COUNTLESS BOOKS have been written about women in Bible times. And most people know how the story goes: Ancient Hebrews, like their neighbors, were intensely misogynistic; women had legal status somewhere at or below the level of cattle; and only a few of them rose above their station to gain even name recognition in Scripture. "And that's the way it was in ancient Israel. ..."

But over the centuries, things have changed. Well, sort of. While some cultures in the world do hold to old traditions relegating women to second-class citizenship or even according them no citizenship at all, many other cultures have undergone an attitude adjustment fueled by the phenomenon called feminism. I decided to look up the word, remembering how, in the 1970s, it used to be "fighting language," certain to arouse strong feelings, fury, and tears—and that was just around the dinner table at my house. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia—hardly an intellectual resource, but a pretty good mirror of contemporary culture—feminism is defined simply as "an ideology focusing on the equality of both sexes." Nobody argues with that very much anymore. Today, it's a "given."

More women are CEOs of major corporations than ever before. Women earn graduate degrees, including doctorates, in record numbers. Little girls are told, "You can be anything you want to be," and that's true. But such achievement usually carries with it a hefty price-tag. Women still earn considerably less than men who perform the same work. Women still often bear most of the responsibility for child care and domestic duties. Women still face challenges in asserting and maintaining authority in the workplace. Women still starve themselves, stuff themselves into uncomfortable attire, and teeter around on three-inch heels, despite having won the privilege of keeping up with the guys, beer-chug for beer-chug, and demanding various types of personal satisfaction. Not surprisingly, relationships between men and women seem to be in pretty sad shape; in the United States, those who marry face a 50 percent national divorce rate. So, how much progress have we really attained?

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Thinking about women
October 22, 2007

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