Suzanne Fields

The National Organization for Women endorses the Obama-Biden ticket. NOW ought to change its name to WOW. Such stunning independence. A working woman with five children, the governor of a sovereign state, isn't a sufficient accomplishment. Who knew?

Actually, Sarah Palin is a triumph for the "third stage" of feminism. The first stage of the modern woman's movement saw the destruction of the "feminine mystique." It's been almost 50 years since Betty Friedan argued that women lived in a "comfortable concentration camp" in the suburbs, prisoners with lots of rooms but no identity to call their own. She overstated the case, insulting full-time wives and mothers, but touched a nerve in many women who wanted careers that were closed to them.

"In the first stage, our aim was full participation, power and voice in the mainstream, but we were diverted from our dream," she would write. "And in our reaction against the feminine mystique, which defined women solely in terms of their relation to men as wives, mothers and homemakers, we sometimes seemed to fall into a feminist mystique which denied that core of women's personhood that is fulfilled through love, nurture, home."

She urged women to recover their maternal strengths even while working outside the home, and that set off the mommy wars. Stay-at-home mothers and working mothers fought each other over the choices they made in the "second stage" of feminism.

Man-bashing accompanied the mommy wars. Husbands of working wives were accused of suffering from something cleverly called premature emasculation. I once met a man who told me proudly that he went alone to Lamaze birthing class when his wife went away on a business trip. Men in those days were either macho or mommy-pecked, affecting either John Wayne or Dustin Hoffman.

Hillary Clinton was famously caught in the crossfire of the second stage of the war between the sexes. When she moved into the White House as first lady, she changed roles and hairdos so many times she revived the stereotype of the woman who can't make up her mind. Her husband's caddishness became a blessing in disguise. Large numbers of women rallied behind her as victim, but their sentiments could carry her only to the U.S. Senate. She later failed to keep her balance on the seesaw of a presidential campaign. She wanted to be as tough as a man, but a man who could cry at the hard places of the campaign.


Suzanne Fields

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

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