Excerpt: 'Get to Work'

Part of that choice became the long feminist battle over who should justly exercise the legal power to determine women's reproductive fates. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the usage of "pro-choice" at least as early as 1975, a mere two years after the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. But my first sighting of the language of choice is earlier and more meaningful than that. In some long-forgotten time, abortion advocates actually thought they could mobilize substantial support for legal abortion from the liberal elements in the Catholic Church; the 1972 organization was called Catholics for a Free Choice. Whoever found it first, the point is that saying "choice" was initially a way not to have to say "abortion."

In those decades, women were finding ways to choose paths that increased their power and their status in society. But the feminist movement couldn't hold on to this important goal--and this was its critical failure. Instead, the movement came to define choice as an umbrella to put over anything any woman said she had decided to do. In large part, this happened because Gloria Steinem was too gracious for our own good. Just over thirty years ago, the feminist movement turned from Betty Friedan, the big-nosed, razor-tongued, moralist to the beautiful, ever-gracious, and all-inclusive Gloria Steinem. It seemed a natural decision at the time, but the effects have been ruinous.

There's a wonderful story about it in Judith Hennessee's biography of Betty Friedan. "In 1972, Kingman Brewster, then president of Yale, told an audience of graduate women that he could accept the part of the movement represented by Gloria [Steinem]--the part that included men," but not the supposedly man-hating philosophy of Friedan. Brewster had it completely backward. Married and the mother of three, Betty Friedan focused her entire energy on the problem of work and family life for the middle-class American woman. Single throughout the feminist heyday and childless to the end, Gloria Steinem ruled the movement when one of its theme songs was "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." Still, Brewster was right about one thing: Gloria was nicer than Betty. If anyone was suited to steer a radical and judgmental movement into useless choice feminism, it was the confrontation-averse Gloria Steinem. Under her uncritically accepting eye, feminism expanded to embrace every oppressed group. Steinem's biographer, Sydney Ladensohn Stern, put her finger on the difference: "Betty...is a big thinker. I didn't think of Gloria in the same league. She's a good consensus builder, but was defending an ideologically narrower viewpoint--political correctness--and she seemed insecure about how much she was willing to stand up and say what she really stood for...she was a careful operator." Salon.com's Laura Miller shares the telling story that a college friend once dragged the strangely passive activist by the leg down a hallway, shouting, "Why don't you ever get angry? Get angry!"

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