Years of the Woman


Chicago.--The year 1992 was billed as the Year of the Woman. But 1993 was just as good a year for women, and there is no reason to think 1994 will not be the same. Every year for some time to come will be a Year of the Woman. The floodgates have been opened. Talents long suppressed or contained or narrowly channeled are freed to receive deserved recognition.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is one symbol of this -- yet we make a mistake if we think of her as exceptional in her professional background. A number of current political figures have lawyers for wives -- Tom Harkin, Bruce Babbitt, Paul Tsongas, even Dan Quayle. Politics is going to be an entirely different game with spouses who are professional people with careers of their own. And it works both ways -- the lawyer-spouse is a husband in Ruth Bader Ginsburg's case.

Look back over 1993. The winner for the Nobel Prize for literature was a woman, Toni Morrison. So was the winner of the most prestigious medal at the Cannes Film Festival, Jane Campion. It was a good time for the poets. Maya Angelou wrote the Clinton inaugural poem. Rita Dove is the poet laureate. The National Book Award for poetry went to Mary Oliver.

Bill Clinton at first seemed to strike out in his effort to appoint women to office -- Zoe Baird, Kimba Wood, Lani Guinier. (Their exotic names made James Carville say God may want more Jane Smiths in office.) But Mr. Clinton prevailed at length. The current star of his administration is Hazel O'Leary, who is turning around the whole government ethos of secrecy by uncovering the radiation experiments of the past.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg breaks a stream of Republican nominations to the Supreme Court. Other women in the administration have substantive jobs and are far from figureheads -- Janet Reno, the first woman attorney general; Joycelyn Elders, the first woman surgeon general; Donna Shalala, secretary of health and human services. Madeleine Albright is our ambassador to the United Nations, Carol Browner the head of the EPA, Alice Rivlin a deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Laura Tyson the director of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Democrats do not have a lock on this development. Recent winners in big elections were Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Texas Senate race and Christine Todd Whitman in the New Jersey governor's contest.

No wonder some people are saying that women expect too much, are being favored, are advancing beyond their deserts. New codes of behavior, of professional courtesy and proper deference, are not adopted without grumbling from those who felt entitled to sole possession of a society's honors. But the rubs and frictions will work themselves out in time. There is no stopping half the human race now that it is earning its belated due. It is always, now, a Year of the Woman.

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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