The mid to late 90's were, perhaps, one of the greatest times in human history.Crime rates were down globally, there were few wars and none were truly major. Ireland and the UK found a peaceful compromise after almost a century of fighting, there was even a ceasefire in the middle east. Appartheid had ended, the global (and South African) economy were up and global poverty was sharply down, the internet was free, uncontrolled, anonymous and out control of either governments or corporations. Innovation was driven and engineers were celebrated as the priesthood of the technological era -and women's rights were crucial and important. Rape culture was attacked on every front, feminism wasn't a swear-word and the badly misguided (and incredibly dishonest) MRA movement didn't even exist.
So where did it all go wrong? Back in 1998 the worst thing around was a dead Kurt Cobain.By 2001 conservatives had clawed themselves back into a position of power -and they were altering social attitudes and sending them back to the 1850s. In just 3 years from 2005 to 2008 the number of Americans who denied that human activity causes climate change doubled.
At the same time other mainstays of conservatives made their own comebacks. Rape culture was back in a big way (not that it had been defeated in the 1990's but it was definitely on the ropes), sex-ed was taken back to pre-feminist concepts of abstinence only – immediately driving teenage pregnancy up by 25% and teenage STD rates by almost 40%. Women's right were under attack on every front and instead of battling the scourge of rape – society had become apologists for it (the Steubensville case being a prime example).
That is the world we live in now. A world where being a women is a curse. A world that has re-embraced an idea created by an ancient religious interpretation that saw women as the enemy. The cause of the fall, the seductress and the path of evil.
I don't know why it all went wrong – perhaps the success of freedom-loving liberals in the 1990's were just too stark and the oppressive far right was pushed to the point where their vocal minority became influential somehow – and women's rights got pushed back into the kitchen. Even in children's toys the image was clear: from the mostly gender neutral toys of the 1980's and 1990's to the highly gender-role forced toys which now abound – and their overt (and quite disturbing) sexualisation of young women. Was that a surprize in the age of "Todlers in Tiaras" and "Sixteen and Pregnant"
Instead of defending our daughters from sexism, rape culture and gender-role oppression – our society now celebrates these things as entertainment. This is a dark time to be a girl – and it's not the world I want for my daughter. It's not how I want to raise her, it's not the value system I want to instil in her and it's not the roles I want to force her into (in truth – I don't want to force her into any roles- I want her to choose her roles). But it also doesn't have to be. The gay rights movment have seen astounding successes in the past few years. The number of American's who support gay marriage rights went up to over 50% (from less than 20 a mere decade ago), and a full 65% of them think it's inevitable (including many who oppose it) – and each day more US states are bringing their laws in line with basic fairness and equality.
The 90's did happen – I lived through it, and the LGBT rights movement is real right now – and they are winning battles. They are winning battles against gender-role discrimination, against legal oppression of non-heterosexual people of all forms. Women's rights can do the same. I've been a feminist for a long time, long in fact before I even would have used the term (due to a past wrong belief about it's goals and meaning). But now, with a daughter on the way, a daughter for whom I want the best life I can give, I need to be a better one. I need to do more activism, more fighting, to help build a world again where being whoever she may be – will not count against her, and especially one where being a girl will not be a curse.
The conservatives have it backwards. The young woman is not a portrait of hell. And perhaps if they can overcome their crippling fear of her then they will lose the need to shape her, to define her in a small, controllable role and to dis-empower her. To claim ownership of her very body and the right to dictate her thoughts.
To overcome that fear, and to recognize women for what they truly are: individual, human beings in whatever of the 7 billion variations on that theme we have – that is feminism in a nutshell. That is what I want to fight for, not just because I believe in it but also because that's what I want to leave as a legacy for my daughter.