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'Cunningham's Calling'

January 10, 1988

Your feature article on Mary Cunningham ("Cunningham's Calling: Corporate Commando's New Career Is 'Nurturing' Pregnant Women" by Elizabeth Mehren, Dec. 27) follows the pattern of praising women who are famous for being women.

It is not hard to list a number of truly distinguished women of recent decades who have earned their fame for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with their sex.

The historians Barbara Tuchman and Ariel Durant come to mind. Also there is Rachel Carson, who virtually invented environmentalism as a popular concern; Ayn Rand, who argued for the individual in a collectivist age; Lillian Hellman, the playwright; Clare Boothe Luce, diplomat; Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; Katherine Graham, publisher; Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel; Margaret Mead, anthropologist. And these are only a few.

To appreciate better what is involved here, let us think of what it means for a man to be famous for being a man, as opposed to a leader in his field. Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to mind. So do various rock stars and performers, who offer sexiness but little talent.

It disappoints me that in our feminist age, we have few new counterparts of Hellman or Rand or Carson. That is almost as much as to say that women today receive less encouragement than they used to to go out and make path-breaking contributions in some professional field. Instead, it would appear that women are encouraged to gain some modest achievement--such as Mary Cunningham's--and then to trumpet the fact that they are women who have done these things.

That, I believe, is a large step backward. When people of either sex do truly significant things that influence the world around them, their acts can stand on their own merits. The sex of these people properly becomes a matter of no concern. The focus is on the achievement and its significance in the wider world. But when people win fame and honor for only modest accomplishments, they are seduced away from the hard, difficult work of seeking the greater ones. Amid such casual and easily earned success, the best of our women may well be doing less than they would have done in an earlier age.

T. A. HEPPENHEIMER

Fountain Valley

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