July 19th, 2024


The rise and fall of American women

Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published April 26, 2016

Follow the drinkin' gourd -- wherever it leads, whether to Harriet Tubman's fugitive years on the Underground Railroad long ago or her triumphant reappearance as the new face of a $20 bill in our own millennial era. She'll replace Andrew Jackson's graven image, for he's been demoted to the back of the bill and the bus. If few heroines have so richly earned recognition, fewer presidents have so richly earned obloquy as General Jackson.

When he wasn't killing American Indians (as opposed to those on the Asian subcontinent) or speculating in slaves and frontier lands, General and President Jackson was warring against the Second Bank of the United States, a foundation stone of the whole Hamiltonian program of national greatness.

This is not to deny that the general was a patriot in his own (awful) way and a great defender of the Union when it was threatened by nullifiers like John C. Calhoun, but at least for now Colonel Hamilton is safe from his partisan detractors -- thanks to the current popularity of a Broadway show of all things -- while General Jackson has been shipped off to the obloquy he so richly earned in his lifetime.

Win some but, as it turns out, lose even more. Which is the short version of what's happened to white women in the name of, yes, their liberation. Betty Friedan's dream of Women's Lib has turned out to be more a nightmare. At least according to the latest demographic data. And if demographics aren't destiny, they're way ahead of whatever's in second place. For the saddest words of song or pen may be O, What Might Have Been, although Studies Have Shown may run a close second. As studies will show all too often.

Note this disturbing headline the other day: "Shortened life noted for white women."

It wasn't supposed to be like this, and it hasn't been for years and years. Indeed, the trend had been going in just the opposite direction. But now that whole demographic pattern no longer holds; it's been reversed. "Taken by itself," to quote Elizabeth Arias, a demographer with the national CDC (Centers for Disease Control), "it could just be a random fluctuation from one year to the next." Only it isn't. Because of the sharp increases in suicides, drug overdoses and alcoholism. Can this be why Harriet Tubman risked all for freedom? Surely not.

And although the life span for black folks is increasing, especially among men, the racial gap is still there. And as long as the gap remains, there's work to do.

Welcome, ladies (if we're still permitted to use that now antiquated noun of address in these all too politically correct times), to this not so Brave New World. A world that bears a marked resemblance to a Hobbesian vision of life in a state of nature -- solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. That's the inevitable result when the old Puritan values give way to the hellish world they tried to warn us against.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.