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Filling small shoes
By Paul M. Weyrich
So term limits has forced the retirement of Patricia Ireland as President of the National Organization for Women or NOW as it has come to be called. Media accounts of the twenty year reign of Ms. Ireland could only say of her "accomplishments" that she was the central figure in the protest against the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and of John Ashcroft as Attorney General. Last time I checked Clarence Thomas was busy churning out majority opinions on the court some ten years after he was confirmed and Ashcroft is managing to do some good as Attorney General despite the fact that few of his associates have yet to be confirmed. I'm not sure that is what I would want to be remembered for after twenty years on center stage, but in truth that is about what the so-called women's movement has produced in recent years. Protest and little else.
When the movement began it, like the civil rights movement, was able to point to some real discrimination which had taken place in our society. Women were often paid half the amount as men for the same work in the same job. That just wasn't right. And many jobs were not open to women where there were no safety or other considerations to be addressed. The women's movement was quick to remedy that situation as well.
By the time Patricia Ireland took over NOW, not only had many of these matters been addressed, but there was a counter reaction to the NOW crowd building in the countryside. Beverly LaHaye and a handful of women founded Concerned Women for America. Soon they became the largest women's organization in the country, more than double the size of NOW in actual dues paying members. Phyllis Schlafly and her Eagle Forum women took on NOW and other radical feminists head to head in the states and twice defeated the Equal Rights Amendment. Twice because they did it once during the regular time frame and then Congress extended the time for ratification, something which had never been done before, and Phyllis and company held off ratification a second time and indeed began a roll back of some of the states which had originally ratified the ERA.
Today, although the media insists on going to NOW every time there is a so-called "women's issue", it is clear that NOW doesn't speak for the average woman. Over the years NOW has become more and more radical, of late embracing the lesbian and transsexual causes among other things. Groups such the Independent Women's Forum, comprised of working women but who don't accept the radical feminist viewpoint, have sprung up and are challenging NOW head to head on many issues and in many venues.
So as Patricia Ireland looks back after 20 years she can see a movement reduced in size and credibility, one which simply cannot deliver the way it could in the late 1960's and all throughout the l970's. She is looking at a movement which is increasingly a caricature of itself. Ms. Ireland does not leave great shoes to fill. Perhaps her successor will rebuild the movement less along ideological lines and more along the practical, such as telling women how they can regain all they have lost with the destruction of the role of wife and mother during this past generation.
Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.
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