NOW regroups to maintain its force for feminism
Exactly one year ago, when Geraldine Ferraro broke the political sound barrier by becoming the first woman on an American presidential ticket, the mood among members of the National Organization for Women (NOW) was triumphant. NOW had orchestrated the push, and Walter Mondale's choice appeared to many observers to signal a new ascendancy both for women and the feminist organization. Today that mood is considerably more restrained. During the group's annual three-day convention here last weekend, leaders and members alike self-consciously regrouped to find new ways to be an effective force for feminism in today's social and political climate.Skip to next paragraph
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The sometimes abrasive, sometimes confused search for a revitalized purpose ended Sunday afternoon with the election of Eleanor Smeal to the presidency. Mrs. Smeal, a political consultant in Washington, D.C., who has served two previous terms as president of the group, wants greater activism, higher visibility, and a more militant stance against the growing conservatism of the country. Her opponent, incumbent Judy Goldsmith, advocated an approach based on ``multiplicity'' and broad consensus.
The difference in approach can be partly explained by a difference in style that pits Mrs. Smeal's feisty, crusading intensity against Mrs. Goldsmith's cool pragmatism. But beyond personality the two approaches also symbolize a deeper confusion that surrounds the organization in particular and the women's movement in general.
Under the conference theme ``Organizing for the Future Now,'' speakers talked optimistically about ``a new vision'' and ``the hour of the American woman.'' But at the same time they spoke somberly of ``our movement's moment of truth'' and ``a critical period for feminism.'' Phrases like ``generate a change,'' ``strike new postures for new times,'' and ``change the direction of this organization, the movement, and the world'' suggested a mood that was both hopeful and aware of new challenges.
Some of the mixed signals stem from what Mrs. Goldsmith and others describe as a normal course of development for a social-change movement.
``In the beginning you get rid of most of the really disgusting, blatant forms of discrimination that are on the surface and that are the most easily seen and therefore the most easily dealt with and removed,'' she said in an interview.
``But that's a very difficult point because then people say, `Well, what do you women want, anyway? You've got everything. You've got a woman up in space, you've got a woman running for vice-president -- what more do you want?' What is left,'' she continues, ``is the bedrock, which is much tougher, much harder to get at, and much more difficult to see.''
She cites comparable worth, or pay equity, as ``an excellent example of bedrock. It is also an issue that has a dollar sign on it. This is where women always come up short, and where the fight for equality gets particularly hard.''