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Thirty years later, is feminism dead?

Are today’s women as passionate about equal rights as the women of the 1970s? “Today” takes the temperature of a new generation.
/ Source: TODAY

In the ’70s, they took to the streets. “We are the women that our parents warned us about, and we are proud,” said Gloria Steinem, leading women’s rights activist.

Thirty years ago, American feminists were following in the footsteps of pioneers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who fought for voting rights; Margaret Sanger, for reproductive rights; Rosa Parks, for racial equality; Shirley Chisholm, for political parity, and so many others.

“If it took us a century to get identity, it’s not surprising that it will take a century to get equality,” said Steinem.

Is feminism dead? By the looks of last April’s march in Washington D.C., which was more than a million strong, feminism is alive and well, and attracting a whole new following.

“More than a third of this march is under 25 years old,” said Steinem at the event.

“We were just so excited to be there and it felt so real, so fresh, and I had never seen anything like it," said Lauren Goldman, 18, who attended the march with friends.

Lifelong activist and freelance writer Catherine Blinder went, but was skeptical in the beginning.

“I was just tired of hearing the same speakers, the same songs, the same chants,” said Blinder.

But in the end, she was inspired by what she found there — new people, new energy, and new attitudes.

“You can believe in women’s rights, and you can dress the way you want, and you can represent yourself on all these fronts, and still feel empowered,” said Goldman.

“I do consider myself a feminist, but what it means to me is being able to have the independence to be the woman you want to be,” said Natasha Pierre.

“They see sexuality as power, when our generation was threatened by it,” said Steinem, who helped found the National Women's Political Caucus, and the Women's Action Alliance in the 1970s.

According to a 2003 Harris poll, more than half of women and a third of men call themselves feminists, but there is some backlash against the word itself.

“There's been the same kind of demonizing of the word feminism as words like liberal, affirmative action, and so on,” said Steinem.

For some women today, it seems too radical for comfort.

“I would not consider myself a feminist,” said Kara Short. “I think ultra, ultra strong, like Hillary Clinton, almost over-the-top fighting for women's rights.”

Like them or not, women like Sen. Clinton are slowly changing the face of Capitol Hill. In 1971 there was one woman in the United States Senate, now there are 14. In the House of Representatives, there were 10 women, now there are 65.

So far, 29 women have been appointed to Cabinet or Cabinet-level positions. But since Geraldine Ferraro accepted the vice presidential nomination in 1984, no woman has been nominated to that high an office.

Are women using their power?

While 52 percent of the electorate is women, more than half of them didn’t vote in the last election.

“It’s back and forth, back and forth,” said author and feminist Naomi Wolf. “I mean the American Revolution wasn't over with the Boston Tea Party. They had to keep fighting and keep fighting, keep making the case.”

One of the largest issues women today face is equal pay. While nearly as many women are now in the workforce as men, they are still paid less — about 76 cents for every dollar a man makes. And that is up from 59 cents in the 1970s. For poorer women stuck in lower income jobs, the gap is even wider.

“It will take a century at the rate we're going to get equal pay,” said Steinem.

And working mothers still struggle with inadequate, costly child care and workplaces that are far from family friendly.

However, many of today's changes are being implemented at home. Recent studies show that younger women are putting less pressure on themselves to advance at work and are opting for more balance in their lives.

Plus, more men are assuming their share of the burden when it comes to raising children and taking on household responsibilities. This is progress the architects of feminism consider most pivotal.

“Until we have democratic families, we're never going to have true democracy outside the family,” said Steinem.

While women are earning more advanced degrees than ever, some who can afford it are leaving the workplace to work inside the home.

“I could never have done it 100 percent had I had a family at home,” said Short about getting her degree. “It just would have torn me to pieces not to be able to dedicate all of myself to each part.”

“It was a choice that I never thought I would make, to choose to stay home, but it is a wonderful choice,” she said.

“It's not 9 to 5, it's not even 8 to 6,” said mom Liz Kelleher.

“It's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, no vacation time, no sick days,” said Short, laughing as she agreed with Kelleher.

Is this trend a blow to the early feminist notion of a superwoman who could have it all?

“As long as you raise perfect children, or are a gourmet cook, dress for success or are multi-orgasmic till dawn,” said Steinem. “It's so exhausting, it's not possible.”

In a culture that sometimes celebrates women more for their breasts than their brains, it's important to recognize the doors that have been opened and those who have walked through them. And the ultimate women's liberation — the freedom to choose their own path.

“It's part of the American grain now, and that's something to cheer,” said Wolf, who wrote "The Beauty Myth."

“I'm 18 so, of course, the world is at my fingertips, right?” said Lauren Goldman.

“Young women now say, ‘I hope I can have as interesting a life as my mother — not the same life, but as interesting a life,’ ” said Steinem. “That brings tears to my eyes because that is just so, so different.”