The goal of the feminist movement was to liberate women from the standards men and society had bestowed upon them. Specifically, the movement sought to free them from their roles as perfect housewives, sex objects, and from male imposed beauty standards. Feminist activists were striving to attain equal pay, affordable child care, the reproductive right to choose, and realistic sex and beauty norms. Simultaneous with the movement the media was promoting working, independent, and in some cases perfectly beautiful women on TV shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, Bionic Women, and Charlie’s Angels.
Feminism granted women a variety of choices, leading women to expect more and more for their lives. Women could pursue careers in law, medicine, and politics, they were sexually liberated through contraception, the abortion right to choose, casual sex practices, and varieties of cosmetic products for beauty enhancement. However, none of their pre-feminist movement expectations had vanished; women continued to endure nine-month pregnancies and they remained obsessed with their sexual/physical attractiveness and bodily perfection. As these conflicting expectations from pre and post feminism multiplied, women began to privatize the movement, shifting the focus from the collective group to individuals. The “having it all” syndrome was birthed from the female interpretation of feminism as a route leading women to perfection.
Spar provides an explanation for her belief that indeed, women can “have it all” and still keep their sanity.
“Women, in other words, are not perfect, and they are not identical to men. They are instead physical and social beings, marked by flaws, programmed to reproduce, destined to age, and generally inclined to love. Any approach to women’s issues must start from the reality of women’s lives rather than from an idealized or ideological view of who they should be and what they should want. It must start, in other words, by killing Charlie and other myths of female perfection, replacing them with more attainable and flexible dreams—dreams that acknowledge both women’s aspirations and the obstacles to them that most women will inevitably confront. This rejiggering does not in any way mean that women should lower their sights or accept anything less than total equality with men. But it does suggest that women’s paths to success may be different and more complicated than men’s, and that it is better to recognize these complications than to wish them away.” (236-237)
Biology causes men and women to experience different sexual and reproductive behaviors. Women prefer extended romantic or sexual relationships, while men often have purely sexual motives. Consequently, women begin relationships often at a disadvantage. Likewise, prior to child bearing women compete and interact with men on a fair basis. However, children bring about new expectations for women including everything from maternity leave and child care to pumping breast milk and loss of sleep. Women often sacrifice their careers for their children’s sake. Spar comments that feminism did not address these differences between men and women and the government does not regulate these issues. She believes companies should permit extended maternity leaves and family -friendly work environments. Similarly, she believes the government should grant women access to affordable healthcare.
Spar encourages young women to contemplate the many choices they will face in the future; choices about marriage, careers, children, education, religion etc. She suggests that women should not limit their dreams in fear of failure, but understand that they cannot do it all at the same time. Spar’s preferred solution is satisficing, an economics term that suggests “a combination of cutting corners and settling for second best.” (243) For mothers, this may translate into making homemade dinners, but not breakfasts and lunches too or refraining from other career related events such as travel.
Spar concludes the final chapter suggesting that women need to focus on collective goals and less on individual motives. Alternatively, she encourages male involvement in the women’s movement, specifically through communication about women’s issues. Finally, she promotes reinstating a sense of joy into the movement. Faced with a number of choices throughout life, women should choose what they wish to pursue and go for it!
1) As a young woman faced with a variety of choices each day of your life, what values or principles guide your decision making process?
2) Spar suggests that women should adopt more realistic viewpoints about their dreams and aspirations. What obstacles do you face in pursuing your current goals? How have you worked through them?
3) Do you believe the lack of the collective effort and shift in focus to the individual has negatively affected American’s daily lives, government/political movements etc.?