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‘Girls’ and the new feminism (a reply)BY: Madeline Schaefer 09.04.2012
Thanks to those pioneering feminists of the ’70s, women are now free to pursue careers just like men. But my 20-something generation is discovering the emotional costs of conventional success.
If women are liberated,
As a young woman who very much identifies with the insecurities and general gestalt of the TV show “Girls,” I found Susan Beth Lehman’s recent meditation on my generation surprisingly critical. (See “When will ‘Girls’ grow up?”)
Lehman’s distaste seems to lie primarily in the general unhappiness that she perceives in the show’s young women.
“They’re lost and confused in New York,” she writes, “waiting to be fabulous with no idea what fabulous is.”
I suppose it’s true that women of my own generation haven’t learned how to be satisfied. We can’t recognize our own success because we’ve don’t understand what being a vibrant and fulfilled woman really means. But whose fault is that?
I would suggest that many of us lacked wonderful examples of such vibrant and fulfilled women when we were growing up. Lehman’s generation of women may have “changed the world in the ’70s,” as she suggests. But if our mothers— that is, Lehman’s generation— taught us anything, it’s that “having it all” doesn’t actually bring you happiness.
Women against themselves
When your career grows stale, your marriage collapses and your children leave home, where will you find meaning? Happiness has much more to do with a caring relationship that you develop with yourself and others in community than a “fabulous” job or White Russians and platform shoes. All those years we spent repressing our own emotional core in order to achieve male success in the workplace have turned women against themselves. And it’s rubbed off.
Lehman articulates a critical point when she writes that her generation “wouldn’t be just the panting conquered, waiting for a marriage proposal. We could be the conquerors.” This “conquering” mindset was a brilliant way of changing public policy and ensuring that a male-dominated system finally awarded women the rights they deserved.
But at the end of the day, it’s still the same system that created that inequality in the first place. As Lehman herself admits, “I don’t know many women who honestly had a one-night stand without hoping it might lead to something more enduring.”
Women in the ’70s adopted a male approach to happiness, one based on external gratification. But women today who have had ample opportunity to achieve their career goals— too much, some might argue— recognize that success doesn’t equal happiness. Happiness lies in loving relationships, family, health— all those “new age” values that have always been discredited by society, even our own mothers.
Women certainly deserve equal rights and opportunities as men. But the fact remains that women and men are wired differently. I suspect that women will never be happy until they can feel confident that their emotional needs are valid. That will involve developing tools to satisfy those needs without depending on men.
What my generation can bring to the table is a new conversation about the ways in which female understandings of success can shape and change our world for the better. It’s not about being the CEO of a bank; it’s about living a good, fulfilled life, doing worthwhile and meaningful work— whether outside or inside the home.
Women will always be “Girls” until they can accept their unique (and perhaps at times countercultural) approach to happiness. Only then will they finally feel empowered to change the world.♦
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