Lately when I talk about gender, I am often confronted with the message that women’s equality has already been achieved. A colleague may provide this insight, or a complete stranger waiting in a grocery line. But the thought was most succinctly expressed by a student who grew impatient with my activism. “I don’t understand,” she declared. “Women have gotten just about everything they wanted. Don’t they see that the time for militancy is over?” Perhaps this response should come as no surprise. The battle for the Equal Rights Amendment has been lost, but in salient ways our society seems to have grown more hospitable toward women. Buttressed by the Supreme Court’s endorsement of affirmative action,2 many women have become full-time participants in the workforce. Community property laws flourish in several states. Both candidates in the recent Presidential election actively sought the support of women voters.
Advocates of gender equality, however, do not mistake these changes for the full achievement of our goals. Many crucial problems remain: formal equality prevents many women from attaining fair divorce and custody settlements, the feminization of poverty continues unabated, and outdated sexual stereotypes impede our society’s ability to prosecute rape.’ Moreover, most feminists see the challenges ahead as qualitatively different tasks, which will require the adoption of new analytical tools.