Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Three women of incredible stature passed from this earth recently:

Betty Friedan, whose monumental Feminine Mystique changed a generation and gave a name to a problem that many women experienced but could not articulate. The 1950s was the first time women were expected to be happy doing nothing but childcare and housekeeping. It was the first time there was that luxury. But it is not enough to keep the mind engaged. Shiny floors do not fulfill any human being -- children need parents who are full participants in the world -- not half-beings who derive all their fulfillment through other people.

Coretta Scott King, who was a devoted peace worker and concert singer before she joined hands with her more celebrated husband. She was never less than a partner, although the media commentators of the 1960s (and, regretfully, beyond) saw her only as a helpmate to her spouse. Her determination never flagged and she has shaped a legacy that makes this country a better place than it could have been without her.

Wendy Wasserstein, who explored the changes these two women helped foment. Some breakthroughs are so profound they are barely recognized later; the mainstream success of a play with all female characters in 1977 surprised playgoers and critics. Wasserstein's low key humorous approach to the problems that plagued a generation adjusting to the freedom and responsibilities of second wave feminism demonstrated the struggle without evoking the usual hostility aimed at anything "feminist." Perhaps her most lasting legacy comes upon the wave of memories of her not just as the successful playwright, but as the friend and mentor who was always willing to go the extra mile for those she could help. To be acclaimed for your work is wonderful: to be acclaimed universally as a person who brought much good to the world, well -- can there be much better?

Who will step into their shoes to lead a new generation?

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