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THE FEMINIZATION OF AMERICA : How Women’s Values Are Changing Our Public and Privates Lives by Elinor Lenz and Barbara Myerhoff (Tarcher: $15.95; 249 pp.)

<i> Mills is a Times editorial writer and has covered the women's movement since 1972</i>

Corporate executives, politicians and political commentators, journalists, sociologists and anyone else who must spot trends to stay on top of a trade should read an important new analysis of American society by Elinor Lenz and the late Barbara Myerhoff, “The Feminization of America.” Its message is provocative: As outsiders, women have been free to challenge established systems in business, in the home, in politics and in the church, and their challenge is showing results.

“Feminine culture has shown that it can infuse a failed, run-down system with new energies and vision. The rethinking of obsolete myths and stereotypes, the challenge to entrenched values and styles of behavior--all of this is a healthy and urgently needed response to a world that is dangerously out of control and is losing its sense of what it means to be human.” Women’s insistence on defining themselves has made a difference and will continue to do so unless the new woman caves in to pressures to be just one of the boys, write Lenz and Myerhoff.

Looking at this feminine influence as anthropologists, the authors find these changes:

In the business world, women’s presence and more personal methods of dealing with others have started dissolving rigid, inefficient hierarchical systems and opened doors to better communication. The sheer numbers of women entering the work force have placed on corporate agendas items that were rarely there before, such as child care, pay equity, flexible working hours and fairer promotion policies.

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In the family, some men are coming to see the growth that they, too, can achieve by fully sharing the care of their children. Having women working has freed men of some of the pressure to make money or stick with jobs they may dislike. As Gloria Steinem puts it, they have nothing to lose but their coronaries.

In religion, women can make a most profound impact. Many have turned away from institutionalized religion because it has denied their history and given them little contemporary role except as auxiliaries to men. This new female spirituality is more inward, more reflective, and it scares established religious leaders because it is beyond their control.

And in politics as in the workplace, women have put their items on the national agenda with the help of supportive men. They have changed pensions, child-support and child-care legislation, and they continue to push on the biggest issue of all, ending the arms race.

This is an important book. As an important book, it should be 100% on target, but it isn’t always. Reading it, you would think men had never been active in disarmament and antiwar efforts. What about Benjamin Spock and Norman Cousins, or Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern? There are small factual errors, as well. Geneticist Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize, not the Pulitzer Prize.

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While it is refreshing to read a book by West Coast authors who quote as freely from the Los Angeles Times as the New York Times, I found the acknowledgement of those sources erratic. There is no sign that some of the material on performance artist Suzanne Lacey is from Matt Damsker’s May 17, 1984, Los Angeles Times article, nor that quotes from Stanford historian Barton Bernstein are from my Opinion article of Dec. 23, 1984. Nor that a quote from Women’s Campaign Fund president Elisabeth Griffith (not Griffin, as it appears in the book) also appeared in the Opinion section. The value of this book is the synthesis it draws from its sources; while I am not a slavish footnoter, it would seem fairer to the reader to tell how much of the raw material is original and how much is not. In short, hell hath no fury like a journalist uncredited.

I worry that some of the male decision makers who should read this book won’t. They will glide right on by a book titled, “The Feminization of America.” The book would have been better served with a snappy title that would make it hop off the shelves, into one’s hands and onto the best-seller lists.

That said, this insightful book is a tonic for tired feminists. I closed it feeling far better than I felt after reading “Games Mother Never Taught You,” a how-to for corporate survival for women. That book’s advice was fine, but it assumed that women had to play by the existing rules. “Who says those rules are right?” I asked a friend at the time. “Why can’t we change the rules?” Lenz and Myerhoff say we are doing just that and that as a result, men and women alike will benefit.


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