Sex sets the scene in renovated war between the sexes

January 24, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

Esquire magazine hit the newsstands last week with its take on the 21st-century woman. A survey of 1,000 women ages 18 to 25 showed that they would rather have a bigger paycheck than bigger breasts, would rather be Hillary Rodham Clinton than Lady Di, but still expect men to pay for dinner and hold open doors on a date. But an accompanying story painted a much grimmer picture.

hTC The war between the sexes for this new generation of feminists )) has moved out of the workplace and the political arena and into the bedroom, where things were getting rough -- mostly because these young women wanted it that way. "Do-me" feminism, Esquire called it.

GQ also offered its women's issue, asking in a whining tone what has become so familiar to us, "What does a woman want?" and concluding that male-female relations are so fractured and bitter (see Bobbitt vs. Bobbitt, Woody vs. Mia, and Bob Packwood vs. every woman he ever met) that things could not possibly get worse. "Why are they so damned angry?" GQ asks.

And Michael Crichton's latest blockbuster, "Disclosure," rocketed to the top of the best-seller lists this past weekend. The author of "Jurassic Park" and "Rising Sun" has written about a powerful woman who sexually harasses her male subordinates. Crichton makes the case that women can be as corrupt and abusive as men, if only given the opportunity.

It was a very tough week to be a woman. So misunderstood.

Esquire's treatise on woman-as-sexual-predator was scary -- especially if you are a man. But the magazine's survey of the next generation of women was heartening. They are young enough to be my daughters, and they think like I do, like I'd like my daughter to think.

They would rather be thought "brilliant but plain" than "sexy but dumb." They expect to earn 49 percent of their household income and they would rather teach their own daughter to start her own successful business than to find and keep the perfect husband.

And they would rather get the full treatment at Canyon Ranch Spa than march for gender equality in the workplace -- by a margin of 80 to 18. OK, our political credentials are not all in perfect order.

But I greeted all of this with a sigh and a shake of my head. It has been 30 years since Betty Friedan wrote "Feminine Mystique" and almost that long since the feminist movement rode dovetail with the anti-war movement, and since the free love movement accompanied rock music to the top of the charts.

All these attempts to describe and explain women made me wonder: Didn't we solve any of this? This many years later, how could men and women still be miscommunicating so completely that we are getting polemics on female sexual empowerment and pornography-as-rape? Do-me meets don't-even-think-about-it.

Women are buying guns in record numbers. College students need a syllabus to explain to them the difference between a date and a rape. Men had better have a lawyer before buying a woman co-worker dinner. Boxing aerobics is the hottest exercise craze for women. Lorena Bobbitt is the new symbol of women's rage.

When did sex and anger become the only currency in the exchange between men and women? I thought my husband and I had been getting along pretty well, two kids, two jobs, two cars and a mortgage notwithstanding. What did I miss?

"What do women want?" GQ wants to know. I can't answer that any better than the magazine did. But when I talk with my women friends, it is not about who is on top in the bedroom or the boardroom. Give these women three wishes and none would be for a new sexual vocabulary or a corporate cutthroat job description.

They, we, would ask for more time, I think. Time to do well all the things that are expected of us at home and at work. And a little more time to ourselves when we are done. Time to sigh, draw in a breath and complete a thought. Time to collect our many-sided selves and time to think about our next step.

Maybe if we had that kind of time to think, we could explain what we want or why we are angry. Maybe then I could understand a new generation of feminists that has eclipsed me, left me so far behind.

We were angry when we were young, too. Now, with houses, husbands, kids and jobs, if we are going to be angry again, we will need more time.

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