This is the year for political wives to find new roles

ALICE STEINBACH

January 17, 1993|By ALICE STEINBACH

Ever since New Year's Day I've been waking up with the uneasy feeling that something's wrong. It's hard to identify what FTC exactly it is, but something just feels different.

Finally, this morning, I figured out what's been bothering me: Ware no longer living in the Year of the Woman. Suddenly, it's over. After riding a tidal wave of publicity and high hopes, it's gone.

And withdrawal symptoms notwithstanding, we are left to face the hard truth: That at midnight on Dec. 31, 1992, the Year of the Woman slipped out quietly, on little cat feet.

There were no headlines announcing its departure ocommentaries on what's going to happen to women now that they don't have their own year. Instead, we just woke up on Jan. 1, 1993, and the Year of the Woman was gone.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive here, but shouldn't someone have prepared us for this?

Shouldn't there have been public service announcements on the "MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" warning us that there were only 22 days left in the Year of the Woman? And promo spots on "Donahue" and "Oprah" reminding us to look for the end of the Year of the Woman, coming soon in prime-and-not-so-prime time?

Now, all of a sudden, we are faced with a vacuum. And the question is: If this is no longer the Year of the Woman, what is it the year of? So far I haven't seen any hint of what might replace the Year of the Woman.

Let's see. What should it be? What about:

The Year of the Gun.

The Year of the Deficit.

The Year of the High School Diploma That Means Something.

The Year of the American Car.

And, finally, what about the most obvious replacement for the Year of the Woman -- which, if I leave it out, will cause many of you to write me angry letters: the Year of the Man.

After serious consideration, I am ruling out all of the above -- the last on grounds that every year, except 1992, has been the Year of the Man -- in favor of a last-minute entry. A drum roll, please.

I do hereby decree 1993 as the Year of the Wife.

Now, some of you are probably saying, "Alice, isn't such thinking retrogressive? Hasn't the women's movement been, in part, about liberating wives and mothers from the stereotypes and limitations attached to such designated roles? What's the deal here, Alice?"

The deal is this: The Year of the Woman focused on supporting and encouraging women to run for political office. And the figures show women made some impressive gains in this area. Just as important, the Year of the Woman appears to have brought about a major change in the way women running for office are viewed. One senses a gender barrier systematically crumbling, politically speaking.

What the Year of the Woman was less successful in accomplishing was overcoming the barriers still surrounding the political wife. To a large extent, we still expect the political wife -- regardless of how impressive her accomplishments are -- to place her career on hold.

We have seen this clearly in the case of Hillary Clinton, who will be the first presidential wife to have a five-page resume of her own. And the role she plays, or does not play, as the wife of the president will make Hillary Clinton one of the two most-watched wives in the world.

And who will be the other most-watched wife in the world? It will be Japan's answer to Hillary Clinton: 29-year-old Masako Owada, who will wed Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito later this year. This future empress represents a stunning departure from the traditional choice of wife for Japan's imperial family.

Unlike the typical, demure Japanese wife, Masako Owada works for a living and has lived half her life overseas. Educated at Harvard and Oxford, she speaks four languages fluently and is said to be a savvy negotiator with a resume that, were she a man, would make her a top candidate for a high diplomatic post.

It has been reported that this thoroughly modern Japanese woman was reluctant to give up her freedom and agreed to marriage only after being assured by the prince that she "would remain a diplomat, just of a different kind."

Hillary and Masako. Both highly intelligent, accomplished women; both married to men who will influence the course of history. It's going to be very interesting to watch these two women as they go about shaping their lives as as women and as wives.

And make no mistake about it, they are two very different roles.

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