I'm getting more than a little worried about the state of women's rights in this country. Gloria Steinem has me worried; the 20-something young women I know have me worried; but probably most of all, Ally McBeal has me worried.
Having celebrated the official 150th anniversary of the launching of the women's rights movement in this country just this week, it's a fine time for women to take a look at just what we are doing with the rights we now enjoy thanks to the hard work of hundreds of our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers.And it's also time for the youngest recipients of that legacy to get off the fence and take advantage of all the choices they've been so generously handed by 150 years of physical and emotional sacrifice.
A huge group of determined women have fought valiantly over the past century and a half to provide choices to young women. Most recently, Steinem, over the past couple of decades, has helped women discover their value as human beings apart from the men in their lives. And then along came Bill Clinton, and even she seems to have lost some of the ground that was gained at so high a cost.
When Steinem likened Clinton's groping of various women to "fraternity antics" and seemingly excused him, she lost a huge amount of credibility and respect - at least my respect.
Because, though the women's rights movement is about a lot of issues such as equal pay, representation in politics, educational opportunities and government responsibility for such basics as child care, it's more fundamentally about respect. And at the root of respect between men and women has to be a woman's right to be free of sexual advances she doesn't want. Being treated as a sexual being diminishes her value as an intelligent, productive human who deserves every right available to a man.
In the moment a woman feels she must tolerate a man's touching her because he is her boss; because he has political, social, marital or any other kind of power; or simply because that's the way men are, she's relinquished respect and accepted the second-class status that has been repudiated by our crusading foremothers, including notable Utah pioneer women.
Equal pay and career opportunities mean nothing if a woman gives up that basic right to say no and to expect that a man will be held accountable for persisting in treating her and other women as bodies available for his pleasure.
For any woman to excuse Bill Clinton with a "boys will be boys" rationale is itself inexcusable. For Gloria Steinem to do it is disappointing and stupid.
And then we have Ally McBeal. Admittedly, she's a fictional television character, but too often TV reflects the real world. And from what I've seen, too many young women today are too much like Ally, a well-educated attorney who is charmingly ambivalent about who she wants to be and dangerously preoccupied by sex and where her next date is coming from.
She's intelligent and good at her job but constantly looking for validation from some new man. She wants a family but is uncertain about the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood. Instead of wanting it all and working to juggle multiple roles, she wants nothing but compliments on her appearance.
She has been handed a mountain of choices - more than women of any previous generation have had - and she can't make a decision among them.
This generation of women is like a spoiled child who has never been denied anything because her parents sacrificed and worked hard to give her everything. They take for granted rights and opportunities that even their mothers didn't have.
They want more than equal pay; they want to be equal in the sexual indulgences men have been guilty of forever. They think it's cute to evaluate men on their physical attributes, to avoid commitment and get raunchy in groups.
I've indulged in a little of that "comeuppance" attitude toward men, but it hasn't dictated my lifestyle. I'm not so sure this latest generation has suffered enough discrimination by men their age to deserve to "get even."
I'd like to see young women do something wonderful with all the choices they've been given. I'd like to see all those Ally McBeals out there decide to actually get married and have the baby or decide to be the best darn attorney ever, maybe even take up a worthy cause or two and banish the infant hallucination or bite the bullet and do a good job of both like so many of their mothers did.
I'd like to see them get on with their lives.