Were it not for feminism, Susan Dench would not have the liberty of having her opinion taken seriously in a public forum, let alone writing a column. That glaring problem with Dench’s position aside, there are also more specific flaws in the argument made in her recent BDN column.
She cites the “traditional world,” where women were “put on a pedestal.” What romanticized version of the past is Dench thinking of? The one from “The Brady Bunch”? Does Dench know about the pervasive and constant sexism many women endured standing on that “pedestal?” Before the women’s liberation movement, men were free to openly evaluate and criticize women about their figures, intelligence, work and homemaking skills, among other things. Not all men did, but it was their right. Meanwhile, women had very few rights, specifically when it came to rape, property or workplace harassment.
Dench is trying to blame hook-up culture on feminism, which is misguided. If she wants to solve the problems of how women relate to men and vice versa, she need not blame other women, especially those who work for equality and empowerment when we still need more of both. She should turn her scrutiny on the real culprit: consumerism.
Now, I’m sure Dench is as pro-capitalism as she is anti-abortion and therefore won’t agree with me at all, but the fact of the matter is the old adage “sex sells” is destroying modern dating, marriage and families. Advertising is about getting people to want what they don’t have. The only way to do this is to make people feel like they’re not good enough, they need more, and they should have better. When men and women start turning that mentality on themselves, each other, their relationships and their marriages, it’s no wonder our divorce rate is abysmal. If we’re being taught by advertising to treat the opposite sex like a commodity, then it’s no surprise “hook-up culture” is all the rave.
According to a 2009 article in the New York Times, the average American spends 8.5 hours in front of a screen per day. Some are exposed to as many as 5,000 advertisements daily. Think of that near constant barrage of messaging: You should be sexy. You should be perfect. You should be amazing. All the time. What are these messages telling us about what it means to be men and women in American culture? Certainly it is not often a message of respect, mutual understanding or appreciating natural beauty.
Now, I think it’s a shame that more women don’t get the opportunity to stay home and raise their children. There is such a drive to prove that we are the same as men. Usually that pursuit is about making money and buying more things. I’m all for independence. I’m all for women having a nest egg in order to get out if they have to or make their own way if they want to. But too often in the process of seeking that goal of being the best, sexiest, smartest, most accomplished woman in the room, the role of mothers and motherhood is left neglected and disrespected.
Unfortunately, the very policies that would gain more respect for mothers and motherhood, and therefore women in general (such as equal pay, paid maternity leave and paternity leave) are the very causes feminists and “traditionalists” like Dench can’t agree on.
These two groups spend so much time pointing fingers at each other, the past, pop icons and the problems that they ignore the common causes of womanhood, such as being a woman, a mother and a whole person, rather than just a sex object.
In merely pointing fingers, Dench does her whole gender a disservice. She was given a voice and an audience, in part by the feminist movement. She would not be where she is without it, and it is a shame she insists on biting a hand that fed her.
Rather than using her platform (Note I did not say pedestal) to work on attaining the holistic respect for women everywhere, as workers and as mothers, she is pointing fingers and laying blame. It’s time Dench started using her platform to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
Ruby Nash is a writer who lives in Orland.