Sunday, September 26, 1999

Let's declare war of sexes officially over




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Buried inside a thick book, a rubber chicken dinner and a speech about bread making is some good news. At least potentially.

        The thick book is Stiffed (Morrow, $27.50) by Pulitzer Prize-winning feminist author Susan Faludi. She says her work is a “heartfelt effort to see the world through men's eyes without betraying my feminism.” For nearly 700 pages (I told you it was thick), Ms. Faludi explores “the betrayal of the American man.”

        She talks to Promise Keepers and Cleveland Browns fans and male porn stars and Citadel students. She listens to stories from soldiers and downsized aerospace engineers.

        “What struck me most,” she told an interviewer, “was how familiar men's plight was. Despite this "Men are from Mars, women are from Venus' stuff, men and women are on the same paths, in a lot of ways.”

Dressed for Success
        So maybe we can learn from each other.

        Which brings me to the rubber chicken dinner. Actually, it wasn't rubbery at all. It was rather good, and I am convinced that one reason is that the institutionally stuffy Queen City Club, where the dinner was held, now is open to women. Does that sound sexist? Does that sound as though women, generally, know more about food than men?

        Good. I feel perfectly comfortable owning up to my feminine side. I don't mind saying I was never comfortable in those boring Dress for Success suits with man-tailored shirts and dorky ties. I thought we looked like little boys — or little girls in their father's clothes.

        As I looked around the second-floor lounge at the club, I saw bank executives and entrepreneurs and attorneys and educators and doctors and police officers. All women. And not a single one dressed like a man.

        This was a gathering of the YWCA's Academy of Career Women of Achievement.

        For 20 years, the YWCA has been honoring eight career women a year at its annual luncheon. At first — though you can't find anyone to say so — it must have been tough to scrounge up women qualified to be called executives. We hadn't even made our way to the glass ceiling.

        Many of those honored during the early years were the first something or other. And at the luncheons, there was a lot of talk about “opening doors and breaking barriers.” Some of us went from being the better half to being the bitter half. Some pitched battles ensued. Some in the office. Some at home.

        Times have changed.

Is decency valued?
        At Thursday's dinner, keynote speaker Hope Taft talked about baking bread. And nobody minded.

        Most women are no longer afraid to admit that we can cook and clean house for fear the people in charge will think that is all we can do. Or for fear that those things are not of value. We know better.

        Ohio's first lady stood before a massive marble fireplace in the wood-paneled lounge of a club where women formerly were ordered to enter through a side door, if at all. It was a business club, and we had no business being there. Now women are on the club's board, and, furthermore, the women listening to Mrs. Taft are so powerful they could leave early to be home with a son or daughter. No apologies. We have spent the last 20 years working on our careers. And our priorities.

        Susan Faludi says, “what I heard from men was that you're not validated in this culture for just being a decent, honorable worker, a father, a husband.”

        So maybe this time, we women are ahead of the game. We have discovered a wonderful secret, which we could share with all the nice men we know. We have discovered that we do not have to desert our families to succeed, and we don't have to pretend to be somebody we're not. A lot of us are partnered with men, both at the office and at home. We admire them, like them. We always have.

        But now we like ourselves, too.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears regularly on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine.

        PULFER ARCHIVE