In case you haven’t heard, “We don’t need feminists in my generation.” At least so says Carla Bruni, the former first lady of France, in the December 2012/January 2013 double issue of Paris Vogue.
“There are pioneers who opened the breach,” she continued, “[but] I’m not at all an active feminist.”
There have been a few indignant reactions to the interview, many of them responding to the audacity of a woman who epitomizes "having it all." As The Telegraph explains, “Carla just can’t help shoving her pampered little face into the limelight.” Bruni is a super model and successful pop singer. She’s not only wealthy; she is also the wife of the most powerful man in France. Bruni encapsulates every aspect of the 1% wife whom Elizabeth Wurtzel railed against as “helping kill feminism and make the war on women possible.”
Despite all the lovely reasons to resent Bruni for her very existence, feminist history doesn’t necessarily contradict Bruni’s statement. Feminists themselves identify three distinct periods in feminism: early suffragettes, the sexual revolutionaries, and today’s beneficiaries. It just so happens that when 44 year-old Bruni entered her twentiesand began her modeling career,the ground work of the revolutionaries was mostly complete — which she acknowledges.
The first on the scene were the suffragettes at the turn of the century (1880-1920), when women began to politically agitate for the basic securities of citizenship: the right to vote and own property. The changes they sought weres political and economic. Women also desired the right to get divorced from abusive or philandering men, obtain a higher education, have access to their income and inheritance, and retain custody of their children in divorce.
They were rebelling against 18th Century English Judge William Blackstone’s definition of women’s rights. Blackstone believed that "by marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs everything."
But Bruni isn’t even speaking of this feminism. She is a talking about the second wave, the feminism of the sexual revolution (1960-1988). This period of activism seems to be the one that our generation connects with the word feminism. The demands were more intense than civil equality with men. These women demanded a cultural revolution to achieve two goals: gain the power held in traditionally masculine careers, and create a culture that reversed its opinion on sexual promiscuity.
As Gloria Feldt, activist and former president of Planned Parenthood opined, “Changing laws isn't easy, but changing the culture and individual behavior is infinitely more difficult.”
This generation of feminists prized traditionally masculine roles to the extent that they denigrated any other role, most particularly housewives. As Feldt warns, “keeping a woman 'barefoot and pregnant' is the epitome of destroying her power as an individual.”
The objective was clear. Women should enter into every role played by men: attend university, become CEOs, join the military, be elected to office. Remaining in the home was a second place option. The feminists of the second wave succeeded in breaking through the glass ceilings.
When the second wavers said cultural change, they also sought sexual life without limitation. As Hanna Rosin, author of Boys on the Side, theorizes, “The hookup culture opened her horizons. She could study and work and date, and live on temporary intimacy. She could find her way to professional success, and then get married.”
Does being rich, beautiful, and married to a powerful man mean that Bruni has “hardly set a standard as someone whose opinions should be taken seriously?” With a hugely successful career and explicit sexual life (her affair with Mick Jagger is well documented), Bruni is a living example of the goals of the second wave. She even agreed with Rosin when she once said, “Monogamy bores me terribly.” That is, it did, until she married then French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.
Bruni lived the jet-setter life. She made the career steps to be completely independent from men. She was even a single mother to her now 11-year-old son Aurelian. And in her 40s, she chose a different life, as a married mother of two children who likes to eat pasta and spend time at home. As she reports, “I’m a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day.”
But many mock her choice and her opinion. Why? She’s rich — therefore she doesn’t really know anything.