Feature

The Woman Problem

By From the December 1970 issue

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Earlier this year America faced the tedious prospect of a new decade without a new oppressed group to liberate. But in one swell fell swoop our Yankee ingenuity conjured into existence a gaggle of downtrodden persons to uplift. We discovered that women need liberating and this discovery has liberated us from creeping ennui.

This oppressed majority will gain Uhuru come Hell or low hemlines. Just ask Barney Rosset, pornographer. Rosset runs Grove Press, an establishment guided by his philosophy: "What's wrong with exciting people? Our whole society -- television, movies, fashion is built on exciting people." The Women's Liberation Front recently added a new dimension to the exciting business of pandering to prurient interests.

The WLF sat in at Grove Press to protest commercial "sexism." The men at Grove Press are fierce opponents of repression, but they take a businesslike approach to mixing business and pleasure. They had the WFL protestors arrested. This was good for the Grove Press' property rights but bad for its revolutionary reputation. The WLF promptly announced that Grove Press has "the same mentality as Judge Hoffman" and demanded an end to "one dirty-old-man-rule" at the Press. This reference to Rosset was less than fair. He is only forty-seven.

Most men know that struggling women need dramatic tactics, like bra burning, for it manifests the liberated woman's escape from the roles and stereotypes of a male-dominated society. Hence most men would suffer death, or at least a mild blister, in defense of every American's right -- regardless of race, color, creed, national origin or sex -- to burn bras.

Yet regrettably this form of bodily witness, so helpful in eliminating false consciousness, causes air pollution. Recent studies reveal that if every woman in America were to burn three slightly padded bras there would develop an enormous increase in air pollution and an enormous glut in Manhattan's garment district.

This is acceptable. As Lenin said, you shouldn't break eggs without making 'an omelette. Besides, the First Amendment is precise and unambiguous: congress shall make no law abridging the right of even the most flamingly symbolic speech. If men have the right to burn draft cards, then the principle of sexual reciprocity stipulates that women have the right to burn bras.

Some male Neanderthals thought female suffrage would suffice to end female servitude. This was rank sociological naivete. Advanced thinkers understand that we must use compensatory programs to correct the terrible legacy of centuries of unbridled male tyranny.

We need an ambitious program to salvage those young women who suffer the cultural deprivation of attending predominantly female colleges. Such a program could be called Upward Curtsey, and could use Federal funds to send (say) Bryn Mawr graduates to Atlanta, Georgia, for a two year hitch in the robust and rehabilitating atmosphere of Georgia Tech. Upward Curtsey would affirm the basic principles of the American Dream by guaranteeing any American girl the chance to grow up to be a Rambling Wreck from Georgia Tech.

It would be even better to directly attack what the "Mrs. Kerner Commission" calls "institutional male chauvinism." Let us begin by distinguishing between De Jure and De Facto discrimination.

De Jure discrimination is that which is established by law, or by the deliberate acts of public officials; such is the ban which bars women from the New York Mets' locker room. De facto discrimination results from community customs or mores, such as the practice of giving a lady your seat on the subway. The Constitution is not only color blind but sex blind, and it is immoral to tolerate laws or customs that take notice of another human being's sex.

Fortunately women have not fallen victim to the wretched condition denoted by the wretched noun "ghettoization." As a result of dumb luck (that is, without HEW guidelines), women are spread evenly across the nation. Balanced residential patterns reduce the need for forced busing to achieve sexual balance in schools. Nevertheless, some busing is needed to eliminate pockets of impacted sexual imbalance.

For example, there was a time when Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, actually boasted about being the nation's largest all-female college. Although this "peculiar institution" is becoming co-educational, the pace of Smith's progress is unacceptable. Under the guise of "deliberate speed," Smith is substituting tokenism for meaningful change.

The government must mount a determined attack on all such "private" institutions. Their so-called "privateness" is an illusion, which must not insulate them from public control. After all, every autumn the students get to these colleges by driving over public highways. Therefore the students are engaging in interstate commerce and the colleges are permeated with public aspects.

Such colleges must be compelled to conform with the law of the land, which is that every school must have a sexual composition identical with that of the surrounding community. The Justice Department should seek a court order requiring Smith to bus males from (say) Amherst until the Smith student body has the same sexual composition as the town of Northampton. Forced busing is awkward, but no one can take seriously the disingenuous argument that Smith women and Amherst men will get together without Federal compulsion.

Advanced sociological thinking supports the justice of such busing. Federal officials will soon release the "Mrs. Coleman Report." This is the fruit of a multi-million dollar research project, which proved what it set out to prove, namely, that when young men and women study together they learn some things they might not otherwise learn in school. Therefore, it is monumental hypocrisy to attack de jure sexism while leaving the de facto form untouched. It is time to opt for minimum standards saying "Never!" to deliberate speed, letting the chips fall where they may, and pausing only to pluck the blossom equality from the nasty nettle sexism.

Now after forced busing achieves integration at all schools, we must recognize the justice of women's demands for creative sexual separatism. We must acknowledge the independent dignity of "'female culture" by establishing "female studies programs" that will cleanse the sex-bias from our hairychested university curricula.

The "historical sexism" that lavishes attention on Napoleon while downgrading the contributions of Catherine d'Medici and Katherine von Bora must end. We must demand that the time devoted to Catherine the Great be proportionate to the real uniqueness of her behavior. Fairness demands that if Faulkner is studied, there must be equal time for Eudora Welty. The principle of literary sex parity requires trade-offs between Sinclair Lewis and Ayn Rand, or Norman Mailer and Taylor Caldwell. And breathes there a woman with a soul so dead, who never to herself has said, "One Hemingway deserves a Willa Cather?"

Some persons worry that women's liberation will distract us from the all-important task of fending off environmental apocalypse. But that worry betrays an insufficiently systemic view, for the new science of "issue ecology" teaches that every issue is related to every other issue in this troubled biosphere.

Dr. Mary Calerone, director of the Sex information and Education council of the United States, recently demonstrated awareness of this when she told the Women's National Democratic Club that, "The primary ecological system that all other systems need to serve is the relationship between a man and a women. It, too, is subject to pollution." Clearly there are more forms of pollution under the sun than appear in the Sierra Club's philosophy.

Dr. Calderone understands the charm of "environment" as a political issue. One cannot turn around (or roll over in bed) without rubbing up against environment. This is deliciously egalitarian. Anyone with a grievance is relevant now that "environmental concern" is the measure of relevance.

Fastidious people may claim that Dr. Calderone is contributing to semantic pollution in order to make her cause congruent with this month's priorities. But it is tolerant to believe that pollution is in the eye of the beholder. Anything that bothers you is a pollutant of your environment.

Of course, when we sweep every one of the world's disagreeable features into the "environment crisis" we turn the term "environment" into a classification that doesn't classify. But while the term loses precision, it gains an ability to make one feel au courant, which is how I feel when I can classify bad books, shoddy arguments and Senator Fulbright as "pollutants" and ecological disasters. Women liberators must feel relevant twice over -- as freedom fighters and environment cleaners.

Female assertiveness is going to have some dramatic effects on American life. If women shun jobs to which they were once relegated, who will be airline stewardesses? The day may come when the traveler slumps wearily into his seat, only to hear a rich baritone voice asking "Coffee, tea or milk?" Thus the women's liberation movement may rescue the railroad passenger business. Women may break the sex barriers in many occupations. Someday a woman may play tight end for the Baltimore Colts. Then imagine the spectator interest that would arise over a 15-yard penalty for illegal use of the hands and arms?

Finally there is the stigma of servitude attached to the exclusive use of women in the Playboy centerfold. Equity demands a color centerfold of Joe Namath, stapled in the navel. This will give men a sample of the shame and horror women feel when they are cast in the role of pliable sex objects.

There is one basic reason why women are victims of capitalism, male chauvinism, institutional sexism, imperialism, objectification, Hugh Hefner, psychological deformation, moral mutilation and physical exploitation. The reason? Women have nice bodies, and fortunately, government cannot do much about that.

We are much in need of a conspicuous problem, which clearly cannot be solved by government. Some Americans do not believe such a problem exists. But the soft, warm, intractable fact about women's problems may teach these Americans an invaluable lesson about the very finite capabilities of government.

Women's liberation will not be a gift of government. Women must save themselves. Most important, they must not be betrayed into servility by "Aunt Toms," those collaborationists who trade their birthrights for a mess of service. No woman will be free until all women are willing to step on cockroaches. This is a stern test, but as the philosopher said, if women can't stand the heat they should stay in the kitchen.


George F. Will graduated from Trinity College in 1962, received a degree from Oxford University, Magdalen College in 1964 and earned his Ph. D. from Princeton in 1968. Mr. Will is twenty-nine and instructs physical education in Washington, D.C.


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