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Did Second Wave Feminism Destroy Women? Nonsense.

Posted on December 2 2010 8:01 pm
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

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Editor’s note: This post responds to Megan Fox’s “Open Letter to Second Wave Feminsts: You Failed.”

Words fail me. Well—not really.

Megan Fox should think twice before dishonoring an entire movement because she disagrees with its position on reproductive rights and its analysis of marriage. My Second Wave generation of feminists bravely exposed the pre-existing epidemic of rape, woman-battering, and incest within families and we exposed the sexual harassment and sexual abuse of women at work and on the streets. We lobbied, demonstrated, counseled the victims of violence, and passed legislation to prosecute these formerly “secret” crimes—as crimes.

Where were the pro-family and pro-life forces? They certainly were not the ones who exposed abuse within the family nor did they work on the violence against women issues. They did not counsel girls who had been raped by their fathers, older brothers, male cousins—a far more common phenomenon than by strangers.

In addition, Second Wave feminists were the ones who first challenged the pornography industry and that of prostitution. We led the way. Many of us were “abolitionists” where prostitution and trafficking were concerned. We took these billion dollar industries on and despite great effort, even genius, we failed. Fox is right: Some feminists believed that pornography was a personal matter or a First Amendment right—but so did everybody else except for a handful of dedicated Christians with whom we worked.

My generation of feminists discovered that women were faking orgasms; that many men did not know how to please women—and that included their wives, mistresses, and paid sexual companions. We were interested in fairness in the bedroom as well as fairness in the marketplace. More important: We also pioneered the work against drug companies and the medication of both menstruating and menopausal women, which medication caused women to die from cancer. We did not embrace birth control; there was a very important argument that the late, great Barbara Seaman and the National Women’s Health Network (I am a co-founder) made against birth control.

Where were the pro-lifers and pro-family forces on this burning issue?

Women have always been unpaid, underpaid, and overworked; they have also been kept out of higher paid, male-only professions. Women have always feared growing old because that often meant extreme poverty and sometimes homelessness. That is still true, alas—but not for all those women who, courtesy of Second Wave feminist lawsuits and consciousness-raising became physicians, scientists, business executives, professional athletes, academics, lawyers, judges, social workers, etc.

Where were the pro-family, pro-lifers when it came to women’s economic dignity? And to fairness, justice for the working woman?

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