Living: Onward, Women!

The superwoman is weary, the young are complacent, but feminism is not dead. And, baby, there's still a long way to go

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Nonprofessional women, poor women, minority women feel their needs and values have been largely ignored by the organized women's movement, which grew out of white, middle-class women's discontent. Most women of color say their primary concerns -- access to education, health care and safe neighborhoods for their children -- were not priorities for the women's movement. As for getting out into the workplace, well, poor women have always been there, mopping floors, slinging hash, raising other people's children. "I never saw the feminist movement as liberating me from the home," says L. Clarissa Chandler, a black social worker and feminist who directs the Alcoholism Center for Women in Los Angeles.

! On the other hand, stay-at-home mothers, who still make up one-third of all U.S. women with children under 18, feel their status has been depreciated by feminism. Sighs Dabney McKenzie of Montgomery, who describes herself as both a "feminist" and a "typical Southern housewife": "It's almost as if there's a caste system of employment, and motherhood is down there at the bottom."

It might be tempting to conclude from the wide-ranging complaints from so many quarters that the women's movement has failed, that rather than improve the lot of women, it has helped make their lives more complex and difficult. But for all the discontent and frustration expressed by women today, a vast majority revels in the breakthroughs made during the past quarter-century: the explosion of roles for women, their far greater participation in the country's political and intellectual life, the many options that have come to replace their confinement to homemaking. Very few women would like to turn back the clock. A TIME/CNN survey conducted by Yankelovich Clancy Shulman of 1,000 women across the country found that 77% think the women's movement has made life better. Only 8% think it has made things worse. Ninety-four percent said the movement has helped women become more independent; 82% said it was still improving the lives of American women.

Why, then, do so few -- 33% -- identify themselves as "feminists"? Why did 76% of those polled say they pay "not very much" or "no" attention to the women's movement? In many ways, feminism is a victim of its own resounding achievements. Its triumphs -- in getting women into the workplace, in elevating their status in society and in shattering the "feminine mystique" that defined female success only in terms of being a wife and a mother -- have rendered it obsolete, at least in its original form and rhetoric. "Saying the women's movement is dead is like saying the cold war is dead. No. No. It's over. It's won," insists Carol Gilligan, professor of education at Harvard and author of In a Different Voice, which explores the moral values and psychological development of women. "Those changes have been made, and they really are extraordinary."

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