The Nation: What Next for US. Women

Houston produces new alliances and a drive for grass-roots power

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There is also a question of tone. Women on both sides are repelled by what they consider to be the abstract, unfeeling rhetoric of the extremist opposition. The pro-family people are put off by some feminists who dismiss abortions as mere bodily functions. They are equally unsettled by the pervasive bias of the women's movement toward Big Government. Pro-family forces would rather rely on the private sector and their own initiative—that would furnish more positive proof that women have finally arrived in America.

Their chief philosopher was Phyllis Schlafly, who may run against Illinois Senator Charles Percy in the Republican primary next year. "The Equal Rights proponents," she charged, "want to reconstruct us into a gender-free society, so there's no difference between men and women. I don't think babies need two sex-neutral parents. I think they need a father and a mother."

The same theme was sounded, several decibels higher, by Clay Smothers, a black Texas state representative: "I have enough civil rights to choke a hungry goat. I ask for public rights, Mr. Carter. I ask for victory over perverts of this country. I want a right to segregate my family from these misfits and perverts." A film was shown of Anita Bryant endorsing the pro-family movement, and Roger Redford of Arkansas explained that he had been a homosexual for 26 years until he was finally saved. "The Lord Jesus Christ is the only one who can deliver you from homosexuality."

Oblivious to the reprimands from the other side of Houston, the Women's Conference kept up its brisk pace. Only on the last day did the women begin to show understandable signs of fatigue and short temper. The final resolution proposed creating a Cabinet-level department to deal with women's issues. Some delegates objected that the position would "ghettoize" feminist concerns in one department and take the pressure off other areas of Government. The resolution was the first and the last to be disapproved. With that, the meeting adjourned in boisterous disarray.

Home from Houston, the women now plunge into the demanding area of legislative politics. White House Aide Midge Costanza and nearly 50 women from the Federal Government who were in Houston will meet with President Carter within the next two weeks to discuss the convention. Conference commissioners will spend the next several months working out the language for proposed legislation, then report to both houses of Congress and to Carter by March 21 on the resolutions adopted and the action they want taken. After that the President is to make his recommendations to Congress by July 19.

Although the President is committed to the women's movement and its goals, he is also a fiscal moderate—and the Houston conference called for help from Washington on a staggering scale. Congress will be cool to such costly items as the request for the Government to bankroll more "comprehensive, nonsexist, quality child-care and developmental programs," shelters for battered wives and new plans for training poor working women and women on welfare.* Moreover, considering the shaky state of the Social Security system's finances, housewives probably will not receive benefits unless a way is devised to have them pay Social Security taxes.

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