A Breaking Point

    by -

    Lisa Hogeland, associate professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Cincinnati puts it perfectly, “I am a feminist. Anyone who participates in a robust critique of social norms, policies and practices… can be expected to be ridiculed on a good day. That is the American way.”

    With that said, isn’t every woman today a feminist at some point? The short answer is yes, but no one can deny, women have changed and society has changed with them. It’s a breaking point. Not only do women have more rights today in a broad sense, but it’s about access. Access to things like credit, loans, education, leadership and the belief that women can and will do whatever they want; buy a home, start a business, make more money than their male counterparts, even have children without a husband and through a fertility center. Sound radical? Not in the least, these are the women of today.

    The Housing Market “Boom”

    Why rent, when you can buy? Sounds like an ad for a condo or housing subdivision, but women across the country are hearing it – and living it – loud and clear. They’re taking on home ownership at a feverish pace. Many of them are young, just starting out, financially secure and ready for the challenges that come with owning a home. Studies from as early as 2000, show single women spending billions in real estate across the country. The National Association of Realtors says in 2002, twice as many women bought their first homes as single men.

    In Cincinnati, condos like “The Edge” downtown and “Southshore” in Newport have an appeal to successful women who want to live in an urban setting. Visit a model; you’ll notice large bathrooms, made with dual sinks, vanities, balconies, large kitchens and lots of light. Not to say that men don’t like these same designs, but there’s an appeal women can’t deny.

    So how are women doing it? Unfortunately, there’s still a disparity between earnings for women and men; but the difference is access. Enter the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Basically, it says no lender can deny your application, discourage you from applying for a loan or give you less favorable terms than another applicant because you’re a woman or minority. Seems simple today, but it gave women the legal means to purchase a home. This act, coupled with society’s changing view about what women “should and shouldn’t do” opened the door for home ownership. It’s no longer necessary to be a "Mrs" to have a home, bank account, credit report and so on. Still, Hogeland says, “Women navigate what’s legally, socially and psychologically permissible in all kinds of ways.” And we’ve always been pushing the envelope.

    Business Moguls?

    Take a walk around Cincinnati. Think about your favorite restaurant, hair salon, boutique, even where you buy treats for your pet. Not only are these businesses privately owned, but some by women entrepreneurs. In cities across the country, women are taking stock of their lives, and following their professional dreams; a luxury once reserved largely just for men. Loans for women, small businesses and that all-important line of credit are opening doors and creating successful places, to shop, relax and treat oneself like a lady. On the Web, sites like womenowned.com and the “Women’s Business Initiative” from OPEN by American Express help women understand what it takes to run their own business. From teams of investors that will help get your ideas off the ground, to scores of women offering advice, the World Wide Web is a great place to start and continue your business.

    If women aren’t opening their own businesses in Cincinnati, they’re working hard to reach the top. A recent study by the Women’s Fund, called “Pulse: Women in the C-Suite” suggests women are working hard, and climbing the ladder one rung at a time, but the top is still dominated by men. There’s good news though, women hold more than a third of the top jobs in hospitals and hospital systems in Cincinnati, up from 28 percent two years earlier. And the percentage of women directors at the top 25 largest public companies is steadily inching up. To name a few, take a look at Procter and Gamble, Omnicare and hospitals in the area. Women are holding their own, and it's a trend that's here to stay.

    The Next Generation

    No one can deny there’s still a stigma attached to single mothers. It’s a situation that brings up so many questions about a woman’s personal life. People talk, other women whisper and soon there’s a rumor mill churning. While the US Census Bureau points to a jump in the number of babies born to unmarried women, it’s hard to examine the statistics because of race, income and socioeconomic status. Single Mothers by Choice , an Internet support group for single women who are, or want to become mothers, has many more members than 10 years ago. On their Web site, moms to be can read up on adoption, find a clinic in their area, chat with other women who have become single mothers and learn what its like to raise a child on their own.

    It might sound like social suicide to some, but these women don’t feel like they need a man, or a husband to be a mother. They have overwhelming support on the Internet, from friends, family and community. Reading their online testimonials, you can’t help but understand their position. Many of them are working women in their 30s or 40s, successful, driven and for a variety of reasons, never married. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have support, the Web, friends, family or clinics across the country helping them achieve the goal of motherhood.

    There’s an old saying out there, somewhat trite, but bears mentioning: “you might have lost the battle, but you haven’t lost the war.” In some ways, feminism is a war of silent means. It’s not fought on grand battle fields where good and evil are clearly defined. You could say boardrooms, offices, clinics, doctor’s offices, even homes have become the new battlefields. Whether or not you want to call yourself a feminist, at some point, more than likely, you’ve become one. That’s the thing, you can try to define a woman’s role in society, but like the creatures women are, it’s really indefinable.

    If owning homes, climbing the corporate ladder, and starting businesses are the strides we’ve made, things like using sperm donors, female breadwinners, decorated CEOs and gaining greater equality appears to be the next step. We might not burn bras anymore, but we can’t forget about the women that did. We might not march with our voices held high, but every woman that pushes the envelope adds her thoughts to a silent majority that rises above what society thinks is normal. We’d like to think it’s not a man’s world anymore, but in some ways it always will be. What women have found are ways around some of the detours, and they're full speed ahead.