How Long Till Equality?

American women take stock and step up the pace

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that seniority systems are immune to suits under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act will probably not guarantee a Women's Legal Defense Fund testimonial. But her majority decision, handed down last Thursday, that an all-woman nursing school in Mississippi was guilty of sex discrimination is sure to rekindle a few low-burning fires in the feminist camp. O'Connor even added a kind of bonus in her written decision, when she pointed out that such segregation by sex only succeeds in reinforcing the stereotype of nursing as a woman's profession. For all the sense of debts owed and steps taken, there is a simultaneous impression of reluctance, on the part of many women, to be drawn even into the fringes of the movement. Some of this may be attributable to residual resentment of old rhetorical putdowns, and some of it may have to do with resistance to being commandeered as unenlisted poli tical foot soldiers or being spoken for by proxy. "A lot of the failures of the movement are built into the people who are speaking for women," says Novelist Anne Tyler. "Basically I agree with everything they say, but I find myself wanting to disagree be cause of the way they say it. If people like me, who are prowomen, are put off by it, imagine other people." Or imagine a sympathetic parent, particularly a father, leafing through the beginning of a feminist guide to child rearing and banging a shin on the following parenthesis: "(See Chapter 24 for a full discussion of language as an exclusionary tool of male supremacy)." Imagine getting to Chapter 24; imagine turning the page.

It does not do, though, to be so easily put off. Movements all have their excesses. They come with the territory, even if they sometimes seem to cover it, like drifting snow over new paths. Indeed, should the father have persevered, he might have found some first-rate advice about children in that very same book. He would also have found a kind of zip-lock naivete that insulates Author Letty Cottin Pogrebin inside a cocoon of ideology. How else could a writer suggest, never mind believe, that children might be encouraged to forsake the music of the Rolling Stones (sexist, of course) for the uplifting ballads of Gay Feminist Holly Near. Ideology infringes on reality; one suspects it can also skew the sense of rhythm. It may not interfere with a woman's getting a job, however. And it may be able to show her why she cannot get a better one, or get paid in full for the very one she is doing now.

II: LEAVING ROOM / had made my living by cadging odd jobs from newspapers, by reporting a donkey show here or a wedding there; I had earned a few pounds by addressing envelopes, reading to old ladies, making artificial flowers, teaching the alphabet to small children in a kindergarten ... I need not, I am afraid, describe in any detail the hardness of the work, for you know perhaps women who have done it; nor the difficulty of living on the money when it was earned, for you may have tried. But what still remains with me as a worse infliction than either was the poison of fear and bitterness which those days bred in me.

When Woolf wrote those words, some women might work, and a woman alone had to work. Now, more and more, women must work. During the early 1970s, work was often a matter of finding pride and alternatives. There was much discussion of

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