The gender revolution continues in many areas even if it has slowed down in others. The medical and legal professions are becoming feminized; women continue to outstrip men in educational attainment, recently surpassing them even in the completion of Ph.Ds. And the political rise of women continues unabated. Even a decade ago, it’s hard to imagine that Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton could have been serious contenders for president. Women now lead some of the most prestigious institutions of higher education in the country, including Harvard.
But to my mind the real evidence lies in the outlook of young people. In my research on middle-school youth, my co-author and I found that girls couldn’t even imagine why we’d ask them if they were afraid to compete with boys. They rolled their eyes as if we were from some other planet. The gender revolution has succeeded in raising girl’s expectations for their future, creating a generation of boys and girls who see each other – at least in the classroom- as equals. Girls own their competitiveness, and a star soccer player is at the top of the heap. We heard absolutely no criticism of girls who liked to win, on the playing field or in the science fair. Instead, we found something surprising, at least to us: there was some peer pressure not to be too feminine and too girly. No one wanted to be seen as the kind of girl that was afraid of spiders. No one wanted some boy to have to save her.
This doesn’t mean we’ve reached a post-feminist nirvana. Young women continue to obsess about their bodies. They seem to have taken all the angst about femininity that pervaded every facet of women’s lives 50 years ago and narrowed it, with dangerous intensity, toward a focus on displaying their sexuality. It’s likely to take yet another generation to get beyond the gender restrictions and expectations that surround women’s bodies and sexuality, but the gender revolution clearly continues.