THESE are the times that try men's souls, and they are likely to get much worse before they get better. It was not so long ago that the battle of the sexes was fought in gentle, rolling Thurber country. Now the din is in earnest, echoing from the streets where pickets gather, the bars where women once were barred, and even connubial beds, where ideology can intrude at the unconscious drop of a male chauvinist epithet. This week, marking the 50th anniversary of the proclamation of the 19th Amendment granting women the vote, the diffuse, divided, but grimly determined Women's Liberation movement plans a nationwide protest day against the second sex's once and present oppression.
There will be parades, fiery speeches and blunt street theater. In many cities, Freedom Trash Cans will be available to receive symbols of sexist oppression such as cosmetics, bras and detergents. NBC's Today show will focus on women's rights, and the cast will be all female. Next week's edition of the underground Los Angeles Free Press will be put out by an all-girl staff. Everywhere, women's liberation organizations are urging women at home or in the office "to confront your own unfinished business of equality."
That unfinished business includes a list of goals that nearly all women liberationists agree on. They want equal pay for equal work, and a chance at jobs traditionally reserved for men only. They seek nationwide abortion reform —ideally, free abortions on demand. They desire round-the-clock, state-supported child-care centers in order to cut the apron strings that confine mothers to unpaid domestic servitude at home. The most radical feminists want far more. Their eschatological aim is to topple the patriarchal system in which men by birthright control all of society's levers of power—in government, industry, education, science, the arts.
The Emergence of an Ideologue
Such notions have been raised aloft by the feminist movement in the U.S. since its beginnings more than a century ago. Until this year, however, with the publication of a remarkable book called Sexual Politics, the movement had no coherent theory to buttress its intuitive passions, no ideologue to provide chapter and verse for its assault on patriarchy. Kate Millett, 35, a sometime sculptor and longtime brilliant misfit in a man's world, has filled the role through Sexual Politics. "Reading the book is like sitting with your testicles in a nutcracker," says George Stade, assistant professor of English at Columbia University. He should know; the book was Kate's Ph.D. thesis, and he was one of her advisers.
In a way, the book has made Millett the Mao Tse-tung of Women's Liberation. That is the sort of description she and her sisters despise, for the movement rejects the notion of leaders and heroines as creations of the media—and mimicry of the ways that men use to organize their world. Despite the fact that it is essentially a polemic suspended awkwardly in academic traction, Sexual Politics so far has sold more than 15,000 copies and is in its fourth printing.