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1984-the year of the woman?
By Lee Cullum |

YES, IN SPITE of all setbacks, this was the year of the woman. And it was especially the year of three women-Geraldine Fer-raro (of course), Gloria Steinem and astronaut Dr. Anna L. Fischer. In their stories, we can see our own possibilities.

It may have been an act of desperation for the Democrats to nominate Ferraro for vice president, but nominate her they did. The Mondale-Ferraro ticket may have suffered a disastrous loss, but the long-term loss was his, not hers. Ferraro acquitted herself well in a difficult situation. We haven’t seen the last of her.

Remember those heady days when the news first broke? We couldn’t believe it was true. Surely Mondale was playing a cynical game, with Dianne Feinstein and Henry Cis-neros as bit performers. Yet it was true. Geraldine Ferraro, mother of three, was about to be written into history.

But textbooks, reductive as they often are, may miss the main story. It was all summed up in a newswire photo from the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco: Ferraro flanked by Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. It was the latter two (especially Steinem) and their years of writing, speaking, traveling and organizing the women’s movement that made the Ferraro candidacy possible.

“You have to live a revolution every day,’’ Steinem said 12 years ago to a crowd of women overflowing an SMU auditorium. It was the same kind of rapturous assemblage that greeted Ferraro at Judy Tycher’s Fairmont Hotel breakfast last fall. Steinem, surely the Susan B. Anthony of our day, has lived that revolution to the hilt, in good times and bad.

I first met Steinem on a flight from New York to Dallas in 1971. She was flying here for a speech; I was returning from a brief holiday. We were seated together by chance. She slept most of the trip, but we did talk over lunch during the last hour of the flight. This was Steinem before she was on the cover of Newsweek, before the barrage began. She was relaxed, charming, intelligent, reassuring. Much of that would change. The intelligence and charm would stay, but there would be little time to relax or reassure.

The devastation was apparent when I saw her again two years later. I was at Channel 13 in those days, and the station was doing a television pilot with Ms. Magazine for PBS. Steinem was to anchor it. Looking pale and remote, she would fly in at midnight, tape until dawn, then fly out again to make a morning speaking engagement. She was hounded by lawsuits, pressed for depositions and badly taken advantage of by women who wanted in on her action, preferably for profit. Keeping the Steinem action going was taking an enormous toll. I wondered how long she’d be able to endure it.

The answer? Longer than I ever expected. In the late Seventies, Steinem decided to spend some time in Washington as a visiting fellow at the Smithsonian’s Woodrow Wilson Institute. She distanced herself from the day-to-day operations of Ms., got a grant and intensified her writing. There were rumors that a man was in her life, that she could be seen at the supermarket pushing a cart with his children beside her. Whatever the personal details, the public result was some of Steinem’s best work, published in a book called Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. If surviving well is the best revenge, Steinem seems to have accomplished it.

And what of the women’s movement? Jane Pauley and Erica Jong have both written recently that what we’ve really achieved is the right to work at two jobs-employment and managing a home and family. Men haven’t changed their expectations at ail-now they expect women to help support the household as well as run it.

There’s truth in this, but the point that Pauley and Jong seem to have missed is that by moving into the marketplace and earning their own way, women have gained options, including the option to leave men who are cruel to them. (Not that any of this is easy, but at least it’s possible.)

It’s the increased options and perplexing possibilities that are currently causing women to be whipsawed by the religious right. Betty Friedan, whose book The Feminine Mystique laid the groundwork for the current wave of the women’s movement more than 20 years ago, was the first to spot the trend. She wrote in The New York Times Magazine that in the United States, Israel and Egypt, “an alliance of religious fundamentalists and politicians was using the power of the state to regain control over women’s private lives.” (Did you know that in Israel, women cannot practice divorce law or sit as a judge in a divorce case? And that a man can divorce a women against her will, but not vice versa?)

The religious right, it would appear, is in the vanguard of the backlash against women and feminine values. We need not be surprised. Virginia Woolf anticipated it when she wrote, “All human relations have shifted -those between masters and servants, husbands and wives, parents and children. And when human relations change, there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics and literature.”

Naturally, these changes provoke resis-tance. But anyone who doubts the real gains of women, however painfully won or precariously held, should look at the Associated Press photo of Fischer hugging her baby daughter, Kristin, after she returned from a salvage mission in space aboard the shuttle Discovery. It’s a picture of one generation of women empowering the next.

With this issue, Richard West officially joins D as an associate editor. Formerly a founding editor of Texas Monthly and a writer for Newsweek, New York and other publications, he’s been contributing articles to D for the past year. We’re pleased and very proud that he’ll now be with us full time. This month, West examines the complex issues of zoning in Dallas in “SOLD” on page 72.

It’s also a pleasure to report that D senior editor Chris Tucker won the Dallas Press Club Award for best magazine feature of 1984. Chris’ winning entry was his cover story on gun control. We were gratified, too, that D was presented the award for best general interest magazine for the second year in a row.

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