Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Negotiating relationships in a shifting world

Woken early this morning because our cat had captured a mouse and wanted to eat it under our bed! So much for my plan to catch up on some sleep.

Thinking further about yesterday's post, It's a rum thing, change, I probably sounded a bit crabby, and indeed I was. I have of course written on some of these matters connected with changing personal roles, but I should do something to pull some of that material together.

I had just started university when Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique was first published in 1963, although it was several years before I actually read it. According to Wikipedia:  
Friedan was inspired to write The Feminine Mystique after attending a class reunion of her 1942 Smith College graduating class. At the reunion, she sensed that her fellow alumnae felt a general unease with their lives. She followed up the reunion with a questionnaire sent to the other women in her class. The results of the questionnaire confirmed Friedan's impressions. In interpreting the findings, Friedan hypothesized that women are victims of a false belief system that requires them to find identity and meaning in their lives through their husbands and children. She believed that such a system causes women to completely lose their identity in that of their family.
 Friedan's book had a catalytic effect and in my mind has always marked the start of the women's movement . The book didn't really start the women's movement, but it did help energise and focus changes that had already begun.

Another major headland point in my mind was the foundation of the Australian Women's Electoral Lobby in 1972 because it gave a particular political expression to the women's movement in this country. In 1963 we did talk about gender roles and the need for change, but the discussion lacked the bite that would emerge later in the 1960s. From 1972 there was a concerted political and social push that was to affect every aspect of life including language.

The strongest feminists I know are generally women in their early fifties who were at school and university during the movement's height. From the early 1980s intensity declined because gender roles had in fact been re-defined, although rolling change continued. Later still came something of post-feminist reaction as the movement's very successes bred a counter response.

Women's successful re-definition of their roles obviously affected men.  Changes in women's roles required changes in men's roles. This created considerable confusion in men's minds. There were increasing worries about the perceived marginalisation of men, about the best way of raising boys in the new environment. One measure of this is the huge global success of the books of Australian write Steve Biddulph, including the publication sixteen years ago of Manhood.

Later came increasing worries about suicide among young men and, more broadly, male depression. One outcome in Australia was the creation of the Men's Shed movement in 2007 to provide a social community for men. With over 400 Member sheds representing an estimated 30,000 men, AMSA claims to be the largest men’s support organisation in Australia.

This is not a commentary on social change nor a history of the women's movement and the social responses, although I do have to write something on that as part of my current research on social change in New England in the second half of the twentieth century. Rather, it is a continuation of the muse on changing personal roles that began in It's a rum thing, change.

To my mind, both the women's and men's movement miss, or at least don't focus sufficiently on, one key point, the practical issues involved in negotiating and re-negotiating relationships over time where neither party has a necessarily defined role and where roles are likely to shift. Choices are involved, and those choices involve varying costs as well as gains. They also involve shifting dependencies.

This is the issue that I would like to explore further at some point in terms of my own experiences and observations, for there really isn't a lot of how to do material.


Anonymous said...

Hello Jim

I am not yet sure where you are going with this interesting rumination, but it strikes me that, as 'feminism' is such a handy label for a set of hopes and aspirations, you might firstly like to provide a similar label for the male equivalent.

The best I can come up with is 'malware'. What say you?


Jim Belshaw said...

Naughty, David, naughty! What I really want to do in this is to explore some of the issues using my own experiences as a frame. Part of the idea is practical; why repeat my mistakes? But part of the idea is to try to delineate new ways of thinking.