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Jewish World Review Sept. 11, 2000/ 10 Elul, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Do Steinem's wedding bells sound feminist death knells? --
GODDESSES are having a bad day. Their Queen Mother, Gloria Steinem, not only is sleeping with the enemy, she's married one. A man, that is.

At age 66, the big-haired, mini-skirted, erstwhile Playboy Bunny-cum-feminist founder of America's first real womyn's magazine last weekend exchanged vows and became "partners" with a twice-married man. The woman who gets credit for one of the century's cleverest phrases - "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" - has fallen in love, we can't resist saying, hook, line and sinker.

"Though I've worked many years to make marriage more equal," Steinem said in a statement, "I never expected to take advantage of it myself. I'm happy, surprised, and one day will write about it, but for now I hope this proves what feminists have always said - that feminism is about the ability to choose what's right at each time of our lives."

Talk about a win-win. Steinem, the champion of Choice, is merely making another personal selection. The feminists' golden rule: Choice is always good, as long as it's a woman's.

That's what I love about feminism. It's so flexible. You want to fall in love and marry the man of your dreams? It's a choice. You hate marriage as the institutionalized patriarchal enslavement of women we know it really is. A choice. You want children; you don't want children. You want men to hold the door; you don't want a man to come within a flagpole's shadow. Choice.

Feminism means "whatever!"

In which spirit, reaction to Steinem's surrender to the patriarchal trap she historically hates ("I can't mate in captivity," she once said) has provoked mostly huzzahs and go-girls from the feminist phalange. "Whatever makes her happy," dominated Ms. Magazine's bulletin board on the Web.

But a few are "shocked" and "disappointed" that their heroine has caved in. Wasn't it Steinem, after all, who in 1987 swore she'd never marry, because in marriage a woman becomes a "semi-non-person"? Three words, Gloria: Never say never.

It must be annoying to have your decision to marry scrutinized by outsiders. But when you build a career around eschewing the very institution you later embrace, chit-chat will hit the fan. As the always-demure Camille Paglia put it: "Gloria Steinem's marriage is proof positive of the emotional desperation of aging feminists who for over 30 years worshiped the steely career woman and callously trashed stay-at-home moms."

One chat-room visitor, "Risotto," returned spin with spin. She said that Steinem, by marrying past child-bearing age at 66, is still breaking the rules, endorsing marriage for companionship, love and respect, above marriage for procreation and preserving the sexist status quo.

Translation: If you're a non-feminist in love, marriage is a form of indentured servitude wherein you must produce male offspring and submit to your male, ahem, "superior." If you're a feminist of Steinem's stature and fall in love, marriage is a political endorsement of higher principles. Got it.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that Steinem isn't endorsing or advancing anything other than her age. Brace yourself for this stunning insight, but it's possible that Steinem has grown up, matured, relaxed her ideology.

Her own justification is that marriage now is a choice (there's that word again) rather than an expectation, and that marriage today is more equal under the law.

The latter may be true, though one could argue that equality under the law (no-fault divorce) has brought ruin to more women and children than to men. But marriage as we know it has always been a choice. It only became an expectation because so many people -- mostly women -- wanted it.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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