In Newsweek’s Dec. 6, 1976, cover photo, telephone installer Joyce Kelly leaned out from her perch at the top of a utility pole, loaded with the gear of her trade and wearing the face of a woman at the top of her game.
The headline, in large block letters: “WOMEN AT WORK.”
I was a sophomore in college then, and my parents were thrilled at the sight of Kelly for two reasons: Dad worked for the local power company, and Kelly looked so much like me that friends and relatives called for a solid week to ask whether I’d left college. What a hoot.
The eight-page story — reported by Susan Cheever Cowley, Mary Lord and Lisa Whitman — made my spirits soar. Starting at Page 68 — yes, I have the original magazine — it began:
“Some are ’empty nesters’ looking for something else to do now that the kids are off to college. Some are divorced mothers forced to make ends meet on their own. Some simply need more money to supplement their husbands’ inflation-ravaged paychecks. And some, nurtured by the women’s movement, want to leave their traditional place in the home and pursue careers. Whatever the reasons, women are surging into the offices, stores and factories of America at a rate higher than in the World War II days of Rosie the Riveter.
“…’This may turn out to be the most outstanding phenomenon of our century,” says Eli Ginzberg, chairman of the misnamed National Commission for Manpower Policy. ‘Its long-term implications are absolutely uncharitable.'”
At age 19, I read that and thought American women — women like me — were unstoppable.
Contrast that story with the one running in Newsweek’s current issue, dated Oct. 1 and 8 and totaling 68 pages, titled “AMERICAN WOMEN’S BIG MISTAKE.”
The illustration alone tells you where this story, by Debora Spar, is headed: A thin, perfectly coiffed white woman sits on a sofa next to a darling little girl. The “mother” stares at the camera with a joyless face as she holds a plate of dessert. Her floral skirt matches the sofa upholstery. Even with the child at her side, she is alone.
“More than 50 years ago, the United States was roiled by the feminist and sexual revolutions,” Spar writes, “which together sought to bring women out of their household isolation and into a community devoted to achieving broader social goals. Yet far from rally around these quaint echoes of sisterhood, we seem stuck today in a purgatory of perfection — each of us trying so hard to be everything that inevitably, inherently, we fail.”
Poor striving, lonely us.