There are so many of them and they take up so much space in the world that the Baby Boomer generation gets all the ink. Everyone older is usually lumped into a general “senior” category, and the younger generations don’t even get real names, just GenX and GenY.
As David Wolfe points out over at Ageless Marketing, these designations don’t make a lot of sense at least from a marketing point of view. In the boomer generation alone - those born between 1946 and 1964 - what do 40-year-olds and 58-year-olds have in common? You’re right, not much.
At 63, born in 1941, I fall into that generic senior designation, but for cultural purposes I have, for decades, considered myself a part of the Interim generation which encompasses, loosely, women born between the mid-1930s up to early-1950s. If men of this age are affected similarly, one of them will have to take on that analysis - I’m dealing with women today.
We of the Interim generation were raised to marry, have children and keep house. If we went to college or work, it was considered a time filler, something to do until we found the man of our dreams and moved to the suburbs. The words “career”and “woman” were not mentioned in the same sentence and the only “professions” open to women, usually “spinsters” who could not find a husband, were nurse, teacher and secretary.
Then something happened on our way to fulfilling our destinies as brood mares. Everyone believes they remember what happened in 1963: John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But there was another event that year, at first overshadowed by the death of the president, that would at a slower pace have a much greater effect on western culture. Betty Freidan’s The Feminine Mystique was published.
Pick up that book today and you will groan. The writing is so dense it reads like cement and I have trouble imagining now how I got through it. But I did, along with millions of other women, and it changed not just our individual lives - it changed, in time, everything.
A couple of years ago, I ran into a snippy little 20-something just down from Cambridge with a shiny, new Harvard MBA making $150K as a Wall Street analyst. She told me that feminism is not relevant to her generation because they have evolved beyond the self-consciousness of labels.
Oh puh-leeze. Who does she think made it possible for her to go to Harvard, an all-male school when I was her age. Who does she think made it possible for her to become an analyst, an all-male enclave not so long ago. And who does she think made it possible for her to get a mortgage or any other kind of credit without a male co-signer?
Who did all that? We did, the women of the 1970s who got together in thousands of small consciousness raising sessions all over the U.S. to study Betty Friedan’s thesis and figure out how to put it to work in the real world. It was so radical then that many could not tell their husbands what we were doing at those meetings. Men made the decisions then. Men ruled the household then. Men even told wives how to vote then. And if your husband didn’t want you to read a certain book and have certain kinds of women friends, you didn’t.
So soon we forget.
Some of us were brave enough to risk the inevitable scorn of men and the media to burn our bras in that infamous symbolic gesture of demanding our freedom from domestic slavery. And others like me who were too chicken to risk that scorn and its consequences, cheered from the sidelines. For any of you too young to know or too old to remember, up until The Feminine Mystique took strong enough hold to make real change, women were forced into girdles and restrictive brassieres. It was not ladylike to jiggle in public.
Two years after the publication of Friedan’s manifesto, equal pay for men and women became law. Nevertheless, U.S. women today are still paid only 77 cents for every dollar men earn which is why it is a serious failing for young women to reject feminism. Although women’s strides toward full citizenship with men are numerous, we still have work to do and equal pay is only one item on the list.
While displeased with the attitude of today's young women, I am envious too of their unquestioning acceptance of their entitlement which, of course, is as it should be. Progress made in one generation should be the stepping stone of the next to improve life further. But those of us of the Interim generation, most of whom fought fiercely for our hard-won rights, will go to our graves with each of our feet in a different world. You could think of those worlds as BF and AF: Before Friedan and After Friedan.
It seems you cannot escape your cultural era. By methods I am at a loss to remember or explain, I learned the lesson well that I was expected to marry the man who would bring home the bacon I would cook for him while maintaining his household and raising his children. If those male pronouns surprise you, that is, in the 1950s, how things were said.
When Ms. Friedan’s book came along it was for me, as for millions of women, a revelation so right, so fitting, so obvious in its justice that there could be no appeal.
Women of the Interim generation were enthusiastic feminists, but old habits die hard. I have lived an independent life, but my first inclination is still, always, to serve the man. If I cooked at my home for the most recent one in my life, I never asked him to clean up the dishes. When he left his coat on the back of a chair, I hung it up. I made the coffee in the morning and brought it to him in bed if he was not up yet sometimes with freshly squeezed orange juice. I took on the responsibility of waking him when he had an appointment, and I let him read whichever newspaper section he wanted first, even if I wanted it.
I knew what I was doing and I was furious with myself. I wanted to blame him for being a man and making me do these things. But even though he made no effort to correct these minor inequities nor, as far as I could tell, even noticed they might be out of place, it wasn’t him. It was me. I have my own mortgage, I pay my own bills. I decide where to take holiday trips, and whether to take out a home equity line of credit just in case.
But I am still a member of the Interim generation - one foot in BF and the other in AF.