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Jewish World Review Nov 3, 2005/ 1 Mar-Cheshvan, 5766

Suzanne Fields

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What do women really want? | You won't hear them say it, but the rejection of Harriet Miers was a triumph for feminists. She was scrutinized as rigorously, criticized as mercilessly and treated as harshly as any man seeking to rise in the power structure of Washington.

If Samuel Alito is confirmed, there will be one less woman on the court, but no one can say (although Laura Bush implied it) that Harriet Miers got a hard time because she's female. She was, in part, chosen to replace a woman, but that obviously wasn't a good enough reason.

No one suggested that she got where she got as a lawyer on anything but by her merits as a professional, and it speaks well for her that she was back at work after the humiliation of withdrawal, as well as for the president who continued to take her advice about who should succeed her as the nominee. He got good advice. Sam Alito appears to be the goods the president's friends were waiting for. Now the phony war is over, and the real one begins.

There's a larger lesson here for the feminists. What women fought for was to be treated equally — no better than men, no worse. Women just didn't know what "for worse" could be. Many women taken in by the feminist rhetoric didn't find the Promised Land. Instead they confronted a harsh landscape of uneven possibilities. We've taken unexpected turns on the way to the 21st century.

More moms are now staying home with their children than working outside the home; it's the sharpest decline in the numbers of working mothers since 1976. In their book "What Women Really Want," pollsters Celinda Lake (a Democrat) and Kellyanne Conway (a Republican) found that seven in 10 women say they would stay home with their kids if they could afford it. Sleep deprivation may be part of it. When the pollsters asked both men and women if they would prefer more sex or more sleep, women overwhelmingly asked for more sleep. Men were dreaming of more sex: "So one difference between men and women is what they prefer between the sheets."

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The feminine mystique has wound up in a cul-de-sac. Columnist Maureen Dowd, who styles herself as one of the big boys at The New York Times, is posed in the newspaper's Sunday magazine as a fetching vixen in black mesh stockings and red stiletto heels, perched on a leopard-skin barstool. The tricks of the trade are back in fashion, and she's not above turning these tricks. "It was naive and misguided for the early feminist to tendentiously demonize Barbie and Cosmo girl, to disdain such female proclivities as shopping, applying makeup and hunting for sexy shoes and cute boyfriends, and to prognosticate a world where men and women dressed alike and worked alike in navy suits and were equal in every way," she writes. She finds it equally misguided for young women to fritter away all their time shopping for "boudoirish clothes" and "text-messaging about guys," while disdainfully ignoring "gender politics."

But the pendulum that swings to also swings fro, and women are weary of the feminized man who, in reaction to their demands, tries to make himself over into the sensitive female image. (Think Arlen Specter, who try as he might will never make enough amends for his tough questioning of Anita Hill.) Even Ken, who was dumped by Barbie years ago, is getting a masculine makeover by Mattel, the toy manufacturer, to make him more appealing. Yet, despite burnt bras and androgynous clothes, young women lose when they make over their bodies. A majority of women say they would rather look thinner than younger as they increasingly employ cosmetic surgery to aim for thin and young. More alarming, in one survey, elementary school girls say they would prefer to live through a nuclear holocaust, lose both of their parents or get sick with cancer rather than be fat.

Although abortion is often presented as a "woman's issue," the moral concerns over "the ethics of life" criss-cross both sexes. Women remain deeply (and almost evenly) split over pro-life/pro-choice concerns; large majorities continue to oppose partial-birth abortion. The vast majority of women are most interested in issues of health care, war, financial security and national security.

Whenever abortion comes up in the public debate over Supreme Court nominees, there's an assumption that how a judge "feels" about abortion will determine how he will find in a given case. But Judge Alito has already disproved that. While he wrote, in a dissent, that a woman should tell her husband before she has an abortion, he held against a ban on partial-birth abortion. The senators will question him again on these cases, but it's his judicial philosophy that requires attention. That's what women (and men) really should want to know.

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© 2005, Suzanne Fields, Creators Syndicate