Needed: A New NOW (I)
Bill Long 2/11/11
Focusing on Real Women's Real Concerns--in 2011
The spirit in the air when the National Organization for Women ("NOW") was founded in 1966 was that of liberation, equal rights, the enjoyment of equal opportunity and freedom of choice in employment, sexual relationships and control of one's body. No one really knew, at the time, all the implications of the new focus on freedom or equality or, according to their original Statement of Purpose, "fully equal partnership of the sexes," but that was the rhetoric. The twin towers of the original movement were in economic and bodily reproductive areas, and each of these two had its rallying cry or focus. Economic rights were captured by the phrase "equal pay for equal work," and reproductive freedom came to fruition in the 1973 US Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, making abortion legal throughout the country.
The first generation feminists, who were a few years older than I but whom I got to know pretty well, were smart, savvy, passionate and articulate. They wanted "raises rather than roses," as one told me; they didn't want men to "objectivize" them, by "reducing" them to instruments of men's pleasure; they wanted to give leadership to organizations as men had been doing for years. The first generation feminists were also a remarkably humorless bunch; I suppose that when a revolution is brewing you don't have time for too much humor.
Reactions Then, Reactions Now
I recall, actually, being quite terrified of the first generation feminists. They, like religious fanatics I had often encountered in my early days, seemed to see things so blazingly clearly; they yearned for justice so eagerly; they confronted oppression so fearlessly. Or, that is the way they wanted to be understood. And, I swallowed the narrative and believed, in fact, that I was an oppressor; that I was responsible for women's sorry condition; that I had to devote my life to making the world better for women; and that among the worse thing I could do would be to look at a woman with sexual interest. The very book of nature, it seemed, was to be re-written and I would be privileged to take dictation as the book was being re-written.
Well, time passes and other things intervene. I got married, had a couple of kids, pursued a career (many, actually), got divorced, saw my kids through high school and college, and then had a lot of time to meet new women and start to think not so much as an impressionable young man but as a mature person who has some awareness of how the world works. And the fruit of that understanding, as it relates to women, is that the feminist movement, for all the wonderful things it brought regarding changing assumptions on what women could accomplish in the professions and the public sphere, has been part of a cultural shift in relationships that has seen divorce and singleness skyrocket. This in itself probably isn't good, but what definitely is bad bad bad is that much of the burden of the divorce is felt by women. They still are the ones who give care to the children and the aged, who have somewhat fewer professional skills than men, who haven't been educated on how to handle money, and are more vulnerable to the appeals of people who probably don't have their best interests at heart. In short, what I have found in the last decade (since my divorce) is that women, and single women in particular, are living lives of great economic distress, making decisions that undermine their present and future, not taking care of themselves properly, are unable to think clearly in most instances regarding complexities of training for jobs, relocating, and making money and, finally, are often so perplexed by the myriad challenges before them that they don't know which way to turn. Women seek relationships in unhealthy ways and usually have little to show for their efforts. They want to keep a positive attitude of life, with vague claims of spirituality to guide them home, but the narratives they tell themselves about building or rebuilding a life are, when subject to a few questions, as thin as Everest's air.
When I checked out the web page of the National Organization of Women, I saw that the focus is still on what I would call "first generation" issues and rhetoric. The political process, above all, is sacred. Preserve the rights to abortion. Work for legal changes to protect women from violence. Continue to lobby for equal pay for equal work legislation. There are other things on the agenda, to be sure, but it very much reflects the concerns of first generation feminists and, one should be quick to add, women whose lives are themselves not in crisis.
Thus, I conclude that there is a wide gap between the real needs of women, and divorced women in particular, in our society and the organizations that claim to represent their interests. What is needed is a new organization that takes as its starting point the real needs of millions of real women in our society. What are they? Read on.
The Seven Needs or Clusters of Needs
In my decade of looking closely at women in my middle age, without the pressures of an earlier ideology and with a sense of what the important questions are to put to a person about their lives, I have decided that mastery of or, at least, satisfaction in these seven areas is important in order to live an "empowered" life. They are, in no particular order:
1. Financial Well-Being
2. A Sense that Justice is Being Served in One's Life
3. Good Health and Physical Activity
4. A Quest for Meaning that Has Focus and Results
5. Relations with People, from various levels of Friendship to Intimacy
6. Work that Has Some Meaning and Is Remunerative
7. Laughter and Humor
The next essay develops these ideas and makes a proposal.