First Lady Betty Ford/
Source: First Lady Betty Ford/

Many of the workplace opportunities afforded to women today came about through the tireless efforts of the feminist movement. Yet, as a college educator, I am often taken aback when I hear students talk about feminism in a pejorative way. Few young women today realize that for job hunters during the 1960s, there was a "Help Wanted Female" section and a "Help Wanted Male" section in newspapers. Employers could even ask newly married women if they intended to have children. A “yes” answer was career suicide. For those women who dared to conceive, there was no maternity leave and no available child care.

In February 2016, Dr. Denise Dellarosa Cummins wrote for PBS Newshour that fewer than 25 percent of young women call themselves feminists.  She noted that “the current generation has rarely experienced institutionally and legally sanctioned sexism.”

There appears to be negative associations with the word "feminism" which too often become equated with "man-hating." I wonder if this is a misunderstanding of history. Too few can see that the contemporary movement has as much to do with equal pay and equal rights as with feminist moral psychology.

From Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we learn about the empathy associated with feminist concerns, “especially in connection to understanding and attempting to end women's oppression.”  Anita Superson talks about responsibility in relation to “oppressed and oppressor.” Dr. Superson is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky.

Today, there continues to be serious concerns about women’s rights, even as opportunities have increased. In February of this year, Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become US Secretary of State, was widely quoted as saying, “We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done. . . It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!"  She was referring to young women supporting Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton.  Although she later apologized for the remark, she said she still believes that women should be supporting one another.   

Are programs in Women’s Studies glossing over the harsh realities of the feminist movement? Or can it be that in a year of politics young women are fixated on slogans without solutions rather than playing a substantive role in continuing to work towards and support a full array of women’s rights? 

In the late 80’s Linda Ellerbee came to Yale to talk with students. An ABC, CBS, and NBC journalist and award-winning host of “Nick News” for Nickelodeon, she honed in on feminism and the problem of equal pay. I interviewed her for Sisterhood Betrayed: Women in the Workplace and the All About Eve Complex. Here is what she said in 1990:

“Every time I think that we are the ones who defeated the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), I get angry.  My answer to these young women, who say feminism is so unattractive, is that we are head of more than half of the households in the country. Seventy-five percent of the men who are supposed to pay child support don’t.  We still earn sixty-four cents on the dollar.  You think feminism is unattractive? Try welfare!”  Ellerbee is the author of So It Goes.  

Today, the calculated difference between what men earn and what women earn is now up to approximately 79 cents on the dollar.  That comes out to an $11,000 a year shortfall for women.

Despite the progress made with women’s issues, so much so that a woman is now running for president, the question we must ask is this: Will women support a revolution to put women into power at all levels of government?

Many of the opportunities that young woman have today came about because of first wave feminists. It is sad to see that we have drifted so far away from the movement that disrespect for women has become bold and flagrant. When we hear the words “corporate whore” or playing the “women’s card” -- where is the outrage?

Perhaps we all need a lesson in history, respect, and gratitude

Copyright 2016 Rita Watson (


Cummins, Denise, Why millennial women don’t want to call themselves feminists (Cummins on 

Superson, Anita, "Feminist Moral Psychology", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) 

Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright Rebuke Young Women Backing Bernie Sanders, The New York Times, February 7, 2016

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Karl Schumacher / Public domain

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