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Feminist Backlash? College Women Want to Be Treated Like Princesses

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I was at Rider University in New Jersey last week and sat in on a global studies class that has a video link-up with Kufa University in Najaf, Iraq. The link failed the day I was there but the professor used the time to discuss the focus of the class, which is about what constitutes a civil society, and how the two campuses might put their ideas together to help form one. She started by asking what the Rider students admired most about the structure of Iraqi society, explaining to me that their counterparts in this exercise are all women and all wearing the traditional head covering, or hijab, that identifies them as Muslims.

It was an unseasonably warm day in late October and a technician tried in vain to get the international connection up and going. Sometimes a sandstorm interferes, but this time it was the back-up generator the Iraqi university relies on, which had run out of juice. When it was clearly a no-go, one Rider student peeled off her jacket. She was wearing a sleeveless top and had kept the jacket on out of respect for the Iraqi women.

With all the hullaballoo in New York about building an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, or the French banning head scarves in state schools, it's heartening to see how seamlessly a college class of middle-class kids modify their behavior to respect different customs, and how open they were to a guided discussion, suspending value judgments and debating back and forth among themselves.

Professor Roberta Fiske-Rusciano has conducted similar video conferencing with American University in Cairo, and finds it a really useful tool to promote understanding between cultures. She encouraged the students to think about what constitutes a civil society, and the qualities they quickly settled on were close family ties, with access for all to education and health care (with health care considered a human right). So far, so good, I thought. These students are building a list that indicates their idealism is alive and well.

Encouraging the students to dig deeper than generalities, the professor asked what qualities they admired about family life in Iraq. A number of the female Rider students said they liked how Iraqis put women on a pedestal. One said she liked being treated as a princess. Another countered that she was raised to never depend on a man. "I can open the door myself," she said. "I don't want to be treated like a princess. That comes at a cost."

"Because you become dependent?" Fiske-Rusciano gently probed. "Since he's paying for everything, maybe you don't need such a high-paying job?" That of course was the thinking before the women's movement fought for a level playing field, even if it meant giving up the perks of being the fairer sex. One young woman flared at the notion that being treated like a princess might mean accepting something less in her career. "I'm a triple major," she declared, "but I still like being treated like that." Some minor dissent followed, with one student warning that it's fine to be on a pedestal, but if you get knocked off, you could be the victim of an honor killing.

Several women students gave what sounded like testimonials to the practice of having the guy pick up the check. One said it's a form of disrespect to the woman if the guy doesn't pay, or at least make the offer. The handful of men in the class stayed mostly quiet, exchanging eye rolls at the thought that they had to bankroll everything.

Did I miss something in the last several decades? I remember when Nora Ephron said, "The major concrete achievement of the women's movement in the 1970s was the Dutch treat." She was being wry of course, as only Ephron can, but of all the symbolic behaviors that define the relationship between the genders, paying your way is the one that punctures the fantasy that a man will always be there to take care of you. As these women study their opposite numbers in Iraq, they are also exploring their own customs and traditions, and sometimes their reactions puzzle those who remember fighting over these issues of money and chivalrous behavior and thinking they had been resolved.

I visited this global studies class in my role as a fellow with the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation, which brings people from various walks of life to small liberal arts campuses with the goal of enlightening the students, and fortunately the lessons work both ways. I thought of these students during Saturday's rally on the National Mall to "Restore Sanity and/or Fear," when I saw a sign that said, "Palin, O'Donnell, Bachmann -- For this I burned my bra?"
Filed Under: Woman Up, Iraq

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8 Comments

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lesli

The problem was that the generation who fought for all those "rights" didn't take into account that there were and still are women who disagreed with you. Sorry but I also know of several women who go by the creed "I didn't burn my bra for anyone!" And its true, I seriously don't think that "gender equality" got us much in the long run. I think we better off as a country in the 50's and earlier. I am 36 and went to college to give you some perspective on my comments. I can see so many social problems that were brought on by this so called equality. Seriously, I think it was a very grave social mistake. Were there issues that needed to be rectified, such as domestic violence? Yes. But the whole point of women's lib, I thought, was to give women a choice, and my generation didn't get a choice. We HAD to work, it's necessary for so many families. If I had told my high school guidance counselor that I wanted to be a housewife, they would have had me in counseling for low self esteem and sent a note home to my parents and wondered what my family life was like. There is a growing generation of young women who are becoming acutely aware of what was given up for that equality and are not willing to pay that price.

November 27 2010 at 6:48 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
colldase

I believe in equal pay for equal work, but feminism I never understood what it meant. so we get to open our own doors, don't we have to do that when there is no man around? I believe it was an excuse for women in the 70's to not follow the norm - marriage & children - without being looked down on. So we raise our daughters to know that they can do and be anything they want just like our sons. I've told my children, all girls, get an education, get married have kids if you want them, and then worry about work. If you are going to choose to have a family and be a parent, then one of you should be parenting, not a day care. Starting a family later in life is harder, from conception to high school graduation. At my age my mother had one child left in high school. My youngest just started school. College and retirement at the same time! Me time should be after children, your more wise and chose your experiences with more maturity.

November 25 2010 at 2:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
littlemiss

It's common courtesy for anyone of either gender to hold the door for others. It's common courtesy for anyone out with someone to offer to pay. People play by these rules of gender roles and it's silly, because must of what is "chivalrous" is courteous and gender is irrelevant. It's when a guy says he wants to "protect" me I get riled. Protect me? So you mean, without you around, it's only a miracle I've survived long enough to meet you? I don't think that's how this works. People want to make their partners happy, they don't want them to hurt, they don't want to lose them, but "protect" has that ugly little implication of a gilded cage and that? That is never a good thing.

November 03 2010 at 1:13 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Michael

Every woman wants to be treated as a Princess; every man wishes to be treated as a Prince. Wise couples do their best to pull it off as often as possible. When we treat our partners well, we in turn are well treated.

November 02 2010 at 5:54 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
db1219

I don't think that women understood what they were in for when they demanded "equal rights" 50 years ago. If you want equal pay for equal work, then be expected to be treated like one of the "guys", not different because you are a woman. With that comes paying for half of all dates, half of the house, half of the cars, half of all of the insurance, opening doors for yourself, no more Miss America pageants, and giving men an equal say in everything that women have always had full control of over the past. How would you like to see a new "The View" with Barbra Walters, Joy Behar, Rush Limbaugh, and Mel Gibson? That doesn't sound like it would make a pleasant atmosphere, does it? Now you know what the "womens' movement" has done to men.

November 02 2010 at 4:24 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
lerwilhelm

Eleanor, I think you've been seeing things through rose colored glasses for 30 years now. This is nothing new, it's one of the most confusing elements of the changes that started with bra burning. No matter what a person does it's wrong. I consider myself a feminist and my female friends for most part agree, but I can tell you men have lived in a situation of chaos for years. You open a door you're being anti-feminist, you don't open it, you're a pig. Get a grip. Either your precious jewels or your human beings; human beings are not precious jewels, and neither is the sex they bestow on one another. That's just part of being animals.

November 02 2010 at 12:57 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
greatqb44

Feminism died in 1998 when they sold out everything to cover for Billy Boy.....The first move is free!!! That's why you burned your bras so you can get sold out.. Its funny the website that is using a nothing losing D house Cand.in VA as a useful tool because she serves it purposes is complaining So the moral of Ellie's story seems to be women dont know what they want...MAJOR NEWSFLASH!!! And still nothing on the wife beating D in Ohio

November 02 2010 at 12:42 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
jaguar6cy

It is fascinating that the "woman's movement" has produced so many significant improvements in American society. It is also interesting that the people most liberated by it are men. When I was young I believed that marriage meant men should provide for and take care of their responsibilities. Today the situation is much improved. Dates are now pay as you go, without the need for a man to pay for anyone other than himself. Now women are and should be responsible for themselves, and all feelings of outdated responsibility are removed. The two income family has resulted in two incomes being necessary just to buy a house. That only happened because the second income went mainly to buy a bigger, and more expensive, house in the first place. And the only need women had left was to find someone to help pay for it. That only added extra expense and stress to men who already had greatly overcommitted lives. Day care now provides for young children and the inconvenient need for a mother to be involved at all is greatly reduced, except when absolutely necessary. Men now have more freedom because women can do just fine on their own and day care can fill the void in raising the children. Visitation allows for continuing contact without having the inconvenience or responsibility involved in trying to support women who have “grown and moved on”. It is now great to be a man and ladies should continue taking on responsibility. It will only get better from here.

November 02 2010 at 12:25 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

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