woman walking
Photo: Gregg Segal
What the world needs now, if you ask Gail Collins, is a new wave of feminism. Of course, she'll understand if you want to call it something else.
A while back, I read a lot of very old books and magazines to see what people in the past imagined life would be like in our current era.

They thought it would be terrific! Almost everyone who was in the predicting business in 1900 believed that by now humankind would have abolished both poverty and boring chores. H.G. Wells thought we would have self-cleaning windows, and in 1950 Popular Mechanics announced that by now we'd all be living in plastic houses with waterproof furniture so that the housewife of 2000 could do her daily cleaning with a garden hose. The dishes would melt, so you could wash them down the drain after meals.

You can see why I don't spend a whole lot of time trying to envision the future. But that doesn't mean I can't wish.

Over the years, I've often wished for a woman in the Oval Office. But being president is such an important and impossible job—imagine if you had to pay off a gazillion-dollar debt and defend against the gravest security threats in human history and wrestle with a Congress so petty that its members have started to take their balls and go home, all while managing to squeeze in a weekly date night with your spouse—that I now content myself with wishing simply for a good one. If that turns out to be a woman, all the better.

I also wish someone would invent a television that required only one clicker.

And I wish that sometime soon there would be a women's movement again. I know there's a theory that young women aren't interested in this sort of thing, but that's absolutely wrong. Many women do have trouble with the word feminism, but that's been true throughout all of American history, except for about two minutes around 1969. People think it means being anti-man or wearing really unattractive shoes. If we could just change feminism's name to Fred, everything would be fine.

What does feminism mean now?
Well, almost everything. There's actually another difficulty with starting a new women's movement: The Great Cause it would be fighting for isn't immediately obvious. Sure, there are plenty of big problems out there: Too much pressure on working mothers. Not enough job flexibility. And women aren't making enough of the decisions in our political system. (We need a House and Senate where women have a critical mass. Not because it looks more seemly but because virtually everything works better when both sexes work on it together.) Yet as far as inspiring a national movement goes, these wrongs aren't as blatant—or as compelling—as the one faced by women at Newsweek back when the magazine decreed that the men did all the writing while the women did all the research.

But if it's blatant we need, the world is happy to oblige. Our Great Cause could be absolute zero tolerance for violence against women (refusing a marriage proposal shouldn't be grounds for having acid thrown in your face, and, honestly, what part of "restraining order" do people not get?). Or an end to international slave trafficking for the sex trade. Or equal rights to an education for girls in every country around the globe. Not to mention solutions to the nuclear arms race, global warming, genocide, and all the other challenges that are ours because they're everybody's.

Women of my generation often say they wish younger women knew what we went through back in the day, when we were fighting so hard for our rights. But if you ask me, we had a great time. There's nothing more wonderful than being out with your comrades, protesting something that is clearly, patently, obviously wrong, or agitating for something that is clearly, patently, obviously right. You have solidarity and self-satisfaction and the knowledge that history is on your side, all wrapped up in one package. And the people who are out there with you will probably be your friends for life—no matter how streaky your non-self-cleaning windows may get.

Gail Collins is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times. Her latest book, When Everything Changed (Little, Brown), charts the history of American women over the past 50 years.

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