Elizabeth Janeway: Re-examining the uses of power

Elizabeth Janeway, author, social analyst, and lecturer, is speaking her mind again on the subject of women and their power struggles since the women's movement began some 15 years ago.

She thinks that all is not rosy, and she is attempting to arouse women to renewed efforts on their own behalf. "WE are watching many affirmative-action programs fade and dwindle, and be labeled as reverse discrimination," she says. She points out that many older feminists are relaxing their efforts far short of their goals. And younger women are often under the impression that it has all been done for them.

"I desperately hope we can get the Equal Rights Amendment through. But if we don't we will just have to start all over again, and it may be easier," she says. She sees continuing opposition for some time to come.

"We are facing a stubborn and blind drive to turn the clock backward, end programs of social support, and reassert the old, outworn dogmas of a male-dominated society. Men still urge that the old ways were good and the new ones are freakish and abnormal," she laments.

Though some women now claim they don't want to assume a "macho stance in a macho world," she sees women retreating in some of the areas where they should be mounting aggressive new programs.

Women have come a way, Mr. Janeway admits, but not a long way. In what she terms an irreversible and fundamental social change, some 44 million women have surged into the paid labor force. "But in upper echelons, women are still largely in token territory, and man's world is still very, very women wary, particularly of brilliant and accomplished women."

"Sisterhood is still powerful," she says, "but only if it gets up on its hind legs and hollers and pushes for its goals by means of the power process."

So she is urging women, anew, to talk to each other, to organize, to form networks in order to exchange information, share experiences, and organize action. Women, she insists, still have to challenge the power structure.

In her latest book, "The Powers of the Weak," published by alfred A. Knopf, she gives three basic ways in which women can exercise more power and control.

The first is to develop an attitude of mind that questions, distrusts, and is willing to dissent. The second way is for like-minded doubters to bond together with the common goal of repairing what is in need of repair. The third step is organized action, sustained by the group. Solitary action is frustrating and usually gets nowhere, she says.

Women in the feminist movement must continue to be verbal, to raise issues, and articulate solutions, Mrs. Janeway insists, if they want to get attention and intervene in the power process. "If we sit still and do nothing, we will have a fine view of all the social advance of the last decade going down the drain."

"We must set up special-interest groups," she declares, "and lobby hard for new goals if we are to profit from participation in the process of government." Her plea to women is that they not opt out at this point, nor diminish their efforts.

Mrs. Janeway's reputation has been established through her critical studies, and the six novels and four children's books that preceded her first important nonfiction work in 1971, "Man's World, Woman's Place." Her study called "Between Myth and Morning: Women Awakening" followed in 1974.

She is the wife of economist and author Eliot Janeway. Mrs. Janeway feels they have the kind of marriage in which neither partner dominates and in which equality prevails. "We either agree, or we do different things. And we do not always agree."

The Janeways share a handsome Manhattan town house whose five floors are connected by a very busy elevator. They work on separate floors in spacious offices equipped with fine mahogany desks, walls of books, and deep, comfortable sofas and leather club chairs.

Every morning some 10 or 12 secretaries and assistants, as well as a switchboard operator, arrive at the town house to assist the Janeways. the big, somewhat baronial dining room is often the setting for lunches and dinners with members of their professional circles and with personal friends.

Elizabeth Janeway says she has always been basically feminist in her feelings about the worlds. But she doesn't think anybody is truly liberated yet. She sees both women and men in a long period of social transition and change which could go on for decades.

A new approach to the family and to bringing up children will be a major challenge to the women's movement over the next 10 years, she predicts. The increasing isolation of the family, she says, means that new" kinship" systems must be found that expose children to groups of caring adults of both sexes, in addition to their fathers and mothers. She sees such community support systems already in existence, through neighborhood associations, churches, day-care centers for both children and the elderly, counseling centers, and cooperative exchanges of various kinds.

"You see," she explains, "the single family simply isn't big enough any more to handle all the problems coming at it. It has to reach outside itself to the community for assistance in getting children socialized, trained, and helped into the adult world. The women's movement must address itself to all these family needs in the next years, and help working women, in particular, cope with their family-rearing responsibilities."

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