Pop images reflect the changes and choices without the gloss. The much-maligned "Ozzie and Harriet" have given way to harried women who have trouble finding a man to take responsibility for anything, even for himself. If "Sex and the City" added a patina of glamour to the lives of sexual revolutionaries in high heels and high fashion, pop culture has morphed into "Girls," the hip HBO drama reflecting 20-somethings so overwhelmed by responsibility thrust upon them by triumphant feminism that in one episode a young woman lies on a gynecologist's examination table longing to be diagnosed with AIDS. She imagines that would liberate her from burdensome ambition, accomplishment and accountability.
Ann Roiphe, in a Newsweek cover story about the fantasy life of the overworked working woman, asks: "Is there something exhausting about the relentless responsibility of a contemporary woman's life, about the pressure of economic participation, about all that strength and independence and desire and going out into the world?"
"Girls" may be nothing more than the latest edgy soap-opera characterization of the lives of millennial women, but it delves into the specifics of the dreary lives of privileged young women growing up in a world of male descendency. If the show were written by a conservative woman, it would be sneered at as moralizing punishment of women's liberation. Instead, it's hailed for its authenticity, wit and accuracy, unpleasant as it is, in exposing the lives of sophisticated young women who graduate from college and discover that coming of age in the covens of Manhattan is not necessarily so hot after all. The island is awash in limited career and sexual expectations.
"For all the talk of equality, sexual liberation and independence, the love lives of these young women are not much more satisfying than those of their grandmothers," writes Alessandra Stanley in The New York Times. "Their professional expectations are, if anything, even lower."
The generation just ahead of them is a world where women who still dress for success have found different problems that come with feminist achievement. In her book "The Richer Sex: How Women Became the New Breadwinners," Liza Mundy observes how men flee from competition with women. Men quickly exit the professions women choose: "The women pour in, and the men drain out." As women collect higher degrees, men fall content with the lower rewards of indolence.
It was always a myth that the personal is political. You can't legislate intimacy or emotions. For every political action there's a reaction, and not necessarily the one we expected. Hillary Rosen found that out the hard way.