STAIN: The Role of Feminism
The early 1970s was the culmination of decades of work toward equality and rights for women. From the early suffragettes to changing ideas of outdated patriarchal gender roles and stereotypes, women staged campaigns and demonstrations throwing off old ideas of what it meant to be a woman. The notion that women had choices in everything from employment to political ideology to social identification meant redefining the idea of “woman”. A major factor in this revolution was breaking down social constructs formerly constricting women and their social and gender roles.
Jean and Bernice represent two sides of an idea of feminism. Jean’s choices include single parenthood and independence. She sees herself as both mother and father to her children and works several jobs to provide for her family. Reliance on a man for financial and emotional support is anathema to her personal philosophy. She has clearly made her own way and is in charge of her life, owning her decisions with little to no regret.
Bernice chooses a life more traditional. College educated, she sees herself as a stay-at-home mother providing for her family by creating a safe home. She is willing to marry a man she doesn’t love in order to ensure stability for her and her children. This is at odds with Jean’s viewpoint. Jean sees Bernice’s desire to be taken care of as a sign of weakness and submission. She feels that Bernice has wasted an opportunity, her college education, by seeking security from without instead of from within. She dismisses the freedom for Bernice to choose her own path as her form of social and sexual identification, selling out to the more traditional societal views.
Part of the debate within feminism is the perception of traditional gender roles and expectations versus the idea of the independent woman. Even today stay-at-home mothers find themselves at odds with those women who’ve chosen a career outside the home. While women have worked for centuries, the opportunities presented today require a higher level of training, longer hours, and sometimes even travel. Time away from home and family can lead to internal conflict for many women and impact their career choices. One thing remains central: choice. Bernice’s choice to marry doesn’t negate Jean’s choice not to, nor does Jean’s choice to have children with different fathers impact Bernice’s choice to potentially terminate an unintended pregnancy. In both cases, both women can be viewed as feminists as they seek to control their choices, their bodies and their lives.