Burnt Bras and Shattered Dreams
August 7, 2001
While riding the Metro a few weeks back, a friendly guy about my age started chatting with me. As his stop approached, he hesitatingly said, “So, do you live with anyone?” Unsure of what he meant I blurted out the name of family friends I’m living with. He carefully repeated, “No, I mean do you live with anyone?” With a sudden epiphany, I said, “Oh, you mean, ‘am I married?’ No, I’m not married.” He laughed and said he didn’t think I was, and then without even knowing my last name, asked me for my telephone number.
I stared perplexed as the Metro left him at his station. Only then did I understand what he was asking. I was shocked. What happened to asking a girl if she was “seeing anyone?”
Since then, I’ve wondered if I should have been shocked? After all, cohabitation and “hooking-up” are such norms these days. He was just a little more direct and honest than most perhaps. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel outraged that I wasn’t assumed to be a lady and disillusioned that he was obviously not a gentleman.
Oh, I know. Thinking in terms of “ladies” and “gentlemen” is so archaic. Women today are supposed to be liberated from all that. We can have relationships without commitment. We can have sex without consequences. That’s called freedom. That’s the way of the future. That’s what women’s rights are all about-I forgot.
The women I see today are confused and frustrated by the contradictions in the prevailing ideology. While the media and culture continue to push the idea that liberated freedom means sex without consequences, my generation of women feels that they have lost something in the process.
We have a hard time reconciling the inconsistencies. Today the double standard has new meaning. We encourage serial sex-just open Cosmo or Glamour, tune in to prime-time television or go to a movie. At the same time, we still condemn the girl when the news gets out. When Gary Condit’s PR flack “accused” Chandra Levy of having a history of one-night stands, the public was outraged. But, rather than be offended, shouldn’t we celebrate this news as evidence of her liberation?
Or, did the 70’s generation of feminists really fight so that my generation could have the right, as Danielle Crittenden wrote, “to make love to a man and never see him again; the right to be insulted and demeaned if she refuses a man’s advances; the right to catch a sexually transmitted disease that might, as a bonus, leave her infertile; the right to an abortion when things go wrong, or as it may be, the right to bear a child out of wedlock.”
Today’s women are getting short shrift, but not because we don’t have the same rights as men. Oh no; the reason is much more insidious-it is because we allow ourselves to believe womanhood is a weakness. We don’t need men to make us victims-we seem to handle that one all by ourselves.
Interesting logic isn’t it? Rather than feminism driving us toward higher levels of freedom and a better life, that freedom has brought disaster for women-unprecedented levels of sexually transmitted diseases, single motherhood, and women living alone. Just take a look at the latest census trends. Women are bearing the brunt of the negative consequences of cohabitation-as Janice Crouse wrote, “we end up paying the rent and rocking the cradle.” We want more than this. We deserve more than this. More importantly, we are aware that something more than this exists, some of us have seen it in the mists of our past-grandparents and parents who loved and cherished each other for a lifetime.
My generation has been taught that commitment is bondage; that we should set our goals higher than marriage and family. Yet, when women bash husband and family and eschew all the things that make us feminine, ultimately we lose our very humanity. It is not laughable to want a love that lasts a lifetime, to want to be cared for and to spend your life caring for the love of your life, to have children and to raise them to be honorable and decent.
That dream has not shattered. My generation of women may yet regain our femininity and, in doing so, find ourselves and realize our dreams. We may yet embrace the longing for committed loving relationships, for marriage and family, for fulfillment in our callings. These things will restore to women true respect and freedom-the freedom to be women.