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Ocean County Observer (Toms River, New Jersey), August 14, 2007

National Organization for Women
readies for new battles

By Ruby L. Bailey

At 22, Jacqueline Steingold couldn't get birth control. It was 1964, she was single and her doctor wouldn't prescribe it unless she had a husband to approve it.

By 1975, Steingold was a probation officer in Detroit, working among men who told nasty jokes and kept pictures of scantily clad women in the office. She did the same job as they did, but for less money.

"All that culminated into anger and frustration and then what are you going to do about it?" said Steingold, 65.

Steingold didn't know what feminism was, but she decided to find out in 1977, when the National Organization for Women held its 10th convention in Detroit.

She joined the group, rallying for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment; she's now president of the Detroit chapter.

At 41, NOW has had successes but finds itself in what some call a post feminist era, where some early gains have been diminished and younger women have their own idea of what's needed to achieve equal rights.

"There's been a lot of ups and downs since 1977," said NOW national President Kim Gandy, "but it's a heck of a lot better."

She called child care and flexible work schedules the "great unfinished business" of the women's movement.

NOW claims 500,000 members today, including some men.

Looking back, many say the movement produced mixed results.

The political gains are highly visible: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is a contender for the Democratic Party's 2008 presidential nomination. U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi is the first female speaker of the U.S. House. Michigan has a female governor Jennifer Granholm, as well as a female U.S. senator and two women in the U.S. House.

Women are no longer an oddity in the workplace, and today some husbands opt to stay home with the kids.

Girls believe they can be anything, but on average, women still don't make as much money as men. In Michigan, women make 69 cents for every $1 made by men, compared with 75 cents for women nationally, according to the Center for the Education of Women at the University of Michigan.

The ERA a big issue in the late 1970s was never ratified, though it is reintroduced annually in Congress.

"We still have so many things we have to do," said Renee Beeker, president of the Michigan NOW chapter. "Change is slow." Before the women's movement spread, women primarily cared for their homes, husbands and children. But some weren't happy about it. They wanted to work and make as much money as men. They wanted college educations and girls sports programs with funding equal to boys' teams.

And they got it mostly. Millions of women entered the workplace. By 1976, 31 percent of women with infants worked, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Today it's about 55 percent.

But there were women who were perfectly happy running a home while their husbands ran corporations. Among many, feminism became a dirty word and the rift between working and stay-at-home moms began.

"We thought they were nuts, wanting to go out there and slave like men we're women!" said Ida Brown, 62, of Dearborn, who has never worked outside the home.

Long-term, though, some women grew disillusioned. It seemed that they'd been sold a bill of goods by the feminist agenda, and they missed the happy home where dad earned the bread and mom baked it.

Recent surveys show a trend toward women opting out of the work force.

In 2002, the U.S. Census Bureau said the percentage of working moms with infant children dropped from a record 59 percent in 1998 to 55 percent. It was the first significant decline since the bureau began calculating the measure in 1976. In 2006, there were 5.6 million stay-at-home moms.

Over the years, the internal conflicts among women were joined with external setbacks.

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