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Realistically, now, it will have to stand as a birthright deferred. Feminists of both genders attached a strong symbolic importance to the passing of the ERA and find in its final and formal defeat last week intimations of national malaise (see following story). "It is an appalling obscenity not to pass the ERA, when everyone knows women have to work and society wants them to work," says Novelist-Critic Elizabeth Hardwick. "There is an illiberal and I think tyrannical minority imposing its will on obvious needs for social change," remarks Novelist John Irving, who wrestled questions of feminism and family into contemporary myth, The World According to Garp. "Feminism is simply one of many human rights. The whole thing is very depressing."
Feminists took things somewhat less hard than the writers.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the National Organization for Women, and other leaders vowed to concentrate women's new consciousness and resources (NOW has reported recent monthly political contributions of $1 million) on building legislative strength to win eventual passage of a resubmitted ERA. My. magazine Co-Founder Gloria Steinem has already drafted marching orders for the '80s (reproductive freedom, democratization of families, more respect for work done in the home and comparable pay for the work done outside it).
"I'm very disappointed that the ERA didn't pass," admits Donna Shalala, 40, president of New York City's Hunter College, who does not hesitate to add that "most of the critical breaks in my career would not have happened if it wasn't for the women's movement." Says Shalala: "It's going to be tough. The problems of the future are going to be more sophisticated. But I rarely meet a young woman who isn't more militant about control over her own future, as well as her own body. I'm just very positive about the future, and I think we all ought to be positive too."
The possibility—and, perhaps, the urgency—of positive feeling is in itself a product of progress. For a time, at the beginning, there seemed to be only occasions of rage.
: MAKING ROOM I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.
Feminism was the last focus of the civil rights movement and the more general social activism of the late 1960s. Its potential constituency was the broadest and the deepest, but so were the problems it addressed: too wide, too varied, rooted too deep in sexuality and self-image, even in language. Ms.? An abbreviation for manuscript; an affectation otherwise, a pretense. Abortion? A moral question, never a biological one. Right to work? Something the unions settled during the Depression.
After the batterings of Selma and Viet Nam, several assassinations and summers of psychedelic overload, the country needed a warm bath and a bit of soothing. What it got instead was a fresh, hard needlepoint shower from the ranks—indeed, from the home. It was a little too much. Doors slammed, windows rattled shut. The national circuits had temporarily shorted out, and, in the prevailing gloom, the feminist torches looked less like beacons than