Gloria Steinem, one of the leaders in the modern feminist movement, once said. “We need to remember across generations that there is as much to learn as there is to teach.” So today we must ask ourselves, “What will the women who come after me learn from my generation?” “What is it that I’m trying to teach them?” I am suggesting that the message today’s radical feminists are leaving for the next generation may not be the one they intended. For better or worse, these young women, our daughters, will be a product of our generation.
A Mother’s Legacy
My mother was 30-years-old when she married my dad. Before then, she wasn’t spending every day trying to “land herself a man,” nor was she attempting to make a political statement about how the institution of marriage hinders growth. She simply didn’t have the opportunity to marry. During this time, she spent her days making something of herself: she graduated from college with a Bachelors degree, served an 18-month mission for her church, got her own job, her own apartment, and her own life.
After my parents had children it was financially necessary for my mom to work outside of our home. I remember seeing her pack her lunch for work every morning. I remember her coming home happy, but exhausted. But the most precious memories of my mom are the ones where I would watch her cooking dinner in our kitchen as I sat on the bar stool and told her about my day. I treasure the memories of when she would stay up all night with me working on a school project and running me to the store 15-minutes before it closed because I ran out of glue. My mom’s legacy is comprised of these types of memories. She taught me that it is more important to sacrifice than to seek self-fulfillment; that it is more important to be strong than powerful.
I hope to pass on this same legacy of what it means to be a woman to my daughter someday. I will teach her of goodness, sacrifice and strength. This will be my legacy.
Will We Have Daughters?
Today many women must first ask themselves: Will I even have a daughter to pass on my legacy to? With the ever increasing feminist mindset, more and more women are committed to destroying patriarchy and assuming these positions themselves. Thus, more women are choosing not to get married. They often do this in order to maintain their independence from what they regard as the oppression of men. Statistics show that the rate of women marrying has significantly declined over the past generation from 80 per 1,000 women in 1969 to only 36 in 2009. Further, women who do decide to tie-the-knot are waiting until later in life to do so. The median age for women’s first marriage has risen over the past four decades from 20.1 years in 1956 to 26.5 in 2010. Because of the delay in marriage, being childless may no longer be a preference in lifestyle but a biologically mandated sentence.
Since the 1970s, the rate of births for women under the age of 30 has decreased while mothers over the age of 30 have increased. Even those women who do decide to marry and are able to have children are aborting their child at an alarming rate. In 2008 14.8% of abortions were to married women. This staggering statistic could be interpreted as some women who do have a spouse to help care for the child are still choosing not to have children. Trends like these make it more likely that we will not have daughters to pass a legacy on to. The hard work of the feminist movement to improve life for other women will go unnoticed and unappreciated if we do not have women to benefit from it!
Even for those women who do have daughters, another question you must ask yourself is if you will be around enough to instill in her your understanding of womanhood? More women than ever are in the workforce. Since 1975 the share of mothers in the workforce has increased by 50 percent. As of 2008, seven in ten mothers in the workforce have children under the age of 18, while nearly six in ten have children under the age of three! How can we teach our daughters the correct understanding of womanhood if we aren’t with them often enough to teach them?
An overall increase in opportunities for women over recent decades does not seem to have made them happier as radical feminists had assumed. This decrease in subjective well-being might come from the “second shift” they now assume. Though my mother seemed happy when she came home from working her real satisfaction came from being home again and not from what she accomplished from working. The message that we are sending our daughters might be that women can be successful in whatever they choose, that women are powerful and equal to men. But we might also be showing them that when we had a choice as women to do anything and be anything, we chose a career over spending time with them.
Strength: Our Legacy
This may be the legacy we have left so far, but it doesn’t have to be. As we go forward, women need to stop fighting against women! Let’s teach our daughters to pursue strength instead of power.
In her book “Toward a New Psychology of Women,” Jean Baker Miller talks of the need for both men and women to stop looking at women’s differences from men as weaknesses but view these differences as strengths. One such example of strength is the ability to compromise. According to Miller, women have the capacity to compromise without feeling as if they have had to give up something. Why not show our daughters that instead of picketing and protesting, we can work with others with compassion and compromise? After all, doesn’t it require more strength to continue to be happy when we don’t get our way?
Miller also states that women have strength in being able to give. Women can give without losing and serve without resenting. We should show our daughters that we can give up something good for something better; that we can give part of our lives to raising them without resenting them or our husbands for interfering with our other aspirations.
Again I ask, what kind of legacy will you leave your daughter? What message will you leave for the next generation to hear, to learn, and then go on to teach their daughters? I, for one, hope to leave my daughter with a legacy of strong women like my mother and others before her–a legacy of women who, rather than fight for self, will sacrifice their own desires for a time to give to others who need them. Let’s not leave a legacy of power seeking, but a legacy of women increasing in true strength.
Jessica Sabin is a senior at BYU-Idaho where she is majoring in Psychology with a minor in Marriage and Family studies. She hopes to continue on to graduate school where she will study to be a Marriage and Family Therapist.