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Gen X Women Remake The Sexual Revolution

by Molly Ivins

Less angst, less shame and a greater level of comfort with whatever choices are made
A couple of new reports on Gen X women provide many munchies for thought. The news, reported by The New York Times, that women are expected to be a majority of those entering law school this fall is significant for several reasons.

The number of women in law school has been, as they say, "trending upward" for years now. But as Harvard sociologist Rosabeth Moss Kantor points out, unless women are present in truly significant numbers -- at least close to half -- they make relatively little difference in the culture of largely male institutions. Women are expected to adapt to the institution, rather than vice versa.

It's also important because the law is such a seedbed for leadership in both business and politics. Law is easily the leading field in producing political leadership, and women continue to "trend upward" in politics, as well.

It is possible to argue, and I do, that the greatest failure in our institutions has been the failure to respond to the needs of women and children, so having more women in political leadership is crucial.

In Europe (where, as has been pointed out, there aren't any more women in the parliaments and assemblies than there are here), long maternal leaves, excellent creche systems for child care and much more are standard operating practice. In the United States, each working mother has to put together her own support system in some jury-rigged way to take care of the children, leaving the mothers with levels of stress and anxiety -- not to mention being tired all the time -- that are really unconscionable.

I would argue that it is the government's duty, under the "promote the general welfare" part of the preamble to the Constitution, to respond to such evident need among the citizens.

Unfortunately, the Compassionate Conservative seems to be targeting programs that help low-income children for cuts in spending. As the Times reported, programs for child-care assistance for low-income families (precisely what, along with health insurance, most enables women to get off welfare) are being cut, as are programs to stop child abuse.

Considering that 25 percent of our children, according to a Columbia University study, are being raised in poverty, you might think we'd make that a higher priority than a national missile defense.

According to a new book by Paula Kamen, "Her Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution" (New York University Press), young women now in their 20s and early 30s are not likely to wait around politely asking for help. They rather tend to seize what they want by the throat.

Kamen, a young woman herself, reports from that country, and her choice for a representative specimen is Monica Lewinsky. She also finds the HBO program "Sex in the City" to be an accurate representation of how some young women handle sex and then talk about it afterward.

Not that she finds younger women necessarily sexually predatory or adventurous. What she finds is an individualistic approach, so that young women are whatever -- sexually adventurous, lesbian or proudly remaining virgins until they marry -- without feeling the need to apologize or to conform to some norm.

Across the spectrum of behavior, she finds less angst, less shame and a greater level of comfort with whatever choices are made.

The author, in Texas last weekend, said: "On a larger scale, this post-boomer individualism often means that young women generally lack a political consciousness of and commitment to many sexual rights, which they view principally as a matter of personal choice, not a political issue. As I learned when researching my first book on young women's views of feminism, many women take their hard-won choices for granted."

Kamen told the story of a 30-year-old actress, appearing in a play about the 1960s, who asked, "What are homes for unwed mothers?"

I think this is all to the good, myself. I'm sure young women get tired of older feminists telling them about the Great Struggle. (But I did have to giggle over a recent film review in Newsweek that announced that the trouble with older feminists is that they were never interested in sex. I blame this unlikely supposition on that awful fad when working women all wore boxy suits with floppy bow ties.)

Black leadership is undergoing the same generational change -- the new leaders cannot remember what the country was like before the civil-rights movement.

Kamen said her biggest surprise in researching the book was the importance of religion in young women's lives -- although, here, as elsewhere, they are both eclectic and individualistic. They pursue everything from New Age spiritual values to kissing off the parts of Roman Catholic doctrine that they don't like without any hesitation.

All to the good that the old stereotypes and expectations are fading, except that I think young women are going to need a political movement. I think we're about to lose abortion rights. The Supreme Court, in an appointment or two, will turn the matter back to the states, with 50 different results, mostly affecting poor women.

In addition, the vast problem of decent child care for working mothers remains our most crying need. And just for old times' sake, equal pay for equal work would be nice, too.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor March 27, 2001 (

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