The Last Feminists

Although feminist icons Gloria Steinen and Madeleine Albright scolded young women for their support of Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton on the front page of The New York Times, it was hardly news. The granddaughters and great granddaughters of the early feminists have long taken for granted their liberation. Unmindful or dismissal of the drama of their own history, they either don't call themselves feminists, or water down their definitions--that is, if they think about it at all.

But before the brave struggles and sacrifices of women like Steinem and Albright and Betty Friedan, our husbands refused to let us go to work because If we pursued a career outside the home we were thought to be selfish bad mothers who jeopardized our children's health and safety. Besides, if we earned money it would appear to our husband's poker buddies that he couldn't support his family.

Living together without marriage was seriously considered living in sin. If you got pregnant out of wedlock, self-induced miscarriages and illegal abortions could kill; if you had the baby you were hidden in shame and your baby taken away.

And if you went to a Rabbi or Minister for help with the sadness you didn't understand you were told to go home and turn to your husband and children for contentment. If you went to a psychiatrist it was proof that you were crazy.

We wore sweater sets and pearls. Pancake makeup. Slips. Dresses with full skirts -- pants were worn only in our back yards or inside our houses. We called the corsets we squeezed into, "foundations." (There were no women's gyms.) We flirted and smoked and drank martinis. We had full-time maids by exploiting their cheap labor while we played tennis and lunched and shopped.

And then in 1963 a woman no one had ever heard of published a book. Her name was Betty Friedan, the book was The Feminine Mystique and it joined books no less than by Marx and Freud that changed everything.

She was an unlikely revolutionist. A Jewish housewife at home with her three children she found herself feeling unhappy with what she later called The problem that has no name. Wondering if other wives and mothers felt as she did, she developed a survey of fellow graduates of Smith College. When the results showed that most women shared her feelings she began work on The Feminine Mystique.

It has sold over two million copies and been translated into a dozen languages. Thousands of copies are still sold every year

Still, important work remains.

The protection of reproductive rights.

Equal pay for equal work -- women are paid 79% of what men earn in nearly every occupation. The U.S ranks 65th among countries in wage equality for similar work.

Maternity leave. Mothers of newborns are guaranteed paid leave in 188 countries, but according to the World Policy Analysis Center, the United States is one of only four countries which does not -- the only high-income, developed country with that distinction.

Congressional representation. According to the Inter-parliamentary Union, the United States Congress ranks in the bottom half of national parliaments around the world with female members.

Constitutional gender equality. The US constitution is among those in only 32 country's that doesn't include an explicit gender equality guarantee. A new revitalized movement to ratify the ERA, which failed in 1982, is gaining steam in the United States.

Are there young women out there who will continue the work of Steinem, Albright and others in support of their own destiny?