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Hairy legs haunt the feminist movement, as do images of being strident and lesbian. Feminine clothing is back; breasts are back; motherhood is in again. To the young, the movement that loudly rejected female stereotypes seems hopelessly dated. The long, ill-fated battle for the Equal Rights Amendment means nothing to young women who already assume they will be treated as equals.
Feminist leaders like Gloria Steinem and Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, are dismissed as out of touch. NOW's call last summer for a third political party that would represent women's concerns seemed laughable to young women who do not want to isolate themselves by gender but prefer to work with men. When Sarah Calian, a senior at Brown University, went to hear Yard lecture on campus, she could not connect. Though Calian brims with ambitions for a major career and her first child by 35, she says, "I never felt so not a part of something. I don't know who she was talking to."
Sometimes even the women who participated in the feminist revolution, who shaped their lives according to its ideals, shake their heads and wonder. Call them the "Yes, but . . . " generation. Yes, these women in their 30s and 40s are feminists, but things have not worked out as expected. It is hard for them not to feel resentful: toward society for not coming to the aid of women in their new roles, toward the movement for not anticipating the difficulties. "We were promised that we could do it all and we would be as successful as men," says Carolyn Lo Galbo Goodfriend, 39, a mother of a five-year-old, who manages more than $300 million worth of accounts for Kraft General Foods in Rye Brook, N.Y. "But the trade-offs and sacrifices a woman has to make are far greater than a man's." Lo Galbo once met Steinem at an awards dinner and demanded to know, "Why didn't you tell us that it was going to be like this?" The matriarch of Ms. magazine answered with admirable candor: "Well, we didn't know."
Many mid-career women blame the movement for not knowing and for emphasizing the wrong issues. The ERA and lesbian rights, while noble causes, seemed to have garnered more attention than the pressing need for child care and more flexible work schedules. The bitterest complaints come from the growing ranks of women who have reached 40 and find themselves childless, having put their careers first. Is it fair that 90% of male executives 40 and under are fathers but only 35% of their female counterparts have children? "Our generation was the human sacrifice," says Elizabeth Mehren, 42, a feature writer for the Los Angeles Times. "We believed the rhetoric. We could control our biological destiny. For a lot of us the clock ran out, and we discovered we couldn't control infertility."