Analysis & Comment

Opinion | What Has Feminism Achieved?

To the Editor:

Re “On Families: Feminism Has Failed Women,” by Kim Brooks (Sunday Review, Dec. 27):

While I certainly agree that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, and that women continue to bear the brunt of our society’s failure to support families, I take issue with the idea that feminism has failed women. In addition to historically espousing some of the very solutions mentioned in the article, including women’s communes, feminism has in fact led to enormous progress for women and girls.

While feminism unfortunately has not yet achieved true inclusivity or a reckoning with its history of racism, younger women often don’t credit feminism for the opportunities they can take for granted. Some don’t realize, for example, that the wage gap, while persistent, has shrunk considerably, that there wasn’t always such a thing as professional women’s sports, or even that girls weren’t always allowed to wear pants to school.

Feminism has not failed women. Society has failed feminism. Blaming feminism is one more way to blame women for society’s failures, and to divide women from one another. The exact opposite of what, as the article correctly points out, is most needed now.

Leslie H. Weber
Brooklyn

To the Editor:

The lack of adequate child care and paid family leave, improved health care benefits, better social supports and income equity are all issues at the forefront of the feminist movement. Feminism isn’t the problem; it’s the only answer.

I share Kim Brooks’s love of the movie “Aliens,” and Ellen Ripley is one of my heroes. If Covid-19 is a malevolent alien force hellbent on destruction, maybe we should follow Ripley’s lead and arm ourselves with some metaphorical flamethrowers and thermal detonators, blow up our current system, and use feminist principles to rebuild this country so women and mothers can finally get some much deserved rest.

Clare Aronow
New York

To the Editor:

Kim Brooks is right. Raising children communally makes sense for parents and children alike. I know from experience. I lived in a commune in Brooklyn for 14 years starting in the early 1970s. We saw communal living as a way to help women enter the work force, and we saw no reason to exclude men. In fact we saw the commune as a way to involve men in all aspects of raising children, including housework, cooking and shopping. Our feminism was based on solidarity — on sisterhood. Women needed women to help them, but they needed men as well.

Feminism is not a done deal. It’s dynamic. It relies on every generation to take the work forward. Our generation built on the work of the first wave of feminism, and we succeeded. Our work helped tens of thousands of women enter professions traditionally hostile to women, greatly expanded access to reproductive health care and involved men in all aspects of child care. Stop blaming feminism, Ms. Brooks, and do the work.

Elayne Archer
Brooklyn

To the Editor:

I was perplexed by Kim Brooks’s assertion that feminism has failed women — a wildly inappropriate kind of blaming the victim. None of the challenges mentioned — the lack of living wages for caregivers, family leave and health care for all — is the fault of feminism. I think the word Ms. Brooks should have used is “capitalism.” Unlike feminism, capitalism has never worried itself over the care of children, or the equality of women.

Jeff Hagan
Cleveland

To the Editor:

Kim Brooks’s piece reads like a feminist manifesto and an anti-feminist manifesto at the same time. Yes, the pandemic has laid bare the unequal burdens facing women. But why blame feminism for that?

As a participant in the women’s movement during the 1970s, I am all too familiar with the hostility aimed at feminism then and now, from many men and from too many women. Sadly, then, many women who agreed on the issues would famously say, “I’m not a feminist, but …” Others interpreted feminism as an attack on their commitment to home and family.

Today, we live with that legacy of ignorance and hostility. Lack of awareness has given rise to women attacking one another for problems that should be laid at someone else’s door. I am talking about men.

Men at home, men on the street, men in the workplace, male governors, senators, members of Congress and statehouses, writers, television executives and newspaper editors. Women’s inequality is their failure. It’s time for them to step up.

Dolores Dwyer
Alberene, Va.

To the Editor:

The “new feminism” that Kim Brooks calls for, one “that understands that the politics of motherhood are inherently intersectional” and that recognizes that women’s empowerment can happen only when “buttressed by truly progressive policies like health care for all,” is not new at all. It is precisely the feminism that many of us have been advocating for decades, but is all too often misrepresented by mainstream media.

Gloria Steinem famously said, many years ago, that feminism is not about wanting a piece of the pie but “baking a whole new pie.” Feminism at its roots in the 1960s (or even, for that matter, in the 1840s) was not about the strivings of individual women, but about envisioning a society in which everyone can flourish.

It is, of course, a goal far from having been achieved, but ignoring the history and struggles that brought us to this point will not help.

Martha Ackelsberg
New York
The writer is professor emerita of government and the study of women and gender at Smith College.

To the Editor:

Feminism was born out of egregious inequality of opportunity, but its purpose was never to make us all indistinguishable drones.

Women and men see the world from profoundly different perspectives — thank goodness — and this is why we seek each other out and enjoy lifetimes together. There is no arena where these differences are more profound than in the rearing of children. Propagating the politically correct and dystopian view that women and men are interchangeable in the homes defies the obvious differences that natural selection has evolved.

In the modern world neither of the sexes is “better” than the other, and we all deserve fair and equal treatment in the workplace, but denying the natural inclinations that women bring to child-rearing versus men is a bridge too far, way too far.

John Roevekamp
Santa Cruz, Calif.

To the Editor:

Kim Brooks’s piece lands short of describing the real crisis for women and society. Feminism unconsciously reinforced the power structures it was intent on dismantling. Under the feminist flag, scores of women entered the work force, pursued credentials and strove to achieve decision-making roles that had the potential to radically redistribute resources and power.

To take up this feminist mantle, we grafted women onto established systems, a horticulturalist’s strategy whose success rate is well documented and low. Should we be surprised that our 40-year cycle has left us exhausted, little advanced and shaking our heads at #MeToo and the pandemic’s social and economic isolation of women?

Feminism is an ideal, not an action plan. The year 2020 has taught me that the only way to live up to feminism’s bold ideals is to recreate the institutions, systems and policies required to support an inclusive society.

Linda Rossetti
Winchester, Mass.

To the Editor:

Saying that feminism has failed women because we still haven’t achieved equity with men is like saying the civil rights movement has failed people of color because bias and institutional racism persist. Misogyny and oppression of women by Western civilization have existed for thousands of years. Feminist ideas are in their nascent period, and efforts to balance millenniums of entrenched inequities will take more than a few generations. We persist, and will overcome.

Suzi Kaplan Olmsted
Portland, Ore.

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