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Women's lib it was called then, short for liberation, of course, but unconsciously, closer to women's lip, with all attendant condescending connotations ("Ah shut up, I've had enough of your ..."). It was tough to be called a libber, even if you took pride in the politics, and those at first were mean. They were the politics of long frustration and new anger, and it was men who took the heat: as repressive husbands, lackadaisical fathers, selfish sex partners, exclusionary businessmen, blind-sided artists and perpetrators of a patriarchy that had to be overthrown. Even Shakespeare was a sexist for a little while. The press cut in on the dark carnival atmosphere, and in some measure contributed to it. On the occasion of a Miss America pageant, a marginal faction of young women threw their underwear into an Atlantic City, N.J., garbage can, attempting some clumsy metaphorical gesture, and grabbed headlines, air time and a disproportionate share of posterity. If "libbers" were the dreary drones of the movement, "bra burners" were the lacy lunatic fringe. (A note: no bras were actually burned that day. Not a single flame was lighted, not in any sense.) "Bra burners" was a convenient, slightly comic way of dismissing demands and resisting confrontations that had been deferred too long. Those women were a curiosity and thus a comfort to the opposition.
Unfortunately, part of the opposition belonged in the feminist constituency. The fierce, early rhetoric of the women's movement boggled many of the same women it should have enlightened. Instead of challenging women who had made lives of substance and happiness with husbands and children, it put them on the defensive, made them think they had betrayed not only their womanhood but their selfhood as well. There was a self-righteousness among feminists that kept all kinds of potential recruits away. Emily Anne Smith, the second female designer-builder in Atlanta's history, recalls, "When the women's movement came along, I was involved in what I wanted for me. Then, when I did meet with NOW, I was put down. They told me I was selfish." Her friend Flo Bruns, who helped found Atlanta's high-powered Women Business Owners club (because "I didn't want to talk business to a man. My experience is he is going to patronize me") had a similar experience. "I walked into a NOW meeting wearing a business suit and ready to volunteer. I was treated like an outcast by all these young women in jeans. Power comes from money, honey, but they didn't recognize that." They did not recognize Raquel Welch either, who reasoned, "Maybe it might help the movement to be associated with someone less abrasive, more feminine. They weren't interested."
Maybe Welch should reapply. There has been much talk lately among feminists about community and consensus, and building a broader base, just as, outside the movement, there is a growing awareness of how much feminism and the battle for the ERA has meant to most American women.
Bruns says, "Our acceptance in the general business community has a lot to do with what the ERA people started." Renae Scott, who got herself some college education and worked herself off welfare to an administrative job with