As I suggested in my last post, a shift toward more conservative gender roles is probably already underway, with younger Americans leading the trend. Julia Rothman, writing for the Washington Post, claims that younger women are taking up the domestic arts with an enthusiasm that hasn’t been seen in decades:
Around the country, women my age (I’m 29), the daughters and granddaughters of the post-Betty Friedan feminists, are embracing the very homemaking activities our mothers and grandmothers so eagerly shucked off. We’re heading back to jam-canning and knitting needles, both for fun and for a greater sense of control over what we eat and wear.
That younger women are more domestically inclined than their mothers or women of my own generation seems entirely believable. American women over 35 or so who can cook from scratch are a rarity. In fact, those who can cook at all are hard to come by. As for the baby boomer women, they were perhaps the most hostile to domestic work of all. However, I’m not sure this was entirely feminism’s fault; much of the commercialism of the 20th century promised women a world in which housework would be a breeze, without any of the old-fashioned drudgery that characterized the lives of women before WWII.
However, rather than a break from one generation to the next, as Julia Rothman suggests, I suspect it’s actually the changing demographics I discussed in yesterday’s post. Although the dominant trend during the 80s and 90s was for women to shed all domestic responsibility, not all of them did. And guess which women had the most children…
What is happening is that as the daughters of the more fecund traditional women come of age, the culture is shifting along with them. The how-to books on canning and sewing are finding more buyers as these women prepare to take on the same role their mothers did and this, rather than a wholesale rejection of feminist ideology, is why these books and products are so much more popular than they were in the 90s, when these women were still girls.
We tend to forget that people really do turn out like their parents, and before birth control and the cultural divide in the US, the kind of women who were inclined to support feminism still had plenty of children and lived essentially the same lives as their more conservative, religious fellow Americans. However, once the new progressive ideals really took hold, a demographic change was set in motion.
I know women who grew up with progressive mothers. Almost all of them turned out progressive themselves. However, in the new generation there simply aren’t as many of them. Some women from conservative families became progressive, but most of them are content to live life as their mothers did. Recruiting these women didn’t really work.
It’s looking more and more as though feminism may simply deal with itself in the same manner the Shakers did. The Shakers may have been America’s first influential gender equality movement, and they rejected marriage and procreation. Shaker membership peaked in the early 19th century at about 6,000. Today, there are three Shakers in the US. In contrast, the ultra-traditional Amish have seen their ranks nearly double in the last twenty years alone. Despite the enormous impact feminism had on the West over the last half century, it may turn out to be merely a flash in the pan; a demographic dead end. Ironically, however, in retrospect we may see that it had one of the most enduring demographic impacts on Western populations of any movement or event in US history. By pushing down the fertility rate of an enormous cohort of Western women and aborting untold numbers of children, feminists may have successfully marginalized and all but assured the extermination of a particular group of Americans: themselves.