Susan Faludi: Blame it on Feminism

Susan Faludi, “Blame It on Feminism”

Introduction to Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women(New York: Doubleday, 1991)


To be a woman in America at the close of the 20th centuryñ what good fortune. That’s what we keep hearing, anyway. The barricades have fallen, politicians assure us. Women have “made it,” Madison Avenue cheers. Women’s fight for equality has “largely been won,” Time magazine announces. Enroll at any university, join any law firm, apply for credit at any bank. Women have so many opportunities now, corporate leaders say, that we don’t really need equal opportunity policies. Women are so equal now, lawmakers say, that we no longer need an Equal Rights Amendment. Women have “so much,” former President Ronald Reagan says, that the White House no longer needs to appoint them to higher office Even American Express ads are saluting a woman’s freedom to charge it. At last, women have received their full citizenship papers.

And yet. ..

Behind this celebration of the American woman’s victory, behind the news, cheerfully and endlessly repeated, that the struggle for women’s rights is won, another message flashes. You may be free and equal now, it says to women, but you have never been more miserable.

This bulletin of despair is posted everywhere at the newsstand, on the TV set, at the movies, in advertisements and doctors’ offices and academic journals. Professional women are suffering “burnout” and succumbing to an “infertility epidemic.” Single women are grieving from a “man shortage.” The New York Times reports: Childless women are “depressed and confused” and their ranks are swelling. Newsweek says Unwed women are “hysterical” and crumbling under a “profound crisis of confidence.” The health advice manuals inform: High-powered career women are stricken with unprecedented outbreaks of “stress-induced disorders,” hair loss, bad nerves, alcoholism, and even heart attacks. The psychology books advise: independent women’s loneliness represents “a major mental health problem today.” Even founding feminist Betty Friedan has been spreading the word: she warns that women now suffer from a new identity crisis and “new ‘problems that have no name.'”

How can American women be in so much trouble at the same time that they are supposed to be so blessed? If the status of women has never been higher, why is their emotional state so low? If women got what they asked for, what could possibly be the matter now?

The prevailing wisdom of the past decade has supported one, and only one, answer to this riddle: it must be all that equality that’s causing all that pain. Women are unhappy precisely because¢ they are free. Women are enslaved by their own liberation. They have grabbed at the gold ring of independence, only to miss the one ring that really matters. They have gained control of their fertility, only to destroy it. They have pursued their own professional dreamsñand lost out on the greatest female adventure. The women’s movement, as we are told time and again, has proved women’s own worst enemy.

“In dispensing its spoils, women’s liberation has given my generation high incomes, our own cigarette, the option of single parenthood, rape crisis centers, personal lines of credit, free love, and female gynecologists,” Mona Charen, a young law student, writes in the Na at ional Review, i in an article titled “The Femi n ist M istake.” “In return it has effectively robbed us of one thing upon which the happiness of most women restsñmen.” The National Review is a conservative publication, but such charges against the women’s movement are not confined to its pages. “Our generation was the human sacrifice” to the women’s movement, LosAngeles Times feature writer Elizabeth Mehren contends in a Tim¢ cover story. Baby-boom women like her, she says, have been duped by feminism “We believed the rhetoric.” In Newsweek, writer Kay Ebeling dubs feminism “the Great Experiment That Failed” and asserts

“women in my generation, its perpetrators, are the casualties.” Even the beauty magazines are saying it: Harper’s Bazaar accuses the women’s movement of having “lost us [women] ground instead of gaining it.”

In the last decade, publications from the New York Times to Vanity Fair to the Nation have issued a steady stream of indictments against the women’s movement, with such headlines as:


They hold the campaign for women’s equality responsible for nearly every woe besetting women, from mental depression to meager savings accounts, from teenage suicides to eating disorders to bad complexions. The “Today” show says women’s liberation is to blame for bag ladies. A guest columnist in the Baltimore¢ Sun even proposes that feminists produced the rise in slasher movies. By making the “violence” of abortion more acceptable, the author reasons, women’s rights activists made it all right to show graphic murders on screen.

At the same time, other outlets of popular culture have been forging the same connection: in Hollywood films, of which Fatal Attraction is only the most famous, emancipated women with condominiums of their own slink wild-eyed between bare walls, paying for their liberty with an empty bed, a barren womb. “My biological clock is ticking so loud it keeps me awake at night,” Sally Field cries in the film Surrender, as, in an all too common transformation in the cinema of the ’80s, an actress who once played scrappy working heroines is now showcased groveling for a groom. In prime-time television shows, from “thirtysomething” to “Family Man,” single, professional, and feminist women are humiliated, turned into harpies, or hit by nervous breakdowns; the wise ones recant their independent ways by the closing sequence. In popular novels, from Gail Parent’s A Sign of the¢ Eighties to Stephen King’s Misery, unwed women shrink to sniveling spinsters or inflate to fire-breathing she-devils; renouncing all aspirations but marriage, they beg for wedding bands from strangers or swing sledgehammers at reluctant bachelors. We “blew it by waiting,” a typically remorseful careerist sobs in Freda Bright’s Singular Women; she and her sister professionals are “condemned to be childless forever.” Even Erica Jong’s high-flying independent heroine literally crashes by the end of the decade, as the author supplants Fear of Flying’s saucy Isadora Wing, a symbol of female sexual emancipation in the ’70s, with an embittered careeristturned -recovering-“co-dependent” in Any Woman’s Blues–a book that is intended, as the narrator bluntly states, “to demonstrate what a dead end the so-called sexual revolution had become, and how desperate so-called free women were in the last few years of our decadent epoch.”

Popular psychology manuals peddle the same diagnosis for contemporary female distress. “Feminism, having promised her a stronger sense of her own identity, has given her little more than an identity crisis,” the best-selling advice manual Being a Woman asserts. The authors of the era’s self-help classic Smart Women/ Foolish Choices proclaim that women’s distress was “an unfortunate consequence of feminism,” because “it created a myth among women that the apex of self-realization could be achieved only through autonomy, independence, and career.”

In the Reagan and Bush years, government officials have needed no prompting to endorse this thesis. Reagan spokeswoman Faith Whittlesey declared feminism a “straitjacket” for women, in the White House’s only policy speech on the status of the American female populationñentitled “Radical Feminism in Retreat.” Law enforcement officers and judges, too, have pointed a damning finger at feminism, claiming that they can chart a path from rising female independence to rising female pathology. As a California sheriff explained it to the press, “Women are enjoying a lot more freedom now, and as a result, they are committing more crimes.” The U.S. Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography even proposed that women’s professional advancement might be responsible for rising rape rates. With more women in college and at work now, the commission members reasoned in their report, women just have more opportunities to be raped.

Some academics have signed on to the consensus, too ñan they are the “experts” who have enjoyed the highest profiles on the media circuit. On network news and talk shows, they have advised millions of women that feminism has condemned them to “a lesser life.” Legal scholars have railed against “the equality trap.” Sociologists have claimed that “feminist-inspired” legislative reforms have stripped women of special “protections.” Economists have argued that well-paid working women have created “a less stable American family.” And demographers, with greatest fanfare, have legitimated the prevailing wisdom with socalled neutral data on sex ratios and fertility trends; they say they actually have the numbers to prove that equality doesn’t mix with marriage and motherhood.

Finally, some “liberated” women themselves have joined the lamentations. In confessional accounts, works that invariably receive a hearty greeting from the publishing industry, “recovering Superwomen” tell all. In The Cost of Loving: Women and the New Fear of lntimacy, Megan Marshall, a Harvard-pedigreed writer, asserts that the feminist “Myth of independence” has turned her generation into unloved and unhappy fast-trackers, “dehumanized” by careers and “uncertain of their gender identity.” Other diaries of mad Superwomen charge that “the hard-core feminist viewpoint,” as one of them puts it, has relegated educated executive achievers to solitary nights of frozen dinners and closet drinking. The triumph of equality, they report, has merely given women hives, stomach cramps, eye-twitching disorders, even comas.

But what “equality” are all these authorities talking about?

If American women are so equal, why do they represent two-thirds of all poor adults? Why are nearly 75 percent of full-time working women making less than $20,000 a year, nearly double the male rate? Why are they still far more likely than men to live in poor housing and receive no health insurance, and twice as likely to draw no pension? Why does the average working woman s .salary still lag as far behind the average man’s as it did twenty years ago? Why does the average female college graduate today earn less than a man with no more than a high school diploma (just as she did in the 5Os)–and why does the average female high school graduate today earn less than a male high school dropout: Why do American women, in fact, face one of the worst gender based pay gap in the developed world?

If women have “made it,” then why are nearly 80 percent of working women still stuck in traditional “female” jobsñas secretaries, administrative “support” workers and salesclerks? And. conversely, why are they less than 8 percent of all federal and state judges, less than 6 percent of all law partners, and less than one half of I percent of top corporate managers? Why are there only three female state governors, two female U.S. senators, and two Fortune 500 chief executives? Why are only nineteen of the four thousand corporate officers and directors womenñand why do more than half the boards of Fortune companies still lack even one female member?

If women “have it all,” then why don’t they have the most basic requirements to achieve equality in the work force? Unlike virtually all other industrialized nations, the U.S. government still has no family-leave and child care programsñand more than 99 percent of American privat employers don’t offer child care either Though business leaders say they are aware of and deplore sex discrimination, corporate America has yet to make an honest effort toward eradicating it. In a 1990 national poll of chief executives at Fortune 1000 companies, more than 80 percent acknowledged that discrimination impedes female employees’ progressñyet, less tha 1 percent of these same companies regarded remedying sex discrimination as a goal that their personnel departments should pursue. In fact, when the companies’ human resource officers were asked to rate their department’s priorities, women’s advancement ranked last.

If women are so “free,” why are their reproductive freedoms in greater jeopardy today than a decade earlier? Why do women who want to postpone childbearing now have fewer options than ten years ago? The availability of different forms of contraception has declined, research for new birth control has virtually halted, new laws restricting abortion ñor even informatin about abortion ñfor young and poor women have been passed, and the U.S. Supreme Court has shown little ardor in defending the right it granted in 1973.

Nor is women’s struggle for equal education over; as a 1989 study found, three-fourths of all high schools still violate the federal law banning sex discrimination in education. In colleges, undergraduate women receive only 70 percent of the aid undergraduate men get in grants and work-study jobsñand women’s sports programs receive a pittance compared with men’s. A review of state equal-education laws in the late 8Os found that only thirteen states had adopted the minimum provisions required by the federal Title IX lawñand only seven states had antidiscrimination regulations that covered all education levels.

Nor do women enjoy equality in their own homes, where they still shoulder 70 percent of the household dutiesñand the only major change in the last fifteen years is that now middle-class men think they do more around the house. (In fact, a national poll finds the ranks of women saying their husbands share equally in child care shrunk to 31 percent in 1987 from 40 percent three years earlier.) Furthermore, in thirty states, it is still generally legal for husbands to rape their wives; and only ten states have laws mandating arrest for domestic violence even though battering was the leading cause of injury of women in the late ’80s. Women who have no other option but to flee find that isn’t much of an alternative either. Federal funding for battered women’s shelters has been withheld and one third of the I million battered women who seek emergency shelter each year can find none. Blows from men contributed far more to the rising numbers of “bag ladies” than the ill effects of feminism. In the ’80s, almost half of all homeless women (the fastest growing segment of the homeless) were refugees of domestic violence.

The word may be that women have been “liberated,” but women themselves seem to feel otherwise. Repeatedly in national surveys, majorities of women say they are still far from equality. Nearly 70 percent of women polled by the New York Times in 1989 said the movement for women’s rights had only just begun. Most women in the 1990 Virginia Slims opinion poll agreed with the statement that conditions for their sex in American society had improved “a little, not a lot.” In poll after poll in the decade, overwhelming majorities of women said they needed equal pay and equal job opportunities, they needed an Equal Rights Amendment, they needed the right to an abortion without government interference, they needed a federal law guaranteeing maternity leave, they needed decent child care services. They have none of these. So how exactly have we “won” the war for women’s rights?

Seen against this background, the much ballyhooed claim that feminism is responsible for making women miserable becomes absurdñand irrelevant. As we shall see in the chapters to follow, the afflictions ascribed to feminism are all myths. From “the man shortage” to “the infertility epidemic” to “female burnout” to “toxic day care,” these so-called female crises have had their origins not in the actual conditions of women’s lives but rather in a closed system that starts and ends in the media, popular culture. and advertisingñan endless feedback loop that perpetuates and exaggerates its own false images of womanhood.

Women themselves don’t single out the women’s movement as the source of their misery. To the contrary, in national surveys 75 to 95 percent of women credit the feminist campaign with improving their lives, and a similar proportion say that the women’s movement should keep pushing for change. Less than 8 percent think the women’s movement might have actually made their lot worse.

What actually is troubling the American female population, then? If the many ponderers of the Woman Question really wanted to know, they might have asked their subjects. In public opinion surveys, women consistently rank their own inequality, at work and at home, among their most urgent concerns. Over and over, women complain to pollsters about a lack of economic, not marital, opportunities; they protest that working men, not working women, fail to spend time in the nursery and the kitchen. The Roper Organization’s survey analysts find that men’s opposition to equality is “a major cause of resentment and stress” and “a major irritant for most women today.” It is justice for their gender, not wedding rings and bassinets, that women believe to be in desperately short supply. When the New York Times polled women in 1989 about “the most important problem facing women today,” job discrimination was the overwhelming winner; none of the crises the media and popular culture had so assiduously promoted even made the charts. In the 1990 Virginia Slims poll, women were most upset by their lack of money, followed by the refusal of their men to shoulder child care and domestic duties. By contrast, when the women were asked where the guest for a husband or the desire to hold a “less pressured” job or to stay at home ranked on their list of concerns, they placed them at the bottom.

As the last decade ran its course, women’s unhappiness with inequality only mounted. In national polls, the ranks of women protesting discriminatory treatment in business, political, and personal life climbed sharply. The proportion of women complaining of unequal employment opportunities jumped more than ten points from the ’70s, and the number of women complaining of unequal barriers to job advancement climbed even higher. By the end of the decade, 80 percent to 95 percent of women said they suffered from job discrimination and unequal pay. Sex discrimination charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose nearly 25 percent in the Reagan years, and charges of general harassment directed at working women more than doubled. In the decade, complaints of sexual harassment nearly doubled. At home, a much increased proportion of women complained to pollsters of male mistreatment, unequal relationships, and male efforts to, in the words of the Virginia Slims poll, “keep women down.” The share of women in the Roper surveys who agreed that men were “basically kind, gentle, and thoughtful” fell from almost 70 percent in 1970 to 50 percent by 1990. And outside their homes, women felt more threatened, too: in the 1990 Virginia Slims poll, 72 percent of women said they felt “more afraid and uneasy on the streets today” than they did a few years ago. Lest this be attributed only to a general rise in criminal activity, by contrast only 49 percent of men felt this way.

While the women’s movement has certainly made women more cognizant of their own inequality, the rising chorus of female protest shouldn’t be written off as feminist-induced “oversensitivity.” The monitors that serve to track slippage in women’s status have been working overtime since the early ’80s. Government and private surveys are showing that women’s already vast representation in the lowliest occupations is rising, their tiny presence in higher-paying trade and craft jobs stalled or backsliding, their minuscule representation in upper management posts stagnant or falling, and their pay dropping in the very occupations where they have made the most “progress ” The status of women lowest on the income ladder has plunged most perilously; government budget cuts in the first four years of the Reagan administration alone pushed nearly 2 million female- headed families and nearly 5 million women below the poverty line. And the prime target of government rollbacks has been one sex only: one-third of the Reagan budget cuts, for example, came out of programs that predominantly serve womenñeven more extraordinary when one considers that all these programs combined represent only 10 percent of the federal budget.

The alarms aren’t just going off in the work force. In national politics, the already small numbers of women in both elective posts and political appointments fell during the ’80s. In private life, the average amount that a divorced man paid in child support fell by about 25 percent from the late ’70s to the mid-’80s (to a mere $140 a month). Domestic-violence shelters recorded a more than 100 percent increase in the numbers of women taking refuge in their quarters between 1983 and 1987. And government records chronicled a spectacular rise in sexual violence against women. Reported rapes more than doubled from the early ’70sñat nearly twice the rate of all other violent crimes and four times the overall crime rate in the United States. While the homicide rate declined, sex-related murders rose 160 percent between 1976 and 1984. And these murders weren’t simply the random, impersonal by-product of a violent society; at least one-third of the women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends, and the majority of that group were murdered just after declaring their independence in the most intimate mannerñby filing for divorce and leavig home.

By the end of the decade, women were starting to tell pollsters that they feared their sex’s social status was once again beginning to slip. They believed they were facing an “erosion of respect,” as the 1990 Virginia Slims poll summed up the sentiment. After years m which an increasing percentage of women had said their status had improved from a decade earlier, the proportion suddenly shrunk by 5 percent in the last half of the ’80s, the Roper Organization reported. And it fell most sharply among women in their thirtiesñthe age group most targeted by the media and advertisersñdropping about ten percentage points between 1985 and 1990.

Some women began to piece the picture together. In the 1989 New York Times poll, more than half of black women and one fourth of white women put it into words. They told pollsters they believed men were now trying to retract the gains women had made in the last twenty years. “I wanted more autonomy,” was how one woman, a thirty-seven-year-old nurse, put it. And her estranged husband “wanted to take it away.”

The truth is that the last decade has seen a powerful counterassault on women’s rights, a backlash, an attempt to retract the handful of small and hard-won victories that the feminist movement did manage to win for women, This counterassault is largely insidious: in a kind of pop-culture version of the Big Lie, it stands the truth boldly on its head and proclaims that the very steps that have elevated women’s position have actually led to their downfall.

The backlash is at once sophisticated and banal, deceptively “progressive” and proudly backward. It deploys both the “new” findings of “scientific research” and the dime-store moralism of yesteryear; it turns into media sound bites both the glib pronouncements of pop-psych trend-watchers and the frenzied rhetoric of New Right preachers. The backlash has succeeded in framing virtually the whole issue of women’s rights in its own language. Just as Reaganism shifted political discourse far to the right and demonized liberalism, so the backlash convinced the public that women’s “liberation” was the true contemporary American scourgeñthe source of an endless laundry list of personal, social, and economic problems.

But what has made women unhappy in the last decade is not their “equality”ñwhich they don’t yet haveñbut the rising pressure to halt, and even reverse, women’s quest for that equality. The “man shortage” and the “infertility epidemic” are not the price of liberation; in fact, they do not even exist. But these chimeras are the chisels of a society-wide backlash. They are part of a relentless whittling-down processñmuch of it amounting to outright propagandañthat has served to stir women’s private anxieties and break their political wills. Identifying feminism as women’s enemy only furthers the ends of a backlash against women’s equality, simultaneously deflecting attention from the backlash’s central role and recruiting women to attack their own cause.

Some social observers may well ask whether the current pressures on women actually constitute a backlash or just a continuation of American society’s long-standing resistance to women’s rights. Certainly hostility to female independence has always been with us. But if fear and loathing of feminism is a sort of perpetual viral condition in our culture, it is not always in an acute stage; its symptoms subside and resurface periodically. And it is these episodes of resurgence, such as the one we face now, that can accurately be termed “backlashes” to women’s advancement. If we trace these occurrences in American history (as we will do in a later chapter), we find such flare-ups are hardly random; they have always been triggered by the perceptionñaccurate or notñthat women are making great strides. These outbreaks are backlashes because they have always arisen in reaction to women’s “progress,” caused not simply by a bedrock of misogyny but by the specific efforts of contemporary women to improve their status. cfforts that have been interpreted time and again by menñespecially men grappling with real threats to their economic and social well-being on other frontsñas spelling their own masculine doom.

The most recent round of backlash first surfaced in the late ’70s on the fringes, among the evangelical right. By the early ’80s, the fundamentalist ideology had shouldered its way into the White House. By the mid-’80s, as resistance to women’s rights acquired political and social acceptability, it passed into the popular culture. And in every case, the timing coincided with signs that women were believed to be on the verge of breakthrough.

Just when women’s quest for equal rights seemed closest to achieving its objectives, the backlash struck it down. Just when a “gender gap” at the voting booth surfaced in 1980, and women in politics began to talk of capitalizing on it, the Republican party elevated Ronald Reagan and both political parties began to shunt women’s rights off their platforms. Just when support for feminism and the Equal Rights Amendment reached a record high in 1981, the amendment was defeated the following year. Just when women were starting to mobilize against battering and sexual assaults, the federal government stalled funding for battered women’s programs, defeated bills to fund shelters, and shut down its Office of Domestic Violence only two years after opening it in 1979. Just when record numbers of younger women were sup porting feminist goals in the mid-’80s (more of them, in fact, than older women) and a majority of all women were calling themselves feminists, the media declared the advent of a younger “postfeminist generation” that supposedly reviled the women’s movement. Just when women racked up their largest percentage ever supporting the right to abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court moved toward reconsidering it.

In other words, the antifeminist backlash has been set off not by women’s achievement of full equality but by the increased possibility that they might win it. It is a preemptive strike that stops women long before they reach the finish line “A backlash may be an indication that women really have had an effect,” feminist psychologist Dr. Jean Baker Miller has written, “but backlashes occur when advances have been small, before changes are sufficient to help many people…. It is almost as if the leaders of backlashes use the fear of change as a threat before major change has occurred.” In the last decade, some women did make substantial advances before the backlash hit, but millions of others were left behind, stranded. Some women now enjoy the right to legal abortionñbut not the 44 million women, from the indigent to the military work force, who depend on the federal government for their medical care. Some women can now walk into high-paying professional careersñbut not the more than 19 million still in the typing pools or behind the department store sales counters. (Contrary to popular myth about the “have-it-all” baby-boom women, the largest percentage of women in this generation remain typists and clerks.)

As the backlash has gathered force, it has cut off the few from the manyñand the few women who have advanced seek to prove, as a social survival tactic, that they aren’t so interested in advancement after all. Some of them parade their defection from the women’s movement, while their working-class peers founder and cling to the splintered remains of the feminist cause. While a very few affluent and celebrity women who are showcased in news articles boast about having “found my niche as Mrs. Andy Mill” and going home to “bake bread,” the many working-class women appeal for their economic rightsñflocking to unions in record numbers, striking on their own for pay equity and establishing their own fledgling groups for working women’s rights. In 1986, while 41 percent of upper-income women were claiming in the Gallup poll that they were not feminists, only 26 percent of lowincome women were making the same claim.

Women’s advances and retreats are generally described in military terms battles won, battles lost, points and territory gained and surrendered. The metaphor of combat is not without its merits in this context and, clearly, the same sort of martial accounting and vocabulary is already surfacing here. But by imagining the conflict as two battalions neatly arrayed on either side of the line, we miss the entangled nature, the locked embrace, of a “war” between women and the male culture they inhabit. We miss the reactive nature of a backlash, which, by definition, can exist only in response to another force.

In times when feminism is at a low ebb, women assume the reactive role ñprivately and most often covertly struggling to assert themselves against the dominant cultural tide. But when feminism itself becomes the tide, the opposition doesn’t simply go along with the reversal: it digs in its heels, brandishes its fists, builds walls and dams And its resistance creates countercurrents and treacherous undertows.

The force and furor of the backlash churn beneath the surface. Iargely invisible to the public eye. On occasion in the last decade. they have burst into view. We have seen New Right politicians condemn women’s independence, anti-abortion protesters firebombed women’s clinics, fundamentalist preachers damn feminists as “whores” and “witches.” Other signs of the backlash’s wrath, by their sheer brutality, can push their way into public consciousness for a timeñthe sharp increase in rape, for example, or the rise in pornography that depicts extreme violence against women.

More subtle indicators in popular culture may receive momentary, and often bemused, media notice, then quickly slip from social awareness: A report, for instance, that the image of women on prime-time TV shows has suddenly degenerated. A survey of mystery fiction finding the numbers of female characters tortured and mutilated mysteriously multiplying. The puzzling news that. as one commentator put it, “So many hit songs have the B-word [bitch] to refer to women that some rap music seems to be veering toward rape music.” The ascendancy of virulently misogynist comics like Andrew Dice Clay ñwho called women “pigs” and “sluts” and strutted in films in which women were beaten, tortured, and blown up or radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, whose broadsides against “femi-Nazi” feminists made his syndicated program the most popular radio talk show in the nation. Or word that in 1987, the American Women in Radio & Television couldn’t award its annual prize for ads that feature women positively it could find no ad that qualified.

These phenomena are all related, but that doesn’t mean they are somehow coordinated. The backlash is not a conspiracy, with a council dispatching agents from some central control room, nor are the people who serve its ends often aware of their role; some even consider themselves feminists. For the most part, its workings are encoded and internalized, diffuse and chameleonic. Not all of the manifestations of the backlash are of equal weight or significance either; some are mere ephemera, generated by a culture machine that is always scrounging for a “fresh” angle. Taken as a whole, however, these codes and cajolings, these whispers and threats and myths, move overwhelmingly in one direction: they try to push women back into their “acceptable” rolesñwhether as Daddy’s girl or fluttery romantic, active nester or passive love object.

Although the backlash is not an organized movement, that doesn’t make it any less destructive. In fact, the lack of orchestration, the absence of a single string-puller, only makes it harder to seeñand perhaps more effective. A backlash agains women’s rights succeeds to the degree that it appears not to be political, that it appears not to be a struggle at all. It is most powerful when it goes private, when it lodges inside a woman’s mind and turns her vision inward, until she imagines the pressure is all in her head, until she begins to enforce the backlash, too–ñon herself.

In the last decade, the backlash has moved through the culture’s secret chambers, traveling through passageways of flattery and fear. Along the way, it has adopted disguises: a mask of mild derision or the painted face of deep “concern.” Its lips profess pity for any woman who won’t fit the mold, while it tries to clamp the mold around her ears. It pursues a divide-and-conquer strategy: single versus married women, working women versus homemakers, middle- versus working-class. It manipulates a system of rewards and punishments, elevating women who follow its rules, isolating those who don’t. The backlash remarkets old myths about women as new facts and ignores all appeals to reason. Cornered, it denies its own existence, points an accusatory finger at feminism, and burrows deeper underground.

Backlash happens to be the title of a 1947 Hollywood movie in which a man frames his wife for a murder he’s committed. The backlash against women’s rights works in much the same way: its rhetoric charges feminists with all the crimes it perpetrates. The backlash line blames the women’s movement for the “feminization of poverty” ñwhile the backlash’s own instigators in Washington pushed through the budget cuts that helped impoverish millions of women, fought pay equity proposals, and undermined equal opportunity laws. The backlash line claims the women’s movement cares nothing for children’s rightsñwhile its own represetatives in the capital and state legislatures have blocked one bill after another to improve child care, slashed billions of dollars in federal aid for children, and relaxed state licensing standards for day care centers. The backlash line accuses the women’s movement of creating a generation of unhappy single and childless womenñbut its purveyors in the media are the ones guilty of making single and childless women feel like circus freaks.

To blame feminism for women’s “lesser life” is to miss entirely the point of feminism, which is to win women a wider range of experience. Feminism remains a pretty simple concept, despite repeatedñand enormously effective efforts to dress it up in greasepaint and turn its proponents into gargoyles. As Rebecca West wrote sardonically in 1913, “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: l only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

The meaning of the word “feminist” has not really changed since it first appeared in a book review in the Athenaeum of April 27, 1895, describing a woman who “has in her the capacity of fighting her way back to independence.” It is the basic proposition that, as Nora put it in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House a century ago, “Before everything else I’m a human being.” It is the simply worded sign hoisted by a little girl in the 1970 Women’s Strike for Equality: I AM NOT A BARBIE DOLL. Feminism asks the world to recognize at long last that women aren’t decorative ornaments, worthy vessels, members of a “special-interest group.” They are half (in fact, now more than half) of the national population, and just as deserving of rights and opportunities, just as capable of participating in the world’s events, as the other half. Feminism’s agenda is basic It asks that women not be forced to “choose” between public justice and private happiness. It asks that women be free to define themselvesñinstead of having their identity defined for them, time and again, by their culture and their men.

The fact that these are still such incendiary notions should tell us that American women have a way to go before they enter the promised land of equality.

excerpt from “latent rapists”

Listen to this poem on youtube here:

these men friends of ours
who smile nice
stay employed
and take us out to dinner

lock the door behind you

wit fist in face
to fuck

who make elaborate mediterranean dinners
& let the art ensemble carry all ethical burdens
while they invite a coupla friends over to have you
are sufferin from latent rapist bravado
& we are left wit the scars

bein betrayed by men who know us

& expect
like the stranger
we always thot waz comin

that we will submit

we must have known

women relinquish all personal rights
in the presence of a man
who apparently cd be considered a rapist

especially if he has been considered a friend

& is no less worthy of bein beat witin an inch of his life
bein publicly ridiculed
havin two fists shoved up his ass

than the stranger
we always thot it wd be

who never showed up

cuz it turns out the nature of rape has changed

we can now meet them in circles we frequent for companionship

we see them at the coffeehouse

wit someone else we know

we cd even have em over for dinner
& get raped in our own houses
by invitation
a friend

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf

Male Privilege


a poem for men who don’t understand what we mean when we say that they have it.

by De Clarke from Banishee, 1981

privilege is simple:

going for a pleasant stroll after dark,

not checking the back of your car as you get in,

sleeping soundly,

speaking without interruption,

and not remembering dreams of rape that follow you all day,

that woke you up crying, and


is not seeing your stripped, humiliated body

plastered in celebration across every magazine rack,


is going to the movies and not seeing yourself

terrorized, defamed, battered, butchered – –

seeing something else.


is riding your bicycle across town

without being screamed at or run off the road,

not needing an abortion,

taking off your shirt on a hot day, in a crowd,

not wishing you could type better, just in case–

not shaving your legs,

having a good job and expecting to keep it,

not feeling the boss’s hand up your crotch,

dozing off on late-night busses,


is being the hero on the TV show,

not the dumb broad,

living where your genitals are totemized – – not denied,

knowing your doctor won’t rape you.


is being smiled at all day by nice, helpful women,

it is the way you pass judgment on their appearance with magisterial authority,

the way you face a judge of your own sex in court

and are overrepresented in Congress

and are not assaulted by the police

or used as a dart board by your friendly mechanic.


is seeing your bearded face echo through the history texts

not only of your high school days, but all your life,

not being relegated to a paragraph every other chapter,

the way you occupy entire poetry books

and more than your share of the couch unchallenged.

it is your mouthing smug, atrocious insults at women

who blink and change the subject – -politely


is how seldom the rapist’s name appears in the papers

and the way you smirk over your PLAYBOY.

it’s simple, really – –


means someone else’s pain.

your wealth is my terror,

your uniform is a women raped to death – – here

or in Cambodia or wherever

wherever your obscene privilege

writes your name in my blood

it’s that simple.

you’ve always had it – –

that’s why it doesn’t seem

to make you sick at stomach.

you have it – – we pay for it.

now do you understand?

why we are needed

Once upon a time in America, the Woman Suffrage Amendment passed. The Civil Rights Act passed. And the Voting Rights Act passed. The end?


It’s true that women are no longer constitutionally inferior. And people of color are no longer property. But we’re far from living happily ever after.

In spite of widespread reform legislation over the last century, justice is yet to be served. Equality laws may be on the books. But the laws of the land are still distorted when it comes to women and minorities.

Want proof? Then look at education. While women are more likely to earn a high school diploma than men, their education often goes no farther. Only 25% of women 25 or older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, as opposed to 28.5% of men.

This disparity continues into the workplace. Women and men in the same position make incredibly different salaries. A woman earns 76¢ for every dollar her male counterpart makes. Only 5.5% of women make salaries above $75,000, as compared to 15.8% of men. The difference is even more appalling when it comes to women with only a high school diploma. On average, they earn $18,042. In contrast, even those males who never finished high school make $20,944.

In all, the average woman is shortchanged $420,000 in salary over her working life when compared to the average male. And that doesn’t include benefits like pensions.

So what are we supposed to tell our daughters?

Should we tell them that the workplace is unfair, but that they have advantages elsewhere? We can’t. Consider that one in four women will be involved in domestic violence. Or that one in five emergency room visits by women are caused by battering.

And when should we tell them that they face a one-in-three chance of living in poverty as a female? Or that they’re ten times more likely to have an eating disorder? Or that the odds of them becoming a CEO of a Fortune 1000 company are practically incalculable?

Now consider people of color – regardless of gender.

How are parents supposed to explain to their children why they’re being followed by security in a shopping center simply because of their skin color? Or why some people cross the street to avoid them? Or that only one in every three will meet basic requirements on national scholastic tests?

These are the realities of children of color. And it doesn’t get any better as they get older.

African Americans, for instance, make 66¢ for every dollar made by a white person. And 19% of them live without health care.

Hispanics are half as likely to make salaries over $35,000 than their white equivalents. They’re also three times more likely to live in poverty.

Then there’s profiling. African Americans are much more likely to be pulled over by police than whites. Once stopped, African American and Hispanic drivers are more than twice as likely to have their vehicles searched.

And let’s not forget about prison. People of color make up 64% of the penal population. They make up less than 25% of the general American population. Do the math.

In fact, do the math on any of these statistics. In some cases, it’s frustrating. In others, it’s downright frightening. Either way, it’s wrong. From birth, women and people of color still face obstacles in 2005 that were intended to die with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Obviously, we can’t legislate our way to equality. So what is the answer? Who can promote an agenda of not only tolerance and acceptance, but of advancement and equality? It all comes down to one person.


eliminating racism

1800’s The first Negro YWCA Branch was organized in Dayton, Ohio, in 1889; although Negro branches were separate from white branches, by 1898 the YWCA had seven Negro Student Associations affiliated with it. The YWCA also extended its mission to American Indian young women, founding an Association at Chilocco, Oklahoma, in 1890, work which continued for many years as part of the Student Department of the National Board.

1900-1920’s In 1913 Eva Bowles became the first African American staff member to work as a professionally trained leader to work with Local Associations. In 1915, the YWCA held its first interracial conference in Louisville, KY. In the 1920s the Student YWCA organized its first councils on an interracial basis, adopting the principle of iinclusion for all of the membership in regional councils. In 1924, the National Student Assembly took a program stand on race relationships, “pledging ourselves to seek anew the mind of Jesus in regard to our race relationships and to know students of other races, that we may rid ourselves of prejudices and may promote justice and understanding.”

1930’s In the thirties, the YWCA set its face against lynching and mob violence and supported the struggle for civil rights for African Americans in the United States. The first interracial seminar in the South took place at Shaw University, Raleigh, North Carolina in 1938. Students called for an investigation into segregation in YWCA associations and community life.

1940’s During World War II, discrimination against Japanese Americans led to thousands being forced from their homes into relocation camps in desolate areas by order of the United States government. Japanese Americans were deprived of their rights as citizens; the YWCA extended its services to the Relocation Centers, and many Associations, including many in the Midwest, opened their facilities to Japanese Americans as they prepared for resettlement.

In 1946 the YWCA reached a watershed in adopting the Interracial Charter at the 17th National Convention. It accepted recommendations that “the implications of the YWCA Purpose be recognized as involving the inclusion of Negro women and girls in the mainstream of Association life, and that such inclusion be adopted as a conscious goal.” In an unequivocal statement of its position on civil rights, the Charter states: “Wherever there is injustice on the basis of race, whether in the community, the nation, or the world, our protest must be clear and our labor for its removal vigorous and steady. And what we urge on others we are constrained to practice ourselves.” Three years later, YWCAs in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Princeton, New Jersey, elected a Black president.

1950’s Between 1950 and 1970, the YWCA remained on the cutting edge in support of the Civil Rights Movement, which culminated in the adoption of the One Imperative. Through the ups and downs of the era, the student YWCAs remained in the vanguard with regard to issues of race and gender. The emphasis immediately post-war was on the spiritual welfare of women and girls, and the provision of social services to them. In May, 1954, the US Supreme Court rules segregationist doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ unconstitutional. This fueled the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama. The YWCA acted to disseminate material on the Supreme Court decision with a booklet, ‘Our Schools, and Our Democracy.’

1960’s In the United States the 1960’s was the decade of the Civil Rights Movement in which African American people made unprecedented strides in affecting social, economic and racial change, and self-empowerment. However, in the YWCA of the U.S.A., the struggle to combat racism had begun early in its history, in the days of “service laced with social action” in the American South. This decade, however, ended with the epoch-making decision in 1970 to adopt the One Imperative, a statement which was rooted in the Christian purpose of the National Association, seeking “to respond to the barrier-breaking love of God in this day’, drawing together women and girls of diverse experiences and faiths, that their lives may be open to new understanding, and deeper relationships and that together they may join in the struggle for peace and justice, freedom and dignity for all people.”

During Dorothy Heights’ tenure, the YWCA, combined with other organizations such as the United Council of Negro Women, Church Women United, the International Council of Jewish Women, and the Catholic Women, to break the law in the South to challenge racial segregation. The YWCA invited activists such as Stokely Carmichael, Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins to talk to members, and the Office of Racial Justice initiated Dialogue and Action Groups in 1968 in Community and Student YWCAs throughout the country.

1970’s At the YWCA’s April 1970 Convention, it adopted the One Imperative: “To thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary.”

Journey of Faith, The History of the World YWCA 1945-1994, by Carolyn Seymour-Jones, Allison & Busby, 1994

our history

Woman Using Machining WheelThroughout our history, the YWCA has been in the forefront of most major movements in the United States as a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation, and the empowerment of women.

The first Association in the U.S., Ladies Christian Association was formed in New York City

The first boarding house for female students, teachers and factory workers opened in New York, NY

“YWCA” was first used in Boston, MA

The YWCA opens the first employment bureau in New York City

The YWCA opens a low cost summer “resort” for employed women in Philadelphia, PA

The first African American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, OH

The first YWCA for Native American women opened in at Haworth Institute, Chilocco, OK

The United States of America, England, Sweden and Norway together created the World YWCA, which today is working in over 125 countries

The YWCA was the first organization to introduce the positive health concept and sex education in all health programming

YWCA of the USA incorporated in New York City

The YWCA was the first industrial federation of clubs to train girls in self- government

The YWCA held the first interracial conference in Louisville, KY

The YWCA was the first organization to send professional workers overseas to provide administrative leadership and support to U.S. Armed Forces

Based on its work with women in industrial plants, the YWCA Convention voted to work for “an eight-hour/day law, prohibition of night work, and the right of labor to organize”

Grace Dodge Hotel completed a Washington, DC residence initially designed to house women war workers

The YWCA encouraged members to speak out against lynching and mob violence, and for interracial cooperation and efforts to protect African American’s basic civil rights

The YWCA extends its services to Japanese American women and girls incarcerated in World War II Relocation Centers

The National Board appears at the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate hearings in support of permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee legislation

Interracial Charter adopted by the 17th National Convention

The National Convention pledges that the YWCA will work for integration and full participation of minority groups in all phases of American life

National Convention commits local Associations and the National Board to review progress towards inclusiveness and decides on “concrete steps” to be taken

The Atlanta, Georgia YWCA cafeteria opened to African Americans, becoming the city’s first integrated public dining facility

The National Board of the YWCA created the Office of Racial Justice to lead the civil rights efforts

The YWCA National Convention, held in Houston, adopted the One Imperative. “To trust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary”

The YWCA started the ENCORE program for women who have undergone breast cancer surgery

YWCA establishes Fund For The Future

The YWCA National Board urges Congress to support legislation that opposes the South African policy of apartheid

The YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism began in response to the beating of Rodney King, an African American, the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers accused of the crime, and the subsequent riots and unrest across the country

The YWCA Week Without Violence was created as a nationwide effort to unite people against violence in communities. The annual observance is held the third week of October

Steps to Absolute Change was adopted. The YWCA shifted from a top down to a bottom up grassroots organization. Local associations joined regions and elected their regional representatives to the National Coordinating Board

Igniting the Collective Power of the YWCA to Eliminate Racism, the YWCA USA’s Summit on Eliminating Racism, was held in Birmingham, AL

The YWCA celebrates its Sesquicentennial Anniversary with the launch of the “Own It” campaign. Focused on igniting a new generation of 22 million young women aged 18 to 34 to get involved with important issues facing women and the country today

Confidentiality Policy

Confidentiality Notice

Staff and volunteers at the YWCA of Greater Flint Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS) will keep confidential all information communicated to them by survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault utilizing YWCA services. This means that:

  1. We will not disclose to any other person or entity whether we have had contact with you or provided services to you, or whether or not you are residing in our shelter.
  2. We will not disclose to any other person or entity information or materials that you have disclosed or given to us or that we have disclosed or given to you.
  3. We will oppose any subpoena or other legal effort to obtain this information from us, when you have not authorized the release of this information.

There are some exceptions to this. The information that you give us may not be kept confidential if:

  1. We learn or have reason to suspect that a minor child is being abused or neglected. In such a case, we will contact Child Protective Services;
  2. We witness through sight or hearing an actual or imminent physical assault or other unlawful and dangerous act upon you by another person. In such case, we may contact law enforcement for assistance;
  3. We learn or have reason to believe that you intend to harm yourself. In such case, we may notify law enforcement and/or emergency medical personnel to seek assistance for you;
  4. We learn or have reason to believe that you intend to harm another person and have the means and ability to do so. In such case we may contact law enforcement and/or may warn the person who you intend to harm.

If you give us written or verbal permission to release information to others, we will do so in accordance with the terms of that permission. You have the right to revoke that permission at any time.

In order to further protect the confidentiality of survivors of domestic violence, we ask that you not share the names, identities, or any other information about anyone you believe to be receiving services from YWCA of Greater Flint.

Client’s Rights and Grievance (Complaint) Procedure

We welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and concerns regarding our services. Please share them either with the person you are working with or with their supervisor. You can find out who someone’s supervisor is by calling our Crisis Line (810) 238-7233.

You have the right to a fair hearing if services to you are denied, reduced, or ended, or if we fail to act upon your request for service within a reasonable period of time. You have the right to start a formal grievance process. This is how:

Filing a Recipient’s Rights Grievance:

  1. Address your issue directly with the staff member involved. If you feel that this is not safe or that the resolution is unlikely, proceed to step #2.
  2. Contact the staff person’s direct supervisor to discuss your issue.
  3. If the matter cannot be resolved by the supervisor, submit your written grievance within 6 days to the Program Director. You may ask for assistance in writing your statement. Please include the following information so that your concerns can be addressed as quickly as possible:
  • Statement explaining your grievance.
  • What right(s) you feel have been violated.
  • What you think will resolve your grievance.

Within five business days of receiving your grievance, the Program Director will contact you and the staff involved. If necessary, a meeting may be set up between the Program Director, you, and staff.

A letter with solutions and/or outcomes will be sent to you within five business days of all discussions and meetings.

  1. If your grievance has not been resolved by step #3, you may submit another written statement within five business days to the Program Director which will be forwarded to the CEO within two business days.

Within five business days, the CEO will send you and the Quality Assurance Committee a letter informing you of actions taken to resolve the grievance. The QA Committee will use information from the grievance procedure to consider changes in agency practices. The timelines are for your guidance; every effort will be made to resolve your grievance in a timely manner.

I, ______________________________________, understand the YWCA Flint DVSAS Policy of:

  • Confidentiality as explained to me by a staff member. I have received a copy of this policy.
  • I understand that DVSAS will report to Child Protective Services any known or suspected child abuse or neglect. I also understand that DVSAS will contact law enforcement if we have reason to believe that you will harm yourself and/or another person.
  • Further, I agree not to disclose any identifying information about anyone that I encounter during my interaction with YWCA Flint or YWCA DVSAS. This includes saying whether or not someone is staying at or receiving services from YWCA DVSAS.
  • This is to acknowledge that the client rights and grievance procedure has been explained to me on this date, and I fully understand what has to be done to file a grievance if it becomes necessary.

I have received a copy of the YWCA of Greater Flint DVSAS Confidentiality Notice and Client’s Grievance Procedure.

Client Signature:_________________________________________________Date:_____________

Witness:_______________________________________________________ Date:_____________