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Now Is Then
Women's groups are out of touch.


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Myrna Blyth

Feminists were really on a rant last week telling the Associated Press’s David Cray that the sky was falling. “Our health, our rights, and our democracy are teetering on the brink,” wailed Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of [Some] Women.

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You can understand the panic, since NOW, Feminist Majority Foundation, and numerous other like-minded groups campaigned so zealously against President Bush. One can only imagine their dismay when the president not only won but Republicans increased their majority in both houses of Congress, too. Most significant of all, in this election the “gender gap,” much touted and much needed by Democrats, was sharply reduced.

Still the women who head these organizations tend to ignore women who disagree with them and continue to act as if they speak for all women–though that must be getting harder and harder.

Said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center: “What I…see is an administration with policies that are fundamentally out of touch with what women really need. ” Clearly Greenberger sees herself and her organization as the arbiters of “what women really need.” Gee, what if a man had said that!

She also commented about the administration: “They have other priorities that consistently outweigh and trump the everyday concerns women have.” But it was clear in polls taken after the election that the reason so many women voted for President Bush was exactly because of everyday concerns like security. Their highest everyday priority, Marcia, is keeping their families safe.

Kim Gandy, meanwhile, tried a low blow when talking about male Republican leaders. She snapped, “They like women just fine–as long as we know our place, which is preferably under a man’s protection.”

Now that particular snarl was too much for House Republican Conference Chair Deborah Pryce (R., Ohio), who promptly issued a statement declaring, “As the highest ranking Republican woman in Congress’s history, I find it personally offensive that an outside organization would tell me my party keeps me stuck in a position of subordination. It’s sad that the president of an organization that claims to advance women would paint such an unrealistic and dated picture of the amazing advances we have made.”

And we all know how well women, in general, are doing, and how President Bush especially respects the counsel of women advisers. His new Cabinet will likely have four women, including Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State. For years women have been among his closest political advisers. And both Karen Hughes and Laura Bush were clearly an important part of the team that helped fashion the president’s victory.

That’s why it is so odd that while leaders of the Democratic party are doing a lot of soul-searching about what turned voters off in the election and how the Democratic party needs to change its agenda and message, the leaders of these women’s groups remain stuck in the past, mouthing the same-old, same-old,. These organizations have never been more marginalized, yet they keep right on bashing Republicans, criticizing men, and ignoring the millions of women who no longer respond to their decades-old rhetoric.

Deborah Pryce suggests that “an acronym change for the nation’s most extreme women’s rights group might be in order. ‘NOW’ is hardly apropos for a group of extremist women who tell other women leading the way in politics, business and education that they’re living in male-dominated times. Better we call them THEN–it’s obviously where they are stuck.”

Said Christina Hoff Sommers, an author and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institue: “Women have achieved parity with men in most fields. You’d think feminists…would be celebrating but in many ways they’ve never been more despondent.”

In the next couple of years it will be interesting to see whether these groups can do what they must do to remain viable: acknowledge the increasing empowerment of women and modify their basic belief that women just because they are women are a victim class.

It will also be fascinating to watch how crafty Senator Hillary Clinton deals with her old friends at NOW as she moves so determinedly to the center to increase her appeal as a viable presidential candidate. Remember, Hillary is the greatest superstar for all these feminist organizations and their members are her most devoted groupies. But then, the Clintons have never had a problem dropping old friends.

So far these groups, stuck in a time warp, seem unable to change–even when the statements of their leaders are increasingly hollow and ironic. Said Eleanor Smeal, former President of NOW and currently the president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, “We have to hang tight. This is going to be a tough time for us, but in the long run we have many things going in our direction. One important thing we’ve got–people know they want more opportunities for their daughters.”

You are absolutely correct, Eleanor. And there are people who see the world for women not victim first, but opportunity first. I think they’re called Republicans.

Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.



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