Suzanne Fields

Like none before it, this presidential campaign is redefining what it can mean to be a woman. That wizened Austrian doctor who famously asked, "What do women want?" finally concluded that he didn't have a clue. Freud understood, like men before and after him, that women were a mysterious mixture of the good, the bad and the beautiful.

A women was not so long ago measured in categories, determined more by the loves and fears of men than by her own choices. She rarely had a room of her own to probe and measure the nature of her identity. She was more likely to be the model for the male artist than a model she created for herself.

Women in art and politics reflected the longings and definitions of men. A woman was meant to be a nurturer and healer who softened the harshness of the lives of her family. She was a temptress and seducer who lured men away from responsibility. She had to be tamed and guarded against, and protected for the sake of men (and mankind). Above all, she was different.

Sexual politics before modern feminism was about that difference. Gender politics, by contrast, argued that men imposed the "patriarchy" on women, and dismissed the obvious biological differences to examine only sociological and psychological differences imposed by men on women.

Gender politics was about women defining themselves, about making choices for themselves. They could be mothers, professionals, white-, blue- or pink-collar workers, mixing and matching to suit themselves. Liberation meant sexual freedom, and for many it meant freedom to have abortions. Feminists for Life argue that it also means taking responsibility for the when and why of getting pregnant, for caring for the resulting baby or for assuming the responsibility of finding good adoption.

Contemporary feminism changed personal and public attitudes. The result was better for some women, not so good for others. No matter how things changed, however, we soon harked back to the old sexual politics of difference.

When Geraldine Ferarro, a Democrat, became the first woman vice presidential candidate, she had to put up with questions about her recipe for blueberry muffins. Ultimately, it was questions about her husband's business dealings that did her in.

When Bill Clinton first ran for president, he boasted that voters would get Hillary, too: "Buy one, get one free." Hillary was soon "the Lady MacBeth of Little Rock," resented for her reach for unelected power, and she devised a health care plan that only her husband would support.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

Be the first to read Suzanne Fields' column. Sign up today and receive delivered each morning to your inbox.

©Creators Syndicate