This year marks four decades since "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan became a bestseller and helped spawn the women's movement. Yes, the Equal Rights Amendment never passed, women on average still earn less than men, few husbands actually do house cleaning, and Britney Spears's skimpy attire is a setback. But the anniversary of that book can help remind Americans of the few options women had way back in 1963, and provide a historical perspective on three big "women stories" now in the news, starting with Martha Stewart.
Actually, in the media mania about Ms. Stewart's criminal indictment connected to alleged insider-stock trading, very little has been said about her being a woman or that a woman was able to run a (formerly) billion-dollar enterprise. She's being treated more like just another male Enron exec. Although her business caters mainly to the vestigial domestic interests of women, her attorney, Robert Morvillo, tried to force the media to take a feminist slant on her indictment: "Is it because she is a woman who has successfully competed in a man's business world by virtue of her talent, hard work, and demanding standards?"
The idea didn't take. Nor is the media abuzz over the chance that this weekend's release of Hillary Clinton's White House memories, "Living History," could be the launch for Mrs. Clinton becoming the first serious woman candidate for president in 2008. (The book is seen as a cleansing necessity for a possible campaign.) When Geraldine Ferraro ran as a vice-presidential candidate for the Democrats in 1984, the main issue was that she was a woman.
Yet, such silence about women breaking glass ceilings isn't all that deafening. Golfer Annika Sorenstam made big news by playing in a PGA tournament last month. Hers was a far more serious challenge to men than Billie Jean King's in tennis. But after placing low, she declared: "I've got to go back to my tour, where I belong ... this is way over my head." In sports, at least, it's still vive la différence.
The biggest societal change in 40 years may be in corporate America. Women executives, while still few in number, are much more easily accepted in board rooms than a decade ago. In high tech, especially, Carly Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard, Patricia Russo of Lucent, and Anne Mulcahy of Xerox are touted more for their achievements than being female CEOs.
The steady advance of women now occurs largely below the media radar. That's proof of progress by itself.