Monday, June 25, 2012

What ever happened to radical feminism? I think I know.

Truth in writing requires me to preface my reflection on writer-director Lynn Shelton's Your Sister's Sister with a disclaimer. I am 1.5 generations removed from the film's protagonists. My right to an opinion on these Gen Y'ers derives from my having gotten a late start on parenting and, therefore, my two daughters are still in their late twenties--as are most of their friends, both male and female.

Halfway through the film, breathtakingly filmed in Washington State's San Juan Islands, I gave up trying to like what I was seeing. I opted instead to study the film as a sociological commentary. The question that kept nagging at me was, "Fifty-plus years after the rise of radical feminism (so-called "women's lib") in the United States, how is it possible that educated professional women still expect and accept so little of the men they partner with?"  

Iris (Emily Blunt) is madly in love with an immature and  self-confessed loser named Jack (Mark Duplass). In a key scene, Jack admits to Iris that he is nothing but a waste of any woman's time. That's just who he is and that's all Iris is ever going to get from him. Instead of fleeing to catch the next ferry back to Seattle, Iris melts and accepts his non-offer. What she is really saying yes to is being little-boy Jack's mother for the rest of his life. 

Oh, yes, there a bit more to the story, but that's the bottom
line--literally, the bottom.

I left the theater shaking my head. My main worry is that this film might represent the true state of single young women in America today. Has women's lib failed so miserably? Have women given up demanding equal status with their men? Have they given up on finding truly co-responsible life partners? 

What is correspondingly fascinating about all this is that this film arrives amid the Vatican's current inquisition against Catholic religious women (sisters/nuns) in the U.S. At the heart of the churchmen's fear is that these brave women have become "radical feminists" (read 'uppity,' demanding that the "boys" in their faith community grow up and be men!). I can only conclude from my viewing of Your Sister's Sister and the hierarchy's desire to purge strong women from spiritual leadership, that Roman Catholic nuns are America's last-standing daughters of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. God, bless them!

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Alfred J. Garrotto's most recent novel is The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story.


  1. Sadly, I have to agree with you. I think the feminists are all my age (mid-sixties) and above. I teach first year university students and I receive many papers from young women between 18 and 25, papers that argue that feminism is “bad” and that the feminists of my generation did a disservice to women generally. My fear is that they will wake up sometime between the ages of 35 and 50 and realize that a) they are still not paid equal pay for equal work, b) their opportunities are fewer than those of men, and c) that they are now attempting to raise two plus children without their “lifelong” partners because those partners have taken off for younger women. My only hope is that the pendulum will someday swing back in the direction of feminism. Whether it comes in a different form and/or with a different label won’t matter. What will matter is that the movement will once again promote the rights of women.

  2. Thank you, Al, for this thoughtful post. I'm afraid it all is too real, and makes me too sad, to be able to put it into words as well as you did.

    What I have to keep telling myself is that I fought for CHOICE and if young women now are choosing what I consider a return to the culture of decades past, I need to respect that. It's hard.

  3. The late Nora Ephron addressed this very well in 1996:

  4. Thank you, Aline, Camille, and those of you who responded privately to this post. I wrote it with some trepidation that I was venturing out of bounds. You've given me courage to return to this theme in the future.

  5. This is the best promo for the movie I've read, because it makes me want to go and see for myself. You make a valid argument. I guess Women's Lib has reached a point where women don't remember a time when they didn't always have the option to make intelligent, self-sustaining choices. But I'm old enough to remember "Help Wanted Male" and "Help Wanted Female." I like my choices, and I like expanding them.

    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers