Recently, a very talented writer friend of mine wrote an article about disassociative feminism that really gave me food for thought. You can read the article here.
Disassociative feminism, according not just to my friend’s article but several others, is a phenomenon that has taken over the younger generation of women, especially in post-COVID times. Disassociation is a psychological term that refers to the emotional distancing many people experience as one way of coping with past trauma. It’s like your body and mind are numb so you can soldier on through life without being destroyed by the pain and turmoil of past traumatic experiences.
As I understand it, disassociative feminism is about numbing emotionally to the struggles women are still facing and succumbing to the spirit of the “ideal feminine”. It’s essentially about younger women rejecting the fight for women’s rights in favor of a more recognizable image of women’s roles as dictated by the separate spheres.
There’s some truth in this. I recently posted some new covers my designer created for my post-WWII short story collection Lessons From My Mother’s Life, which I’m rebranding next year, and in the comments, someone mentioned there is now a movement among some women of the younger generation to embrace the homemaking ideals of the Occupation: Housewife era (which, I might add, second-wave feminists worked very hard to break down).
There’s no denying articles like my friend’s are very important to help us sound the alarm regarding the ennui many younger women have fallen into when it comes to feminism. But I also see the times we’re living in as a reflection of the past, which might shed a different light on what’s happening in the 21st century.
We need to keep in mind that this kind of exhaustion and numbness regarding feminism has occurred throughout history. Feminist gains have come in waves ever since the first suffragists in the mid-19th century (which is one reason why we refer to them as first-wave, second-wave, and third-wave feminism). Back then, women were fighting for a much more basic right: the right to vote. In America, women achieved this in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment. And then what happened?
Not surprisingly the younger generation in the 1920s were in a similar position of disassociativeness that women in the 21st century are today. I’ve been reading up on the 1920s flapper in preparation for a new series I’ll be working on next year, and I was surprised to learn the harshest critics against the flappers were these late 19th and early 20th century feminists who had just won women the vote. They didn’t consider flappers as practicing what they were preaching. In fact, with the flappers’ man-crazy attitudes and their sexually liberating behaviors, they saw them as digressing back to an earlier time before the suffragists’ fight for women to be accepted as equals.
The 1930s continued this wave of feminist ennui. There was the Great Depression in America to contend with where most people, women and men, were just trying to survive, and not many had the strength to take up a political cause. Then World War II hit and although women weren’t out marching in the streets, they gained some momentum back when many took up working outside the home and helping the war effort.
The post-World War II era brought, as mentioned above, the Occupation: Housewife era which Betty Friedan talks a lot about in her book The Feminine Mystique. Women were basically encouraged (if you want to call it that) by the media and medical establishment to retreat back to the home and fulfill their “destiny” as wives and mothers. I’ve mentioned in several blog posts (like this one which I wrote on my old blog in 2017) how the 1950s and early 1960s produced the idea that a woman could have either a family or a career but not both. Many women bought into this and shied away from making use of their higher education in favor of marriage and children, not considering they could balance both. So again, we had a step back into the past.
As many of us know, though, the wave went up in the late 1960s when the second-wave feminists took up the fight again in the wake of the disillusionment many women were feeling from the Occupation: Housewife era. The early 80s saw a lull with the feminist cause but the early 90s brought third-wave feminism which took into account a much broader spectrum of women’s rights by embracing global feminism.
Perhaps the best evidence that feminism isn’t lost in the 21st century. A group of young women posing with a banner proclaiming “Fourth Wave,” hinting that we might be seeing the fourth wave feminists starting to take up the fight for women’s rights.
Although many consider the fight for women’s rights in danger in the 21st century, I look at it differently. Consider that COVID-19 had a global impact on all of us, and we’re still feeling the post-traumatic effects of it. In the wake of this global pandemic, it’s perhaps no surprise we’re seeing this disassociative feminism rise up in many younger women. But that doesn’t mean they’ve given up the fight. I see many younger women practicing what older feminists preached decades, even centuries ago. I was recently talking to a friend of mine whose daughter (of the younger generation) protested against the attitudes men showed toward women in her community. Her objections touched on the kind of protests against sexual objectification and harassment that second-wave feminists fought for sixty years ago. I’m not here to offer solutions, but I do think the point Jacqueline Delibas makes in her article about opening up the conversation about feminism and women’s rights and making sure we are including all communities (such as the transgendered community) is a step in the right direction.
If this blog post interests you, you might want to not only check out Jacqueline’s article linked above but also my post-WWII short story collection Lessons From My Mother’s Life which you can find here. And if you’re looking for a series that does feature a young woman who is all about the spirit of suffragism, you can’t do better than my Adele Gossling Mysteries. Book 1 is free on all booksellers and Book 6 is coming out in August!
If you love fun, engaging mysteries set in the past, you’ll enjoy The Missing Ruby Necklace! It’s available exclusively to newsletter subscribers here. By signing up, you’ll also get news about upcoming releases, fun facts about women’s history, classic true-crime tidbits, and more!