‘I am woman, hear me roar!” the battle cry was sounded. Since that fateful turning point in the Seventies, women have marched to the beat of the feminist drum in one form or the other. However, as the aims of the revolutionaries are gradually being achieved, could it be that the drumbeat is growing fainter?
‘I don’t really think that much of feminism,” says Zinola Meyer (19), now in her second year of industrial engineering after graduating with distinctions at school. While she says her career takes priority she views motherhood as the ‘most important job anybody can have on this planet”. This means — wait for it, ladies — she would be willing to stay at home to raise her children.
Looking at the next generation of mothers, an interesting trend emerges. While many women revel in the benefits of a post-feminist world, few identify themselves with the gung-ho stereotype of the militant feminist.
The zeitgeist now seems to be that, although women have the long-sought-after choice and opportunity to compete in the career world, many are choosing to put family first.
‘We will never succeed in reorganising the workplace to welcome, rather than tolerate, mothers until we acknowledge that bearing and raising children is not some pesky, peripheral activity we engage in, but the whole point,” says Dr Susan Maushart, a social scientist and an award-winning author.
Meyer’s views correlate with the results of a recent controversial study commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission in the United Kingdom. The study found that feminism is regarded almost unanimously in negative terms, ranging from ‘old-fashioned” to ‘ball-breaking”.
The former Elle editor and current group consulting editor for Associated Magazines, Nadine Rubin, described herself as ‘far too young and androgynous-minded to relate to the Gloria Steinem et al version of feminism”. She explained that she believed in human rights and the responsibility of every individual to reach their full potential in this lifetime. ‘I certainly wouldn’t want to become more like a man to get ahead in business.”
The registrar of the Medicines Control Council, Precious Matsoso, takes the point further: ‘I am not an advocate of women’s power and radical feminist ideals. I do, however, believe that women should be empowered to contribute in society and make a difference.”
Perhaps feminists are failing to recognise the subtle change in young women’s value systems. The current generation of undergraduates comes from an age where a broken family is the norm. In reaction, many have returned to traditional values, where there is a greater recognition that one of the noblest things one can do is to raise a child.
Sally-Jean Shackleton, information coordinator at Womensnet, stresses that feminists do not oppose this. ‘As a feminist I think that since feminism is about making sure women have choices, choosing motherhood is not in opposition to feminist principles if women make this choice from powerful positions.”
However, Beverly Tucker of the Rayleigh Tavern Philosophical Society disagrees, saying the nuclear family has been undermined by the feminist movement. ‘Reports indicate that the nuclear family now makes up only 25% of our families. The feminist movement is largely responsible for this freak of nature,” she says.
Shackleton takes a different view of feminism. ‘I would like to see a situation in which it is not an either/or situation — one where women can choose motherhood and have the support to maintain their careers if they choose to, and where men can choose to be full-time fathers as well,” she says. But as Hopkins points out, though the choice does exist, ‘there is more of a tendency for the woman to be the caregiver and for the man to go out and work. It seems more natural.”