have no sense of the wonder and blessing of being female. Most young girls aren’t living the lives of their grandmother’s dreams. They are not even living as joyous and fulfilling lives as their grandmothers did.
What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Susan’s Musings post.
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