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There were legal defeats. To feminists, the most startling and discouraging setbacks came when both New Jersey and New York voters rejected state equal-rights amendments. Meantime, the national Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution remained stalled, with four states still needed for ratification.
Yet the problems of the ERA could not be entirely interpreted as a rebuke to women's rights. The sweeping simplicity of the amendment—"Equality of rights under law shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex"—made many voters, especially women, nervous. The anti-ERA lobby, led by Phyllis Schlafly—a conspicuously liberated woman who at 51 is working for a law degree—conjured up the prospect of unisex public toilets, an end to alimony, women forced into duty as combat soldiers. In fact, the effects of the ERA are not known, and some constitutional lawyers argue that it would be better to rely on specific antidiscrimination laws rather than on an amendment that might have unpredictable social results.
Far more important than such setbacks was the psychological momentum that gathered force and made many changes in everyday life in 1975. Says Connie Birmingham, an aide to U.S. Senator Richard Clark of Iowa: "Ten years ago, the thing to do at a party was for the women and the men to break up into groups. Well, they still do that, but instead of talking about toilet training and where they get their hair done, women are talking about feminism. They discuss what they are doing, and it is definitely more interesting, even more interesting than the men." Her view of women ten years ago may be partly caricature, but the sense of change is real.
Mothers' mind-sets have altered about their children, especially their daughters. Says Kathy Snell, 25, an Illinois farm wife, speaking of her four-year-old daughter: "I hope she doesn't spend her whole life learning how to please people. I spent so much of my energy making other people like me that it took 23 years to like myself. I want my daughter to be independent."
More and more older women are now finding lives of their own once their children are grown—if not before. Says Sue Shear, 57, who was elected to the Missouri state legislature in 1972: "I used to feel guilty when Harry went into the jungle, and I was a cook and chauffeur for the kids. I felt he was doing everything, and I was doing nothing. Now I'm finding that the jungle is not any harder or scarier than being home."
But it is particularly among young women that the psychological changes have taken hold. Carol Driver, 38, a twice-divorced Portland, Ore., woman who runs her own building maintenance service, detects the shifts in her teen-age girls. Says she: "They don't view marriage as an automatic end. They are much more aware of possible alternatives, to marry or not marry, have children or not. We never used to question the inevitable marriage-and-motherhood route."
It is the young who seem most likely to overcome the psychological handicaps under which many women labor. In a classic study eleven years ago, Psychologist Matina Horner, now president of