There were several amazing revelations in the weeks preceding the 25th anniversary of the National Organization for Women:
-- Gloria Steinem, in her new book, admits falling in love with someone who treated her badly. She had seduced him, she says, by playing down the person she was and playing up the person he wanted her to be.
-- Jane Fonda, talking to Time magazine about her new husband, Ted Turner, announces that she's given up acting. "Ted is not a man that you leave to go on location," she explains.
-- Barbra Streisand, in an interview in the Washington Post, says that "even though my feminist side says people should be independent and not need to be taken care of by another person, that doesn't necessarily work that way. There's the human factor, you know."
-- Patricia Ireland, the new president of NOW, tells a gay magazine that, in addition to her husband, she's had a female "companion" for four years.
Is it possible that feminism as we have known it is dead? I think so. Like communism in the former Soviet empire, the movement in its present form has outlasted its usefulness.
The "feminists," and by that I mean the people who spoke for the movement, were never completely honest with women. They didn't tell the truth. They were hypocritical. When Steinem used to say, "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle," the women who believed her felt ashamed and guilty.
Like the communists who denied the existence of God and the right to worship, leaders of the feminist movement overlooked the deepest, most fundamental needs of their constituency.
The fact is, they have never been able to separate the workplace from the bedroom. About 15 years ago, a woman named Marabel Morgan wrote a book called "The Total Woman," which sold 3 million copies and attracted the ire of feminists all over the country.
At the time, she said, to a great deal of ridicule, "I think men and women are equal in status. They're just different in function in a marriage relationship. . . . I also believe that one of my functions is to create a happy atmosphere in the home. I believe that falls to the woman. I can't explain it. I just know that's the way it is."
Marabel Morgan obviously touched a nerve, though in those days it was not politically correct to admit it, especially among "enlightened" women. By then, the movement was so intent on achieving the legitimate goal of equality in the office that it tried to regulate people's behavior in their personal lives.
And that's where the feminist movement ran into problems.
Many of us have made enormous strides in the past 20 years, thanks in part to NOW, the movement and women like Gloria Steinem. The question is, are these same people and groups the ones to lead the next generation?
I don't think so. Not if they continue down the same path.
Any revolution needs extremists to get it off the ground, and the women's movement was no exception. But often the people who are responsible for change outlive their effectiveness, and a new group must take over.
What's happening in this country now is that more and more women are falling away from "feminism" because it doesn't represent, or more important, they feel it doesn't represent, them or their problems. Feminism is defined as the "principle that women should have political, economic and social rights equal to those of men." The problems arise over the "social" rights--and nobody knows what that means.
Betty Friedan wrote "The Second Stage" several years ago, a courageous book espousing the concept of motherhood. This was something that, unbelievably, had gotten lost on many of the feminists who felt that having babies was not the correct thing to do. She was roundly criticized by many movement women who felt that her book was a distraction from the main agenda.
For most women, equality and justice are at the head of any agenda. What most women don't want, though, is being told how to live.
There was always the suspicion that, like the commissars who preached sacrifice to their comrades and bought their caviar at the party store, feminist leaders were publicly telling mothers of three that it was great to leave their husbands and be independent--and then secretly dressing up in Fredericks of Hollywood for their guys. It was the hypocrisy that turned off the mainstream women.
You can do it all, look at us. The average woman was often hurt more than helped by these phony examples of how wonderful life could be if only they would take charge and discard the men. Women felt ashamed to be housewives, ashamed to be full-time mothers.
Ultimately, this is what has hurt the feminists and, more important, hurt the very cause they're advocating. People today trivialize the really important issues in the movement because the movement trivializes the important issues in peoples' personal lives.
The sad part is that the movement today is more and more perceived as a fringe cause, often with overtones of lesbianism and man-hating.
This notion was hardly dispelled by Patricia Ireland's announcement of a "love relationship with a woman" and a declaration that she saw no reason to give up either that relationship or the one with her husband.
What kind of standards is she espousing? Would we elect anyone to a political office who announced that he or she was having an affair? Can you imagine George Bush telling the world that he was having a homosexual relationship with another man and it was just swell with Barbara?
It is impossible to read the Ireland declaration and argue that the movement she leads is still in touch with the majority of women. The truth is that many women have come to see the feminist movement as anti-male, anti-child, anti-family, anti-feminine. And therefore it has nothing to do with us.
Whoever the new leaders are, whoever emerges to speak to the real issues confronting most women, will not succeed unless they are willing and able to acknowledge and address the basic question--the "human factor."