They send a single message

Karen Lynn Gray

August 14, 1992|By Karen Lynn Gray

TC THIS corner of the ring stands Hillary Clinton -- feminist, ambitious, high-powered attorney. And in this corner Tipper Gore -- wife, mother, cookie baker and anti-pornography crusader. Ladies, come out fighting.

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Their husbands have been running mates for less than a month, and already people anticipate the inevitable clash between these two intelligent, well-educated women. Gary Bauer, president of the conservative Family Research Council, says, "I don't think they can get away with sending both messages."

Some people seem to think that it is impossible for women who have made different life choices to co-exist peacefully, but I contend that it is only in doing so that we will really make any progress toward women's rights.

I have been a full-time wife and mother for most of the last 13 years, yet I sympathized with Hillary Clinton when she remarked, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas." Surely she must feel frustrated at the criticism she encounters for her ambitious, aggressive lifestyle.

If a more traditional role was not her choice, if that's not her talent, why should she be expected to play a role that doesn't suit her? She has a right, indeed, a responsibility to use her tremendous talent and drive in the way she sees fit.

Tipper Gore made different decisions, both in her career choice (yes, "staying home" and raising a family is a career, and a difficult one at that) and in her choice of causes. Was her talent "wasted" because she chose to devote herself to home and family? Hardly. She too has a right and responsibility to choose what works best for her and her family and to use her talent to fight for causes she believes in.

But I know how frustrated she also must feel. In the early '70s, I lived and worked in a women's center at a conservative Midwestern college. I fought for a woman's right to make choices based on her abilities and interest, not just on her sex. However, during the late '70s and early '80s, as I struggled with the task of raising two young children, I felt deserted by the women's movement.

In its eagerness to open new doors to women, it had relegated mothers to the basement. Motherhood was seen as a hopelessly mindless and old-fashioned vocation, beneath the ability of educated young women. I would cringe when I went to a party and someone asked me what I did. Although I had been told that I had the right to choose, I couldn't help feeling that I'd made the "wrong" choice.

Friends of mine who had chosen career over family, or both career and family, had their own dragons to slay. They were assailed with guilt at leaving their children, or they faced accusations of selfishness if they chose to have children. It seems no matter what we did, it was wrong. And we made it worse. We criticized each other's choices so that we could feel more comfortable with our own.

But as we slowly, painfully learned the lesson that people can't always "have it all," we became more tolerant. That's why I'm thrilled with the spouses of the Democratic nominees. Together, they represent the very personal struggle that women of my generation made. They are women who made choices. I am sure that, like many women of our generation, each agonized over her decision, and each was roundly criticized for it.

So when I see comparisons of Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore, when I read that they will almost surely clash, that they can't get away with sending both messages, my blood boils.

In my mind they are not sending two messages; they are sending one. The message is that two highly able and intelligent women can look at their options and make two very different choices, both respectable, both acceptable.

That's what the women's movement is about.

Karen Lynn Gray writes from Columbia.

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