Has the sexual revolution been good for women?
The revolution, while good for women, is far from over
By Mary Welek Atwell
Atwell is chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Radford University.
Has the sexual revolution been good for women? If “sexual revolution” means that gender roles have modified and traditional notions of how men and women were expected to behave have altered, then surely the answer is yes. Working from that definition, one might also argue that the sexual revolution has also been good for men. It has liberated them from a narrow notion of what it means to be masculine and expanded it to include shared involvement in child care and parenting.
To measure the consequences of greater gender equality, one might look back to the legislation of the 1960s and 1970s, e.g., the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibited discrimination based on sex in education and employment, and which may be reflected today in the law schools and medical schools that enroll a majority of women; Title IX, which opened the doors to greater participation in sports for girls and women; the Equal Pay Act and laws that prohibited lenders from refusing to extend credit to women. Two generations have enjoyed the advantages of these laws, and many women have benefited. Their families have benefited as well.
But the picture is not entirely rosy. Women as a group earn an average of 77 percent of men’s earnings. And as a recent article in The Atlantic argues, women still cannot have it all — if “it all” means the same careers men enjoy when women are mothers as well as members of the work force. The issue is not legislation prohibiting discrimination, nor is it simply a matter of attitudes. Many individuals and couples have come a very long way in sharing financial and parental responsibilities. Rather, the issue is systemic.
For many families, good child care is too expensive or not available. And even for those who may be able to afford a nanny or a preschool or after care, what happens when a child is sick or needs special attention? Can the woman who works at a minimum wage job or the high-powered lawyer who must count her billable hours take time to tend to the needs of a son or daughter? Can the father take the time? For all Americans’ devotion to families and family values, insufficient progress has been made to accommodate the reality that most parents of both sexes work outside the home. For example, there has been no effort to establish federal support or funding for child care since 1972. In a weak economy when employers are trying to wring the maximum productivity from each worker, there is little regard for employees’ family responsibilities. Yet attention to things like family leave policies, flexible work schedules, telecommuting and other practices that make it possible to be both an earner and a caregiver would ultimately make for more successful work places.
These are not women’s issues, they are human issues. The sexual revolution will not be complete until the workplace and broader public policy reflect the profound social changes begun five decades ago.
Sexual revolution made war on women
Clarke is a retired registered nurse.
On my first date in 1964, I worried whether I should allow my date to kiss me at the door. I knew that sex was special and reserved for married couples. When this was violated and pregnancy resulted, either a “shotgun wedding” was arranged or the pregnancy was hidden until the child was placed for adoption. Were these really the “bad, old days?”
The separation of sex and babies made more possible by the Pill has wreaked havoc on our society and on women.
Sex separated from openness to life has resulted in the normalization of any and all sexual practices, family disintegration, soaring divorce and illegitimacy rates, an epidemic of STDs (the CDC reports some U.S. cities have a 40 percent herpes infection rate for sexually active youth), and 55 million abortions since 1973 (mostly as back-up birth control). The Pill itself often acts as an abortifacient and can cause serious side effects to the woman, including stroke and blood clots.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mary Eberstad recently asked some good questions about whether women were happier after the sexual revolution:
Why do the pages of our tonier magazines brim with mournful titles like “The Case for Settling” and “The End of Men”? Why do websites run by and for women focus so much on men who won’t grow up, and ooze such despair about relations between the sexes?
Why do so many accomplished women simply give up these days and decide to have children on their own, sometimes using anonymous sperm donors, thus creating the world’s first purposely fatherless children? What of the fact, widely reported recently, that 26 percent of American women are on some kind of mental health medication for anxiety, depression and related problems?
Portrayed as a boon to women, the Pill seems more beneficial to irresponsible boys, like Hugh Hefner, who made women into “bunnies” to be used by “playboys.” Fewer men seem willing to marry, and childbirth is often postponed until achieving pregnancy is unlikely.
This can result in the exploitation of poorer, younger women (who sell their eggs after being subjected to dangerous levels of artificial hormones) or impoverished third-world women (who agree to rent their wombs and serve as surrogates).
All of the above practices objectivize and treat women’s bodies as commodities to be bought and sold. Add sex-selection abortion, which disproportionately impacts baby girls, and the sexual revolution itself is exposed as the real war on women.
Women have made great strides in the workplace since I was a young woman, but the sexual revolution has exacted a tremendous price. Proponents are consoled by their claim that women have control over their bodies. But have they? Really?