How Long Till Equality?

American women take stock and step up the pace

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flextime, are another component of the solution, as are extended maternity leaves for both parents.

There is still a long road to travel before such leaves become common in the U.S., and probably even a more tortuous route before men as well as women will want to press hard for them. Author Maxine Hong Kingston is right when she says that "in the feminist movement, there are advantages for both sexes. It's like liberation for both, and not one at the expense of the other." Getting the majority of men to see those advantages, never mind seize them, may take a while. Down in the juke joints, the boys are listening to Merle Haggard sing a tune called Are the Good Times Really Over, a litany of wistful memories from "back when the country was strong." The song yearns for a time "when a girl could still cook and still would." Those boys may not be able to get a hot meal on the table themselves, but they won't abandon without a fight their inalienable right to have it rustled up by the little woman.

It will be a losing fight, ultimately, and it will not take place exclusively in the roadhouses. There have already been skirmishes up in the loftier precincts, where a well-turned antique compliment (Dr. Johnson to Boswell: "Men know that women are an overmatch for them") now sounds more like a neat way of undercutting a woman with awe. James Thurber, invited to talk to the graduating class of Mount Holyoke College in 1949 ("The idea of addressing the flower of American womanhood would terrify me even if I could see"), declined by invoking a story about a World War I soldier who, peering down into a bottomless enemy trench, allowed that "I wouldn't go down there even if they was Fig Newtons down there." The cookie does not crumble that way any more. The cookies, in fact, do not crumble at all. This does not mean charm is passé, or compliments are sexist, any more than it means that, contrary to all those shoofly Schlaflyisms, men and women will be less distinctive, or less sexual, if they work at the same jobs or compete at the same sports.

Biology is immutable. Basic physical differences will not change, but the law will. Absolute equality between men and women may be impossible—absolutes are—but it is approachable at least, and now just a little closer.

Equality does not eradicate differences in gender, it exalts them, which should be some comfort to cowering sexists still clinging to every advantage they have ever wangled or wrung out of women. Equality is only a threat if reality is. In the rubble of busted pedestals and shredded stereotypes are the pieces of a new perception: of the real, working, workable way of equality, of self-awareness, of mutual respect.

The women usually picked to symbolize change and re-evaluation are those like Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda, who have achieved a popular success that has turned them into celebrities. Steinem therefore becomes an articulate and snazzy figurehead, Fonda a role model whose movie trajectory (from bimbo to feminist beacon) mirrors very neatly the way in which women are supposed to see themselves. Watching and listening to them, though, is not as striking by half as tuning in on a single studio audience of the Phil Donahue Show. Fifteen years ago, these same women might have been sitting in the same seats, whooping it

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