WOMEN OF THE YEAR: Great Changes, New Chances, Tough Choices

  • They have arrived like a new immigrant wave in male America. They may be cops, judges, military officers, telephone linemen, cab drivers, pipefitters, editors, business executives—or mothers and housewives, but not quite the same subordinate creatures they were before. Across the broad range of American life, from suburban tract houses to state legislatures, from church pulpits to Army barracks, women's lives are profoundly changing, and with them, the traditional relationships between the sexes. Few women are unaffected, few are thinking as they did ten years—or even a couple of years—ago. America has not entirely repealed the Code of Hammurabi (woman as male property), but enough U.S. women have so deliberately taken possession of their lives that the event is spiritually equivalent to the discovery of a new continent. Says Critic Elizabeth Janeway: "The sky above us lifts, the light pours in. No maps exist for tins enlarged world. We must make them as we explore."

    It is difficult to locate the exact moment when the psychological change occurred. A cumulative process, it owes much to the formal feminist movement—the Friedans and Steinems and Abzugs. Yet feminism has transcended the feminist movement. In 1975 the women's drive penetrated every layer of society, matured beyond ideology to a new status of general—and sometimes unconscious—acceptance.

    The belief that women are entitled to truly equal social and professional rights has spread far and deep into the country. Once the doctrine of well-educated middle-class women, often young and single, it has taken hold among working-class women, farm wives, blacks, Puerto Ricans, white "ethnics." The Y.W.C.A. embraces it; so do the Girls Clubs of America and the Junior Leagues. A measure of just how far the idea has come can be seen in the many women who denigrate the militant feminists' style ("too shrill, unfeminine") and then proceed to conduct their own newly independent lives. At year's end a Harris poll found that by 63% to 25%, Americans favor "most of the efforts to strengthen and change women's status in society." Five years ago, it was 42% in favor, 41% against.

    1975 was not so much the Year of the Woman as the Year of Women—an immense variety of women altering their lives, entering new fields, functioning with a new sense of identity, integrity and confidence. Those whom TIME has selected as Women of the Year accomplished much in their own right in 1975, and they also symbolized the new consciousness of women generally.

    > In the White House, Betty Ford, though she used a platform that she owed wholly to her husband, enlarged the customarily dutiful role of First Lady.

    > In the Cabinet, Carla Hills took command of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the third woman to serve in the Cabinet (after F.D.R.'s Labor Secretary Frances Perkins and Dwight Eisenhower's HEW Secretary Oveta Gulp Hobby).

    > In the statehouse, Connecticut's Ella Grasso took office as the first woman Governor elected in her own right.*

    > In Congress, Texas' Barbara Jordan emerged as a rising star in the House of Representatives and the Democratic Party.

    > In the law, Susie Sharp of North Carolina served with distinction as the first woman to be popularly

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