Young women who are editing university law reviews, conducting breast cancer research and organizing rape-crisis centers opened Feminist Expo 2000 yesterday with a tribute to leaders in the women's movement who helped pave their way.
Among those recognized was Betty Friedan, who told the crowd at the Baltimore Convention Center that the fight facing young women is about balancing demands of their work lives and details of their private ones.
"There's got to be a whole new look and a whole new vision where the responsibilities of life are shared equally by the people who work, who are women and men," said Friedan, whose 1963 book "The Feminine Mystique" became a manifesto for the modern women's-rights movement.
Friedan said the gains of the almost four decades since hold out the promise that women will master that balance.
"We had to invent what we were doing, and we're still inventing it," she said.
At this weekend's wide-ranging conference, feminists also are seeking to reinvigorate the movement. Organizers hope to influence this year's presidential race and to help advance policy issues ranging from repression of women in Afghanistan to gun control in the United States.
About 6,000 participants are expected at the conference, which runs through tomorrow. Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said the crowds were expected to build during the three days of the conference.
Organizers want the leading presidential candidates to pay attention to the issues discussed this weekend, but neither Democrat Al Gore nor Republican George W. Bush was invited to speak.
Smeal said Hillary Rodham Clinton was invited in her role as first lady -- not as Senate contender -- but she declined.
"She's campaigning in New York," Smeal said. "And this is not New York."
More than 500 women's groups are co-sponsoring the event along with the Smeal organization. About 630 speakers and presenters are expected, and more than 100 round tables are planned.
Some panel discussions got under way yesterday. Participants pored over topics such as "Developing a Feminist Foreign Policy" and "Who's Behind Right Wing Women's Organizations?"
But much of the activity was in the Convention Center halls, where women talked to each other in small circles or tried to track each other down with messages posted in bright pink paper on a central board. One began: "Looking for Lost Sister "
Plenty of veterans of the women's movement were on hand, including Ms. magazine founder Gloria Steinem and Friedan.
Actress Tyne Daly, who stars in the CBS television series "Judging Amy," is attending the conference. Acknowledging that she is part of the old guard of the movement, Daly joked, "I come representing feminism from back in the 1900s.
"We believed that if you change the lives and rights of women, you change the world," Daly said more seriously. "And I still believe that." But like the presenters at the afternoon's opening ceremony, many of the faces in the crowd were young ones.
DeSales Linton, 42, and Danielle Jablonski, 21, who are starting a small feminist film company in New York, came to the conference in part to get a better understanding of the young women they hope will make up their audiences.
"I'm happy to see all the young faces," Linton said. "Pleasantly surprised."
In many ways, attendees such as Linton embody the successes of the women's movement. Linton, who grew up in Baltimore, attended Maryvale Preparatory School for Girls in Brooklandville and coached sports there early in her career.
She attended law school and was a civil rights attorney in Washington. But Linton wanted to find a more direct way to spur social change. So she enrolled in film school at New York University.
"I could write all the articles for law review I wanted, but what really changes kids' lives is the popular culture," she said.
Promotional materials for her new film company, in*site!, begin, "If you think girls can be heroes, boys don't have to be John Wayne, violence is bad, meaningful entertainment is good, join the media evolution."
Smeal said those kinds of career and family choices young women are able to make today ought to put to rest persistent media questions about whether feminism is dead.
"I hope by the end of this [conference], everyone will see how ridiculous the question is," she said.