A tri­umph for the ‘third stage’ of fem­i­nism

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Suzanne Fields

The Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Women en­dorses the Oba­maBi­den ticket. NOW ought to change its name to WOW. Such stun­ning in­de­pen­dence. A work­ing woman with five chil­dren, the gov­er­nor of a sov­er­eign state, isn’t suf­fi­cient ac­com­plish­ment. Who knew? Ac­tu­ally Sarah Palin is a tri­umph for the “third stage” of fem­i­nism. The first stage of the mod­ern woman’s move­ment saw the de­struc­tion of the “fem­i­nine mys­tique.” It’s been al­most 50 years since Betty Friedan ar­gued that women lived in a “comfortable con­cen­tra­tion camp” in the sub­urbs, pris­on­ers with lots of rooms but no iden­tity to call their own. She over­stated the case, in­sult­ing full­time wives and moth­ers, but touched a nerve in many women who wanted ca­reers that were closed to them.

“In the first stage our aim was full par­tic­i­pa­tion, power and a voice in the main­stream, but we were di­verted from our dream,” she would write. “And in our re­ac­tion against the fem­i­nine mys­tique, which de­fined women solely in terms of their re­la­tion to men as wives, moth­ers and home­mak­ers, we some­times seemed to fall into a fem­i­nist mys­tique which de­nied that core of women’s per­son­hood that is ful­filled through love, nur­ture, home.” Mrs. Friedan urged women to re­cover their ma­ter­nal strengths even while work­ing out­side the home, and that set off the mommy wars. Stay-ath­ome moth­ers and work­ing moth­ers fought each other over the choices they made in “the sec­ond stage” of fem­i­nism. Man­bash­ing ac­com­pa­nied the mommy wars. Husbands of work­ing wives were ac­cused of suf­fer­ing from some­thing clev­erly called pre­ma­ture emas­cu­la­tion. I once met a man who told me proudly that he went alone to La­maz birthing class when his wife went away on a busi­ness trip. Men in those days were ei­ther ma­cho or mom­mypecked, af­fect­ing ei­ther John Wayne or Dustin Hoff­man.

Hil­lary Clin­ton was fa­mously caught in the cross­fire of the sec­ond stage of the war be­tween the sexes. When she moved into the White House as first lady, she changed roles and hair­dos so many times she re­vived the stereo­type of the woman who can’t make up her mind. Her hus­band’s cad­dish­ness be­came a bless­ing in dis­guise. Large num­bers of women ral­lied be­hind her as vic­tim, but their sen­ti­ments could carry her only to the U.S. Se­nate. She later failed to keep her bal­ance on the see­saw of a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. She wanted to be tough as a man, but a man who could cry at the hard places of the cam­paign.

Mrs. Palin presents a dif­fer­ent psy­cho­log­i­cal por­trait. We can put aside the pit bull and the lip­stick. She’s comfortable bal­anc­ing fem­i­nin­ity and tough­ness. We hear jokes about her hunt­ing and fish­ing prow­ess, as though she had been nursed on the milk of wolves, like Ro­mu­lus and Re­mus. She ac­tu­ally did learn to shoot a gun at age eight. Her fa­ther tells how nearly all the game and fish on the fam­ily din­ner ta­ble was shot or caught by the fam­ily.

Mrs. Palin doesn’t have to cul­ti­vate her fem­i­nin­ity or demon­strate tough­ness by chas­ing a shot of Crown Royal with a mug of Old Styles. She’s not one of the boys, but knows how to take them on. She’s more like An­nie Oak­ley, who likes “doin’ what comes nat­u­rally.” Hil­lary never looked as comfortable in her skin as she did when, af­ter she lost to Barack Obama, de­liv­ered a force­ful en­dorse­ment of the man who de­feated her at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion. Just as Mourn­ing be­comes Elec­tra, los­ing be­comes Hil­lary. The un­ex­pected grace may bring her back for an­other round in four years. If a Pres­i­dent McCain for what­ever rea­sons de­fers to oth­ers in 2012, we can look for­ward to a doozy of a de­bate be­tween Hil­lary and Sarah. We got a preview on Satur­day Night Live of what to ex­pect: Tina Fey as Sarah and Amy Poehler as Hil­lary face off, with Sarah strik­ing beauty poses and telling how men find her a “babe,” and Hil­lary, fum­ing, com­plain­ing that when she ran she was called a “harpie.” Tina Fey as Palin: “I think women ev­ery­where can agree, that no mat­ter your pol­i­tics, it’s time for a woman to make it to the White House.” Here’s Amy Poehler as Hil­lary: “No. I didn’t want a woman to be pres­i­dent. I wanted to be pres­i­dent and I just hap­pen to be a woman. And I don’t want to hear you com­pare your road to the White House to my road to the White House. I scratched and clawed through mud and barbed wire and you just glided in on a dog sled wear­ing your pageant sash and your Tina Fey glasses.” Wel­come, NOW, to the third stage of fem­i­nism.

Suzanne Fields is a syndicated colum­nist.

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