What is the modern woman?

And can we change what we are supposed to be?

It used to be that a woman was something to neither be seen nor heard. She was a being of silence, a being hidden within the walls of the home and behind the masculine form of her husband. She was a being meant to bring children into this world, a being who was “biologically distinguished from men” and “culturally distinguished from ‘human'” (Firestone 232). She was a hysterical, unable to have control over her own body, and forced into situations and relationships that she did not necessarily want.

But what is the modern woman? Have we really come far from the days of being specifically present at home? Of having children and raising them being the specific role she has been given? The modern woman has to ‘do it all’: she must “produce a full-time career, thriving children, a contented spouse, and a well managed home”, an ideal which is hard to always achieve (Ehrenreich 445). Today’s woman, in this world where equality is apparently supposed to exist, still bears the majority of the housework and child care. She still is not equal in her relationships with men, and in order to compete in the career world, she has to resign some of her caring duties to other women, such as nannies and maids.

But what if there could be a new modern woman? A woman who was not pressured to have children, who was not pressured to be married, who was able to live outside of the mold of society? This woman would not be penalized and found on “the margins of a society in which everyone else is compartmentalized”; she would be free (Firestone 261). Free from the biblical destiny of bearing children, free from the pressures of having a man by her side, this modern woman would not have to do it all in order to be seen as successful: she could do what she wanted, and she would have ultimate support to do so. This woman could be a single mother; she could be a married woman with no child. She could stay at home or work. Having the freedom to choose, without judgment or distress, what life a woman wants for herself is what the modern woman should be.

 Ehrenreich, Barbara, and Arlie Hoschschild. “Global Woman.” Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology. By Estelle Disch. 4th ed. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Pub., 2000. 443-51. Print.

Firestone, Shulamith. “Conclusion: The Ultimate Revolution.” The Dialectic of Sex ; the Case for Feminist Revolution. New York: Morrow, 1970. N. pag. Print.


2 thoughts on “What is the modern woman?

  1. olto2013

    I like your main ideas and I think we’re getting at the same idea, but I do think the idea of the “new woman” or any type of woman is somewhat problematic. Shouldn’t anyone who identifies as “woman” or “female” be able to be any way that individual wants?

  2. jordand93

    I think each generation of women in a post first-wave feminism world has the same question as you. Further, we wonder what our primary responsibilities should be and how we should approach them. I think many women are taught to seek empowerment, but they don’t necessarily know how to go about it. Society sends us mixed messages, which makes it very difficult to answer your question about who the modern woman is supposed to be. I have actually been thinking about this quite a lot recently. I think, as students, we are in a unique position to answer your question, as we will create the next generation of modern women.

    On the one hand, I feel like I am given the advice to “lean in,” take risks, and be assertive through a focus on the professional world. I certainly admire people like Sheryl Sandberg. But I also feel like I am being told to place a similar importance on family life. In this respect, I admire Anne-Marie Slaughter who highlights the need for institutional changes so that women can fulfill both their professional and familial desires. In this respect, I really encourage you to read her article from the Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/).

    In further response to your analysis, I suggest that there are now many visions of the modern woman. While this may create confusion, perhaps it is a sign that what it means to be a woman is no longer restricted to one definition. As women become more empowered, they are better able to embrace individuality. As we ponder what it means to be a modern woman, we must also consider that women of privilege have best access to this “modernity.” Perhaps an important follow up question to yours is, “what can we do to ensure that all women have an opportunity to become a modern woman?”


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