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If feminism has come to seem divorced from matters of public purpose, it is thanks in part to shifts in the academy. "Women's studies, a big chunk of it at least, has focused increasingly on the symbols of the body and less on social action and social change," explains Leslie Calman, a political-science professor and director of the Center for Research on Women at Barnard College. Moreover, gender studies, the theoretical analysis of how gender identities are constructed, have become increasingly incorporated into women's studies or turned into rival departments of their own. In April, Yale University renamed its Women's Studies Department the Women and Gender Studies Department.
It's not surprising that Old Guard feminists, surveying their legacy, are dismayed by what they see. "All the sex stuff is stupid," said Betty Friedan. "The real problems have to do with women's lives and how you put together work and family." Says Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will, which pioneered the idea that rape is a crime of power: "These are not movement people. I don't know whom they're speaking for. They seem to be making individual bids for stardom." It's easy to dismiss the voices of Old Guard feminists as the typical complaints of leaders nostalgic for their days at center stage. But is Ally McBeal really progress? Maybe if she lost her job and wound up a single mom, we could begin a movement again.