What Do Women Want?

Bad Girls’/’Good Girls’: Women, Sex, and Power in the Nineties

edited by Nan Bauer Maglin, edited by Donna Perry
Rutgers University Press, 303 pp., $17.95 (paper)

Feminism is Not the Story of My Life’: How Today’s Feminist Elite Has Lost Touch with the Real Concerns of Women

by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 275 pp., $23.95

She Works, He Works: How Two-Income Families are Happier, Healthier, and Better-Off

by Rosalind C. Barnett, by Caryl Rivers
HarperSanFrancisco, 260 pp., $24.00

The Sibling Society

by Robert Bly
Addison-Wesley, 319 pp., $25.00

The Seasons of a Woman’s Life

by Daniel J. Levinson
Knopf, 438 pp., $27.50

The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood

by Sharon Hays
Yale University Press, 252 pp., $25.00

If, like this writer, you have not really kept up with feminist issues since having your consciousness raised by Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique in 1963, you should be warned that it is probably too late to master a taxonomy of bewildering complexity, like coming in late on the human genome project. Betty Friedan’s premise was that “women were really people—no more—no less,” and her conclusion was that “all the things that kept them from being full people in our society would have to be changed.”

Since then we have heard from: power feminists, victim feminists, good and bad girl feminists, “difference”feminists, who argue women are different from men, those who argue they are not, second- and third-wave feminists, factions representing various ethnic groups, sexual factions (lesbians, straights, anti-sex and pro-sex “do-me” feminists, pro- and anti-porn feminists, S&Mditto, “born” women vs. transsexuals), the inevitable Marxists.

There are academic feminists, who earn their living from studying, teaching, and writing about feminism; there are those who claim to be from the real world, or “popular” feminists; and there are factions within each of these factions, a cacophony of testimonial and denunciation from people who sometimes seem exasperated beyond rational discourse by their internecine differences. But of course history shows that as a disadvantaged group begins to gain ground, it risks being engulfed by its own newly accessible anger—anger that the women Friedan wrote about in 1963 could not even put a name to.

Friedan’s claims for women’s personhood were by no means widely conceded; it was then believed that dreams of career, even intellectual interests, could stunt a woman’s chance of happiness in the roles of wife and mother she was destined for. Friedan quoted the influential Margaret Mead: “It is of very doubtful value to enlist the gifts of women if bringing women into fields that have been defined as male frightens the men, unsexes the women, muffles and distorts the contribution the women could make….”

When Rip Van Winkle returned from his long sleep, the wonder is that he found so much had changed. Some things have, certainly. I myself had missed developments by which Amy Fisher, the teen-ager who shot her lover’s wife, became a feminist heroine. One witty essay (by Elayne Rapping) in the feminist anthology ‘Bad Girls’/’Good Girls’ discusses whether we should have identified with Tonya Harding or Nancy Kerrigan. Hate men? Like rough trade? Coming in on the debate at this point, one cannot easily reconstruct the stages by which private sexual choices have become the test of feminist sincerity or the proper subject of activism.

But it appears that despite the raised voices, and all the variations sprung up to accommodate the nuances of self-expression that have become important to us, despite the escalation in tone and the balkanization of the feminist movement, and despite considerable legal and social progress, thirty-three years after Betty Friedan the basic debate turns on much the same …

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