What is a feminist? To some, feminists are a breed forever tarred as “bra burners”: radical left-wingers dedicated to the destruction of the family and the emasculation of American men, bull-dykes from central casting, abortion enthusiasts, latter-day kibbutzniks who want to turn their children over to someone else–usually the government–to raise, at no cost to themselves.

Even to people with more sense (and taste) than to take the manufactured hysteria of Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum “ladies” seriously, the scent of the left lingers around feminism. That’s largely due to the influence of the reliably statist National Organization for Women–the largest (at 250,000 members), most visible, and at least originally, most mainstream feminist organization. No matter what the issue–child care, jobs, health care, reproductive rights, gun-control legislation–NOW reliably plunks down on the left, calling for more taxes, more regulation, more government control. So does the “feminist leadership”: Gloria Steinem (an out-and-out socialist, if an unusually well-to-do example), Florence Kennedy, Eleanor Smeal, Karen DeCrow. All fall in with an intensely “progressive” agenda on almost any subject you’d care to name–and they dismiss women who don’t. Steinem calls new Texas senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson–who, while she is prochoice, had the poor judgment to run as a Republican–“a female impersonator” and says, “Having someone who looks like us but thinks like them is worse than having no one.”

But today avowed feminists turn up in almost all colors of the political spectrum. Some are former liberals who turned more conservative once they had something to conserve. Some are libertarians of differing degrees of dogmatism. And some are lifelong conservatives who simply know their own worth and expect to be accepted for their abilities, not their gender–one example is right-wing icon Schlafly, if only she had the honesty to admit it. These more libertarian/conservative feminists are grappling with the question that puts them most at odds with their liberal sisters: How can they advance the cause of women’s rights while limiting the extent to which government defines and enforces those rights?

I recently discussed this issue with two nonliberal women. Dr. Helen Heyden, 55, is a chiropractor practicing in Roselle who’s active in the Libertarian Party; last year she and a friend founded an organization called Free Market Feminists. She’s also a member of NOW. A widow, she has a 28-year-old daughter. Jill Horist, 37, is vice president and treasurer of a very conservative group, the United Republican Fund (her husband, Larry, is president), which works to influence public policy; she’s also chairman of public affairs for Thomas & Joyce, Inc., the Horists’ public-affairs and marketing company. She has business experience through her own marketing firm as well as her family’s business, a wholesale beverage distribution company. While Horist talks about the importance of the family, her own family is hardly traditional: it includes a 33-year-old Jamaican adopted daughter; two foster sons, ages 24 and 22; Larry’s 21-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter by a previous marriage; a 7-year-old “foster grandson”; and one newborn child of her own.

Bryan Miller: Perhaps we should start with “What is a feminist?” My great-grandmother was a suffragist. She also worked for the ERA. I worked for the ERA–we still don’t have the ERA. But while she was a feminist, she was also a rock-ribbed Republican who only referred to Democrats–like my great-grandfather–as “damned dirty Democrats.” I always had an image of a feminist as someone who’s working for women’s equality, who has the assumption of women’s equality, regardless of party affiliation. I left NOW ten years ago because they’d become the ladies’ auxiliary of the Democratic Party, as far as I could tell. Then I started discovering that what certain other people meant by “feminist” was “leftist twit.” So as a libertarian I started looking for alternative names, alternative phrases.

Helen Hayden: I call myself an ardent feminist–I’m not sure if I use the term the way other feminists do. I’m 55 and I grew up in the 40s and 50s, when discrimination against women was just unbelievable. So I’m still reacting to that–but I don’t want the government to come in and tell me what to do instead of a father or a husband or a son or some other male. I joined NOW to bring them alternative solutions. I think NOW does a great job of defining the problems, but I don’t agree with their solutions.

Jill Horist: I think NOW has gone so far to the left that every issue that has to do with women has now become part of the liberal Democratic agenda. It’s loaded with radicals. I’m glad you’re there, we need you there. But if enough people left saying “You’re not representing me,” NOW might have to wake up.

I agree that feminism means an assumption of equality and working toward that equality. Twenty years ago I started as a state officer with Future Homemakers of America. And people smirk–yes, your reactions are exactly the same reactions I get all the time. However, I went on to become a national program administrator with them. And we were one of the first groups to really deal with what equality was all about and the rights of women if they wanted to work outside the home.

I worked for the Title XX legislation that allowed women to take shop and boys to take Home Ec. And yet people have this idea that in feminism you are a man hater, you don’t like men, you’ve got to write laws to give women a break.

I think everybody is an individual, deserves respect, deserves fair treatment, and yes, equal rights and equal pay. I also believe that there is nothing wrong with being feminine. Yes, there has been incredible discrimination, and yes, we should continue to fight for the progress of individual freedom and let the doors be opened–but don’t mandate a law that the door is open because I’m a girl.

HH: I’d like to hit on something you just said, and that is individual freedom. I think what we forget in this country, and what the “chauvinists” forget, is that individual freedom is only half of the coin. The other half is the responsibility that goes with it. And that’s why I stick with NOW–because I don’t think they want to take responsibility for anything.

They always want the government to come in, and I think somebody’s got to say, “Wait a minute–there’s an alternative.” One of the reasons that we’re in such problems now is because of a lack of responsibility on the part of women. And I’m sure that would be shocking to NOW people.

I was listening to a talk show coming in, and it had to do with role models–the big athletes. And there’s some big baseball pitcher who chews tobacco and spits. And apparently all these Little League kids are chewing tobacco and spitting–and this is awful because there’s this epidemic of little boys running around chewing tobacco. The talk-show hosts are saying, “The fault is with the famous pitchers, because they’re chewing tobacco.” And my feeling is, wait a minute. Mom can say, “There will be no tobacco chewing.” These guys can get together and go to the Little League coach, and say, “Hey, we don’t want to have any tobacco chewing and spitting during the Little League practice and games.”

JH: When I was growing up, there wasn’t any mother in any house [in the neighborhood] who couldn’t have told me, “This is wrong,” or “That was bad.” And any one of the kids would have gotten into trouble if he didn’t listen to that mother–because she was respected, she was authority, and she knew what was right and what was proper. And if I disobeyed her, it would have been just like disobeying my own mother.

Today if you walk into a grocery store and there’s some kid doing something, I’m afraid to tell that kid to stop–for all you know, the parent might slap a lawsuit on me. There is no moral authority and respect; there are no clear-cut lines of what is right and what is wrong. I don’t want to offend you. Maybe you like to chew tobacco, and I’m going to offend you–and how dare I infringe on your freedom?

HH: There’s a difference between saying, “I think chewing tobacco is wrong, and I don’t want my kids to do it,” and saying, “Hey, your son cannot chew tobacco–that’s wrong.” You have definitely stepped over the line between taking responsibility and being authoritarian.

JH: But we’ve lost our clear-cut sense of what is right and what is wrong.

BM: We’ve cut out religion and don’t really have anything in its place–which is why some of the people whose religion seems to be liberal politics are trying to substitute the government for the church. I’m not convinced it’s an improvement.

HH: But it’s the same thing–government by authoritarian men in a patriarchal society.

BM: And if you let the government take care of things you can absolve yourself of personal responsibility?

HH: Absolutely. For some reason we think the government has experts who know more than we do–and yet if we stop and think of individual cases we know it’s totally incompetent. So why do we go with this big idea that the government can solve our problems?

BM: When people say the government should do such and such, I ask them, “Would it make you feel better to know that a given appliance has been rated safe by Underwriters Laboratories–which is a private organization–or the government?”

JH: I’ll take UL any day!

BM: So who is responsible for changing the meaning of what a feminist is from what my great-grandmother would have considered it to what it is today?

HH: How are you defining it today?

BM: I think that today it usually has a lot of statist baggage attached to it–just as you can’t call yourself a “humanist” anymore without being accused of being a table-pounding atheist.

HH: I guess I don’t buy that. I think a feminist is someone who says, “Hey, we are people and we have the same rights as other people.” Feminism maybe has been co-opted by the statists–

BM: I’m saying that the term has acquired baggage, baggage that implies that you are a statist–

HH: Are other people, the Rush Limbaughs of the world, shoving that baggage on us?

BM: I think the plastic-haired harpies of the far right have slapped that on us.

JH: I would say that it comes from both ends. Rush Limbaugh talks about “feminazis” and–I go back to the press. Any issue that is a woman’s issue becomes a portion of the liberal Democratic agenda in the liberal media. You get it in your papers, you get it on the news–

HH: Please. I don’t think the statists are trying to take over feminism.

JH: Well, they have. I mean, look at Gloria Steinem. I can’t agree with her on, I’d say, 80 percent of any issue. Ever. And [the news media] look to her on family issues–a woman who has never had any children of her own, a woman who has lived in a public fishbowl all her life. And this woman is touting what family policies should be about, what raising children is about, what relationships are about.

BM: Let’s identify some feminist issues and see what a free-market perspective can do with these, as opposed to what the standard statist result would be. Shall we start with child care?

HH: It used to be that child care was not an issue, partly because you could get a relative or a neighbor to look after your kid–nowadays it’s almost illegal to do that. They can’t have more than a certain number of kids, and they have to have a license from the county, and they have to pass a public-health inspection–I mean, it’s outrageous, this whole child-care thing. I think the free market could take care of it very well, but the government is so involved that the free market is basically illegal.

These child-care institutions are like something out of Charles Dickens. And the idea of having a baby and then at the age of three weeks putting it into an institution– I think women need to think that one through: “Exactly why am I having this kid, and what do I plan to do with it, and how do I plan to raise it, and who’s going to be responsible for it?” Babies unfortunately need care 24 hours a day for at least the first two years.

I don’t think women are making those decisions–that’s what bothers me. The whole thing about teenage pregnancies: we’re paying these girls to have babies, so of course they’re going to have them. If we stopped paying them, is that hard-hearted or is that common sense? If they’re not being paid, that’s going to force people to say, “Oh! If I’m going to have a baby, maybe I’d better plan to look after it economically.”

If people who are married decide to have kids and they also have to have two incomes, then the mom says, “Hey, I have a right to have the government pay for my child care.” But if Mom and Dad have planned in advance to have this kid, and put money aside, and realized that they’re not going to have two incomes when their expenses go up, or they’re only going to have one-and-a-half–but I don’t think people are doing that, because we’re being told that we’re entitled to free child care.

BM: Helen, you mentioned everybody being stuck at home and regimented when you were growing up in the 40s and 50s. I remember having one classmate when I was in second grade whose mother worked. We all felt sorry for her–it was a real economic necessity. We’re talking mostly middle-class women of course, but in those days you had to stay home with the kids. Now the pendulum has swung too far to the other side, so that you’re not fulfilled unless you are out with a career of your own. It would be nice if we could settle somewhere in the middle.

But there’s also been an economic change. Poor women always had to work, but they had the grandmothers, and the aunts, the extended families, to help take care of them. The government welfare system has pretty well destroyed the extended family in many ways, but we do have economic necessity, in the cost of housing, among other things, for more and more women to go out and work.

JH: But that goes back to the private sector’s responsibility to its employees. I’m an employer; 40 percent of my work force is women. In order to keep them as happy and healthy family members, there should be day care. And more and more corporations are trying to do it–but then the government gets in the way with their regulations: You’ve got to have this much space, and you can’t get that close to the road, and on and on and on. And the government gets in the way of the private sector truly assisting their employees in terms of making the child care accessible and a healthy environment for learning.

If you’re working in a high rise on Wacker Drive, it’d be real nice if you could go at lunchtime down to the fifth floor and take your kid over to the zoo for an hour if you wanted to. In terms of the cost to the employer if the child is sick or [the parents are] worried about the kid, it’s a phone call or an elevator ride down the stairs. I don’t think the government gives business enough credit for taking care of its employees.

HH: I think a lot of this goes back to the tax structure and to the concept of public schools. I think that the statist feminists say, “Hey! If the public is responsible for our kids from age 5 to 18, that responsibility should start earlier and include child care.” And I think that’s how they got into the idea that child care is an entitlement.

But I also think the government could take care of the problem of child care very easily by changing the tax code. One reason middle-class women feel forced to work is that our tax system is so outrageous–our individual taxes are so high, our property taxes are so high, our costs of goods and services are so high, because they’re all taxed and taxed and taxed and taxed. So if we just redid the income-tax system, I think we could take care of that.

BM: They could eliminate the marriage tax, which is scheduled to take a great leap forward under Mr. Clinton’s plan–the penalty for being married is about to get a lot bigger.

HH: There are three different proposals out there. One of them is privatizing social security by having the whole retirement system go into IRAs: you have your own money, and you invest it yourself, and you know how much you have to retire on. The second one is having individual medical accounts, so that health care is removed from both the employer and the government–I don’t think Hillary is interested, but the research on individual medical accounts is fantastic. The third idea is to have the same thing for education: that you can start putting money into your child’s education account or your grandchild’s education account. That would include child care, from birth on.

JH: And it’s all workable–

HH: And it would help our economy, because we’d leave this money invested in our private sector. I think the basis of this problem is the tax problem–and unfortunately the feminists work just the other way. I called up the League of Women Voters the other day because I wanted to read some of their national and state publications. Well, the state [group] has four projects they’re working on–and number one is to have a graduated income tax in Illinois, because Illinois as a state is underfunded. So they want to increase the taxes–because we don’t pay enough taxes in Illinois. They don’t call themselves a feminist organization, but they are–and they are big, big statists. I think it’s very sad that the rest of us women are letting them do that in our name.

JH: Well, people like us certainly aren’t letting them do it!

BM: Jill, I know a lot of people are going to ask, “How can you be a Republican and a feminist at the same time?” especially after the late, unfortunate Republican national convention, when the “big tent” collapsed.

JH: That’s a thing that, especially in the conservative wing of the Republican Party, is very unfortunate in terms of image and image projection. In the Democratic Party women have had to fight for their leadership positions. And in the Republican Party, women have–I’m not saying it’s been shoulder to shoulder all the way along–but there’s been respect for the individual.

BM: Perhaps there used to be. Is there now?

JH: I think so. I think the convention got a lot of bad press. I was not there, but I’ve talked to people who were. Why do you say the tent collapsed?

BM: The Republican tolerance, the coalition building of recent years, seemed to go away. You had the Schlaflyites triumphant with a hard-right agenda–litmus tests on things like abortion.

JH: So how can I say I’m a feminist and a Republican? Because I believe in equal pay for equal work, I believe in individual rights, I believe in a woman’s ability to do what she needs to do–

HH: Tell me about equal pay for equal work.

JH: In what regard?

HH: What does that mean, and how does one fulfill it? What are your steps to attain that?

JH: If there are two people, one a man and one a woman, coming in for the same job, there shouldn’t be any difference in pay.

HH: I’m interested in the word “should.” I’ve heard you say “should” several times today. “Should” means somebody’s imposing this. Do you want that rule to be federal law?

JH: No! I don’t believe that kind of thing can be mandated.

HH: So how are you going to get it accomplished? That’s my question. I’m not trying to put you on the defensive, but this is a question I’ve always had for equal pay for equal work. I think it’s a great ideal, but I don’t know how to have it come about.

JH: You have a job description, and the job description has a salary on it. The salary doesn’t change if you’re black or white or you’re a girl or you’re a boy, or–

HH: The ABC Bank says, “We only hire women as subtellers, and they are only paid X for this job. But in this job of supertellers, we only hire men, at this salary, and then they progress on to higher positions.” This is apparently what went on in banks a lot 20 years ago. It’s not a written law. It’s just the way things have been done. So my question is, How are you going to change this?

BM: How are you going to enforce it?

HH: The feminists want to pass laws and make it mandatory. I have problems with that. I think the goal is wonderful. My question is, how are we going to get there?

JH: It goes to the root of how the whole system works. You cannot look to the government to legislate it.

HH: But women are going to ask for this. They’re gonna picket–which is what they’ve done–and when there’s blatant discrimination they’re going to go to court. And they get court rulings, but court rulings are based on laws. So we have to make a lot of noise to get the public to agree with it.

JH: Women started their own banks for that very reason, so that they could be commensurate in the marketplace in terms of a way to compete and bring up the salaries. If enough women get together, there has to come a time–

HH: So it’s an educational process–

JH: It’s education and morality and ethics–

HH: Unions can certainly be very helpful.

JH: Don’t get me started on unions! They want everything to be done in a mandated way and only for the good of themselves. They served their purpose in breaking ground, but unions today are dinosaurs that threaten the whole system–

HH: So that’s very similar to what feminism did. It started out presenting the problem, defining the problem, but then coming up with a statist solution.

BM: Helen, I think it’s time to pick on you and NOW. I used to be an active member of NOW–in fact, I was a cofounder of the chapter in the town where I went to college, and I rode the smoke-filled bus to Springfield to lobby for the ERA on several occasions. But I quit when it became too obvious that they were favoring male Democrats over female Republicans who were right on feminist issues. The one that tore it for me was when NOW supported Millicent Fenwick’s opponent for the Senate–I thought that was inexcusable. So I sent her campaign the money for my renewal, and I wrote to both saying what I was doing. I never did hear anything from NOW, but I got a lovely handwritten note from Representative Fenwick.

HH: When we had our Free Market Feminists booth at NOW, we offered the libertarian political quiz–I didn’t think to bring a copy with me, but it says that the political spectrum is not right/left. It is two-dimensional, with social issues being free or statist and economic issues being free or statist. If you’re profreedom on both that’s the libertarian/free-market quadrant, and if you’re prostatist on both that’s the socialist or populist or progressive or statist quadrant. And then there’s the little centrist quadrant in the middle.

What was so interesting was that the greatest majority of the people who took it were on the liberal-libertarian corner, and many of them were very libertarian. It’s a ten-question questionnaire, and the two questions that held back many of the people were “Do you believe that taxes are too high?”–and many of them said no, because they don’t understand how we can function without the government having the money to do so many things–and the other one was “Should we get rid of the minimum-wage laws?” And they said no, because they didn’t understand how you could function with less than minimum wage. They don’t understand the free market.

These were NOW people from around the United States who had come to this national convention, and they had very libertarian leanings. So I think it’s wrong to say that NOW is a statist organization.

BM: Is this a preemptive strike to keep me from asking you how you can justify being a member of NOW? [Laughter.]

HH: The spokespeople are statist, but not these members. They just don’t know what the alternatives are.

JH: I think that’s the problem in a lot of organizations–that oftentimes the leadership has a different agenda than the membership, that they don’t necessarily bring forth the voice of the membership.

HH: But NOW is the only place women have to go! We don’t have an alternative.

JH: The leadership doesn’t always carry the mantle of the membership’s feelings.

HH: So we can take one of two choices. We can infiltrate and help change what the leadership says, or we can form another organization.

JH: Which basically is what you and I do. You’ve started your organization, and you work with NOW and the Libertarians. I work within the conservative wing of the Republican Party. And, you know, I sat in with the board of directors [of the URF], a whole bunch of men–and they elected me the treasurer of the fund.

BM: Oh, they always stick women with being secretaries and treasurers.

JH: But it’s a substantial fund!

HH: How come you weren’t elected president and your husband wasn’t elected treasurer?

JH: Basically it reflects our own strengths and talents. I have a strong financial background; he has a strong public-policy background.

I’d like to say that we are a very grass-roots organization, and we get our directions from the 36,000 people who are our members. Our leadership does not report to any politicians, and we reflect what our members want. And if the members of NOW feel differently than their leaders, they have to tell them so.

HH: I would like to see every libertarian woman join NOW and start being an effective voice. That may not happen. [Laughter.]

I have a libertarian friend who joined the League of Women Voters, and she was active in that for several years, trying to do exactly the same thing I’m doing at NOW. And every few years she throws up her hands, gives up, and quits. And then she goes back and tries again. But I don’t think that most people out there realize that the League of Women Voters is a very statist- oriented organization. They have an aura of being very neutral.

JH: They’re very quickly leaving that aura behind them, taking an active role in suing the state of Washington regarding term limits. I think more people are starting to see that the League of Women Voters definitely has an opinion.

BM: Let’s talk a little about reproductive rights. Even when I was in NOW, there were ardent feminists who opposed abortion; they were fighting a very uphill battle.

HH: I think there’s two things we have to talk about when we talk about abortion. One is being for or against abortion itself; the other is having the option to have one or not. And I think there are lots of people that, for themselves, do not like abortion and say they would never have one–but they definitely don’t want the government coming in and saying, “Hey, that option is closed to you forever and ever.” So I think you can be antiabortion–and prochoice.

JH: I disagree with that!

HH: But I think there are a lot of people that are–particularly in my generation, where the only abortions available in the 40s and 50s were back-alley. And if you give government the power to prohibit abortion, then you’re giving government control over abortion, period. So not only do they have the power to prohibit it, they have the power to mandate it, which is what’s happened in China. We may think that will never happen here, but you don’t know what may happen 100 years from now. It’s very possible that the population-control people could be in power and say, “You’re only allowed to have one child in your life or two children,” and after that enforce abortions.

BM: So you think there should be no restrictions at all? Or does the government get to say you can’t have an abortion two weeks before your baby’s due?

HH: That’s not an abortion. That is a delivery.

JH: That’s murder.

HH: Part of the problem is that no one knows when viability is. The other question is “When does life start?” And that’s a personal, moral, and ethical decision–definitely not scientific. So until those two things are defined, how can there be government rules and regulations?

BM: I can tell you that once I crossed the line into what is theoretically “viable,” where it’s no longer just a miscarriage but an extremely premature birth, I got very nervous. I think about it every day. A child born at six months or so is going to have horrible, horrible medical problems that are going to stay with that child forever–but they can keep it alive. Does the government have the right to take the choice of whether to preserve that life or let it go out of our hands?

HH: Your choice is whether you’re going to go see a physician at that point or whether you’re going to stay home.

BM: Obviously, if you’ve got this far into the pregnancy you want to have this baby. You want to save it if you can. But you’ve got these regulations–and these are right-wing regulations–that are going to compel you to keep this child alive, whether you think it’s right or not.

HH: Well, this is something you’d have to discuss with your doctor–and if you go to a hospital you need to know what their rules and regulations are, because it’s the hospital that’s going to make that decision. And if they decide to force you to keep that baby alive, they’ll go to the government or to a judge to enforce it.

JH: It is not a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. It is her responsibility not to get pregnant. Period. I can understand it in cases of rape, or incest, or the endangerment of the woman’s life–and only in the earliest, earliest, earliest points. I think anything beyond that–well, abortion is murder.

HH: I’d like to discuss “the woman has to take the responsibility not to get pregnant.”

JH: And her partner. Together they need to take that responsibility. They need to discuss–

HH: It’s only women that get pregnant. It is not men. There are no absolute, 100 percent birth-control methods, with the exception of sterilization, which is not really a birth-control method. So what does this mean as far as women’s sexual activity is concerned? Before Roe v. Wade, women had to take responsibility for not getting pregnant. There were birth-control methods, but they didn’t work any better than they do now. And you can be very responsible and still get pregnant. Does that mean that if a woman does not want to get pregnant she cannot be sexually active?

JH: You’re right: there is nothing that’s 100 percent.

BM: And that’s a case of government overregulation and a litigious society keeping effective drugs from being developed.

JH: But you can get shots and patches and things that take care of it for five years.

HH: How effective are they? And what do they do to your health? And how many late abortions are there? Statistically, I think there are very, very few.

BM: Again, you get into questions of private morality and personal responsibility. You oppose abortion, which is a perfectly legitimate point of view. But you want to have the government saying whether or not you can do this. You want to have the government saying whether or not you have to keep a damaged child alive. I think that’s more the question for us: you can have individual morality, but can we make our own decisions–or is government going to make them for us? Is government going to forbid this, or are you going to try to teach people that this behavior is wrong? Are we going to keep people alive by government fiat, or are we going to let families make these excruciating choices for themselves?

JH: I think the government’s place would be to stay out of it, as far as they can. I would prohibit most abortions–

HH: Wait a minute. How can the government stay out of it and still prohibit abortions?

JH: My husband and I have this conversation all the time. I do believe that there is way too much latitude of under what circumstances a woman can have an abortion.

BM: Let’s talk about business for a moment. What should the government’s role be in terms of things like hiring and promotions? I think that all of us are agreed that women have a right to be in the business world, and have a right to fulfilling careers, and should not be held back because they have double-X chromosomes–but where do we go from there?

HH: I think the government has the right to make laws regarding the government and government employment, and saying that these are standards for federal employees, congressional employees–

BM: Yes, but Congress always exempts itself from the employment laws it imposes on others.

HH: Yes, and I thoroughly disagree with that. And I don’t think the federal government has any right whatsoever to legislate what goes on in private contracts. I don’t think the state government does either. I definitely don’t like double standards for men and women, but I sure as the devil don’t want the government intervening in that.

BM: So how do we guarantee that we will not see cases like that following World War II: Rosie the Riveter gets sent back home so that GI Joe can take her job. “He’s a man. He has a family to support. He needs the job.” How do we ensure that people are not discriminated against merely for who they are?

HH: Well, they have been, forever and ever. I think Ruth Ginsburg is a great example of that–she went to law school and then couldn’t get a job in a law firm. That was very common when I was growing up. Having the government enforce equal employment within the government, that makes tremendous competition with the private sector–they can suck up all the top-notch women. It also shows that women can perform these jobs and do outstanding jobs. I don’t think the laws are what have made the change in the last 30 years. I think we’ve done it despite the laws.

JH: In terms of ensuring nondiscrimination, I think that people left to their own devices can be very creative. Women have gone into being independent business owners–starting their own companies, becoming consultants, entrepreneurs–to meet their needs, both economically and personally.

I think we’ve made some excellent strides, and I think there’s enough social conscience now among corporate entities to look at the best person for the job. Does discrimination still exist? I’m sure it does. Are there more opportunities for that woman to move not laterally but up in competing corporations? Yeah. Because these people who are bottom-line oriented don’t care what kind of pants a guy or a gal wears. If she or he can bring in the jobs, the bucks, the money, increase the productivity, decrease the expenditures, they’ll hire her.

BM: How do free-market economics apply to feminism? Helen, how has NOW received you on economic issues?

HH: I can bring up free-market and libertarian ideas. I pass petitions around, and they sign ’em. I don’t argue with them about their statist concepts. I present other alternatives. I don’t make them wrong.

JH: I think women need to realize how much they benefit, and can benefit, from free enterprise. We’ve made great strides in the last two decades because of healthy competition.

BM: When I first started writing I did most of my work for the local newspaper in Oak Park, including a lot of little advertising stories–buy the ad, get the free article–and I was really amazed by the high proportion of women owners of small businesses. Do you think this is a better route for women than the corporate route?

JH: Yes, but the government is suffocating small business as a whole with taxes and regulations. So which is better for a woman? It depends on her own goals and stamina. It’s an excellent place to start, but it’s a heck of a place to try to stay alive right now.

BM: What are the regulations that are hurting small business?

JH: They tax them the same way they tax Amoco. Even the family-leave bill. Do I believe that people should have time off to have their child, and be home with their child, and not be discriminated against? Yes. My company had 46 people in it. I didn’t have to give any family leave. Did I do it as a personal thing? Yes, but. When you get past 50 employees you have to give it. I have no incentive to hire the next 5 people, because those 5 people, even under an expansion program, can’t possibly bring in the kind of revenue to support what it’s gonna cost to take care of all those government regulations.

BM: Another area that has concerned many feminists is pornography. Many women would like to see it banned, although I’m not quite sure how the lines of definition would be drawn. Where do you stand on this?

HH: I don’t want to see the government involved in anything. I can handle pornography. I think it’s gross, so I ignore it. It doesn’t interfere in my life. I haven’t seen anything that would indicate a relationship between pornography and rape. I don’t think it’s been proven one way or the other. I don’t want the government to use my taxes to go chasing people who choose to watch pornographic movies.

BM: Would you keep it illegal to involve children in pornography?

HH: Yes.

BM: What about real crime–as opposed to victimless crime–as a women’s issue?

HH: I think it’s a gigantic one. It’s the women-as-victims thing–women are not as strong as men, women are more submissive than men, therefore women make easier targets than men. I go back to when Golda Meir was prime minister of Israel and there was an epidemic of attacks against women. And so the Knesset said, “Oh, this is terrible! We’ll have to have a curfew. All women will have to be off the streets by 9 PM.” And she said, “The women are not creating these problems–it’s the men! If there’s going to be a curfew, men will be off the streets by 9 PM!” And there was no more talk of curfews.

I think we as women must take that responsibility. I like the idea of women taking self-defense classes, learning how to defend themselves physically and emotionally. I would say that women definitely must have the right to keep and bear arms.

I found interesting reactions from other women to some self-defense courses. Unfortunately, it was men who taught them–how to attack and hurt and maim men–a very strange situation. One of the things they say is “Go for the eyes, go for the nose, break his nose, go for the knee, break his knee. Do major damage!” And everybody goes “Eewwww!” So we’ve spent all this time saying “Yes, they’re our bodies. We do have the right to make boundaries and say absolutely no one has the right to touch us or molest us or hit us or take from us our possessions. And yes, we do have the right to use every possible means to defend ourselves, even if that means maiming them.” But the idea that it takes hours to train a woman to think that she has a right to self-defense, I think that shows that our self-esteem is very, very low.

We have the right to fight back, and it makes no difference whether it’s a prank or organized crime or a poor person or a druggie. We have to define these boundaries–that in our society we have the right to walk anywhere and not be molested.

JH: I think we have the right to walk where we want to, but we ought to have the mind enough not to walk anywhere.

HH: For example?

JH: We used to live in Lincoln Park, and I would not drive down the middle of Cabrini-Green at one o’clock in the morning.

BM: Should you be able to walk down the sidewalk in your own neighborhood at one o’clock in the morning without fear of molestation?

JH: Absolutely. But there is a physical difference. If somebody came up and attacked me right now, I can’t move very well. [Horist is in the third trimester of pregnancy.] I might be able to poke somebody’s eyes out, but I could be very quickly taken down.

HH: What about an elderly woman who goes to the store and walks home carrying her bags or pulling her little cart?

JH: What about her?

BM: She’s even more immobilized than we, in our blimplike states of pregnancy, are.

HH: She probably can’t poke anybody’s eyes out. She probably can’t break anybody’s kneecap.

JH: So what are you saying?

HH: Does she have the right to defend herself against an attack? And if so, by what methods?

JH: You think she should be able to pull out her .45 and blow the guy’s head off? I have a problem with concealed weapons–

HH: Well, unconceal ’em. Walk down the street holding it. Put it in your holster. They’ve got these things that are like fanny packs, only you wear them on your belly instead. And you’ve got an extra pouch that’s all velcro, and you stick your gun in it. It’s for men and women. And you just rip this open and pull it out–and it’s very obvious that you’d better not touch me!

JH: So where do you draw a line?

HH: Oh, I don’t. I don’t. If it’s not safe for teens to be walking home after dark, then their parents are going to have to pick them up or you’re going to have to have an escort service. But I object to escort services! My daughter went to a women’s college, and the way they dealt with this was that every woman had a whistle. You were only allowed to blow your whistle if you were in trouble–you could never blow it as a prank or for any other reason. If you ever heard a whistle blowing, you ran immediately to offer help. And they recommended that at night women only walk in twos and threes around campus.

But they also had an escort service. And if you were at the library or the lab late and you didn’t have anybody to walk home with, you called the dorm–and there were a lot of men students [from a nearby college] who sat in the lobby of the dorm and did their homework every night. If a woman called in and needed an escort, then this male student would walk to where she was and walk home with her.

As a feminist, I have a lot of problems with that. Number one, that teaches women that they can’t look after themselves–they’re dependent on a man. It teaches men that single women are prey that they can go get–but if there’s a man with ’em they have to leave them alone. I think it would have been much better if the women in that dorm had formed escort services, and two women had gone out to get that other woman. I have a lot of problems with the fact that women in our society are acceptable victims.

JH: Well, crime is crime is crime, whether it’s against a woman or a man.

HH: The question is, What is the free-market solution to crime against women?

JH: I don’t think we should arm men either. I don’t think the general population has enough sense, is emotionally and mentally equipped to have guns–

BM: How elitist.

HH: So how are we going to defend ourselves?

JH: I don’t think it’s with a gun. You talk about the self-defense classes–you don’t put yourself in the situation where you’re in danger.

HH: So there’s nothing you can do about it.

JH: Whether you’re a man or a woman, the first thing they tell you is, if you meet a mugger give him your wallet, give him your money.

HH: That’s not what they tell you if you take self-defense classes.

JH: But the regular answer is, “Give him what he wants and he’ll go away.”

BM: If he’ll do that. With women, frequently they won’t. And what if what he wants is you dead?

HH: One of the big questions is the role of the police. We tend to think that the police can prevent crime, and I think that’s not what the police are all about. They’re there to mop up the problem after it’s already happened. It’s our responsibility to prevent crime on us.

I think it all comes down to personal responsibility–in all the things we’ve discussed. And I think our willingness to accept that responsibility is what sets us apart from some other feminists. We’ve got to show them the alternatives, the solutions, and let them know that the government’s solution to a problem is not always the best.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/John Figler.