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Staunch Spinsters Give Women a Good Name

August 10, 1986|Florence King | Florence King's most recent book is "Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady" (Bantam). and

FREDERICKSBURG, VA. — It is time America admitted that old maids give all women a good name. She arrives at work on time, with no thoughts of baby sitters and day-care centers dancing like rancid sugarplums in her head, and she does not spend all day on the telephone checking up on her little serpent's teeth.

She is also a boon to women's credit ratings. "Single" has become a pejorative; it can mean just about anything and usually does. An old maid and a divorcee with three children to support are both listed as "single" but there is no financial resemblance. If, instead of going to obsessive lengths to help women conceal marital status under the muzzy blanket of "Ms.," feminists had encouraged the inclusion of spinster on applications, it would have pulled up women's overall credit reputation and eliminated some of the automatic discrimination against women as women caused by the bill-paying problems of liberated divorcees. The same point applies to auto insurance rates: Old maids look at the road, not at what Jason did to Debbie's dress.

A television special last month, "After the Sexual Revolution," was the last straw. By the time it was over, the phrase "women 'n' children" was running together in my mind like damn-Yankee. Most wives 'n' mothers are no good to any employer unless the stock exchange is hiring amok-runners, but the old maid can hold any fort.

I am sick of women's career vs. marriage complaints, and most of all I am sick of their damn kids. The women 'n' children of the '80s are a corruption of the very meaning of feminism and I refuse to be tarred any longer with their grubby, sticky brush.

Feminism attracted me initially. When the idea stirred in the '60s, I thought it would be a movement for careerist spinsters who chose to renounce marriage and motherhood for a life of the mind lived with Spartan simplicity and dedication to professional achievement. Feminism, I told myself, would make old maids admired and respected instead of pitied and censured.

I was wrong. From the outset, feminism divided along two equally unfeminist lines: the Crazies and the Anti-Crazies, or if you will, the lunatic fringe and the lunatic warp and woof. The former ran to guerrilla theaters like WITCH and SCUM or to lesbian separatist groups. The latter consisted of NOW and the melancholy seal barks of Betty Friedan.

To isolate the Crazies and make feminism "nice," the Anti-Crazies took pains to tailor the movement for mainstream women, i.e., married women. To show America how important women were, Friedan called for a Woman's Strike Day. All women were supposed to participate but the slogan the organizers devised had housewife written all over it: "Don't Iron While the Strike is Hot."

Next, Elizabeth Gould Davis ushered in anthropology a-go-go with "The First Sex," a Great Goddess pony that traced all goodness back to prehistoric matriarchies when the world was full of wonderfully well-adjusted people who chewed on umbilical cords instead of beef jerky.

Jane Alpert joined the fray with her "Mother Right" theory, triggering Earth Mother fantasies and fertility dances in the tofu-and-alfalfa set. Feminists rhapsodized about breast-feeding and natural childbirth and promoted gynecological self-examinations so women could see the wondrous reproductive equipment that had ruled the universe before our patriarchal Judeo-Christian heritage took over and spoiled all the affirming, nurturing, burgeoning, moon-and-tides fun.

Running concurrently with this feminist celebration of primitive womanhood was an equally fervent feminist celebration of New Womanhood. Woman was a person in her own right with a brain and an ego. If she felt empty and unfulfilled it was because our patriarchal Judeo-Christian heritage had denied her access to all the competing, achieving, self-realizing dress-for-success fun.

If men could be executives, husbands and fathers, women could be executives, wives and mothers, so get out there and do it all.

As soon as the fecund matrons of America found out what work, real work, was like, they started complaining like Victorian invalids that they were too tired to affirm, too busy to nurture, too conflicted to burgeon. Always ready with an oxymoron, feminists came to the rescue with demands for "caring workplaces"--the kind that had prevailed back before our patriarchal Judeo-Christian heritage spoiled all the sharing, humanizing, cooperating fun.

Instead of trying to harden women as real feminists should by preaching renunciation and dedication, our pseudo-feminists tore them apart by promoting masculine work while simultaneously condemning masculine work habits.

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