Recycling a Bad Idea


NEW YORK TIMES reporter Judy Klemesrud, according to the most recent issue of Esquire, is sending out Christmas cards this year with a picture of herself lying stark naked on the living room rug.

Hoo-hah for Klemesrud, who says that the women's movement has "come so far" that women can go back to being "the traditional woman." Whatever that is supposed to mean.

Klemesrud aside for a moment, some credit is due to Esquire for a cover and cover story which has the potential to stir up the much-bedraggled women's movement. It's not so much the picture of Patti Hensen, hands on hips and bust wrapped in tight purple satin ("The next poster queen"), that might startle serious readers of the traditionally male-oriented magazine. Rather it is the stupidly stated fact this is "The year of the Lusty Woman--It's all right to be a sex object again."

When was it ever o.k. to be a sex object? Wasn't this caricature of women one of the symbols that led us into inferiority complexes? (Intellectually, that is.)

Unfortunately, Esquire's decision to exploit the year of the lusty woman ventures further than the cover. For anyone who wants to look deeper, this past week features three centerfold babes who are billed as the strongest competitors in Esquire's search to find the "Next Poster Queen." "Who will she be?" Who cares? "You, America, be the judge."


Whatever Klemesrud's point about the now supposedly mature state of the women's movement is meant to be, the impact of her far-fetched editorial opinion has to, in the short run, be masked by the format of her article. Many women, and many men, are outraged, and one editor of the magazine put in a furious call to editor Clay Felker to protest. "If they are going to start running that shit, they aren't going to see my stuff in the magazine any longer," he said. But people who know how to be properly outraged are few and far between, and no doubt many will find themselves blindly agreeing that women could do well to sport a little more sex appeal.

Most, of course, including strong-minded feminists, will agree that the first bunches of women, bra-less, in baggy pants and shirts, toting signs and pleading for sexual equality presented a somewhat unappealing image. But, consider that practically everyone back then, men too, was dressing in "proletarian garb." It just became fashionable to not wash your clothes, because who cared what we looked like? There was a cause to fight for. Women realized they no longer had to totter around in spike heels and in pants so tight they couldn't breathe--they realized they did not wish to be "desired" by men as sexually attractive beings. And don't forget the hotpants craze, which every woman, fat or thin, squeezed themselves into.

Contrary to the view that Klemesrud is cultivating here, the return to more fashionable dressing than what we saw ten years ago is occuring in both sexes. People--men and women alike--are just dressing better. Frankly, I know very few women who feel a sense of relief "now that they are being told they're sex objects again," as one feminist psychologist, Dr. Phyllis Chesler, seems to believe.

Or perhaps Chesler is making an accurate observation, in which case it becomes obvious that the women's movement is a total bust, for it has failed to convince women that there is something else they can do with themselves.

DAVID RIESMAN, Ford Professor of the Social Sciences, is quoted as espousing a "backlash" theory to explain Klemesrud's somewhat shaky observation that women are once again heading for the clothes racks in search of sexy duds. Riesman, in a recent interview with The Crimson, explained his "theory" was formed spontaneously when Klemesrud told him that women were once again becoming sex objects. He referred mainly to one of the more sensitive and critical problems with the women's movement. Primarily, Riesman says that some "women have felt pushed around, made to feel square," by radical feminists who were trying to prove their point.

Feminism had the tendency to dismay some women who had just sent their last child off to college. They are ridiculed by their more liberated friends who wonder why they aren't "out working." This is not to say that plenty of former "housewives" haven't averted their husbands' dinner calls and sought out more appealing lifestyles. The damage incurred on the other end has been serious, however--the fault of overzealous and self-righteous types who want everyone to conform.

"All movements overshoot," Riesman says, but adds that "this movement has not achieved its goals and will not succeed until there are as many women, percentage wise, majoring in chemistry at MIT, as there are men." Riesman is right. Look around at the meager number of tenured women at Harvard--there are only eleven. Read the polls which tell you there are fewer college-educated women entering the job market than men without college educations. The women's movement has certainly publicized its cause, but seems to be sinking into quicksand along the road somewhere.

Women are looking sexier these days because there's a lot of competition on the streets with all those women going into the workforce," Klemesrud quotes Mable Morgan, author of The Total Woman. Morgan adds, "They know they have to look good--they're out there in the open. Sex is one of those driving forces that must be taken into account." The argument is as old as the hills, if not older. Women have always tried to use their sex as a driving force to con men into paying some sort of attention to them. It would indeed be a peculiar phenomenon if women were now to be competing solely with other women "out there on the streets."

So what's new? The way for women to get jobs these days is to put on those spike heels and wear dresses split up to their crotch. But it's o.k. because, uh, women have made their point.

It is really a shame that Klemesrud has buried the only constructive comment in her article. Wilma Scott Heide hasn't bitten Klemesrud's poison, and says, "The country's values are still white-male oriented rather than feminist. Men are getting some pressure to include women in major roles, so what roles do they give them--T. and A. (Tits and Ass). It shows that sexism is deeper than many people seem to realize and that men's ideas of giving women prominence is obviously still very narrow."

To be fair, perhaps women's ideas of delivering prominence to themselves is also very narrow.