IS IT THE FUN of peeking into someone else's life or the hope of finding oneself that makes case histories so readable? Show me the first of the Hundred Neediest Cases and I'm hooked for the other 99, which is why I like the format of Ellen Goodman's first book-a study of how dozens of American women (and a handful of men) have changed as a result of the feminist movement.
It's told in a series of real-life stories. Take the one about Cassie who has a case of "New Housewife Blues." (She feels left out and defensive because she's staying home to take care of her three small children.) Then there's Jesse who joined a "consciousness-raising group" and took off-leaving in her words, "the little children and little husband and the boredom and diapers" to become a painter (well, partly a painter but mostly a waitress). In between Cassie and Jesse is the vast majority of moderates-Goodman calls them "middlegrounders"-Who want to sample the new choices for women but without messing up their private lives. Evelyn, for example, is following what Goodman calls the "new life-cycle pattern." She stayed home when her children were little, went back to college when they went to school and is now doubling as housewife and social worker. "She's not, as she says, "Wendy Wife anymore."
By now, these born-again dramas are not exactly news. We've heard them all before-Oh Lord how often. And anyway, what really interests Goodman is not the novelty but how these people have been transformed. She tries to pin down and dissect the slippery process of change by using labels like "change resister," "change innovator" and Shuttle Zone"-her phrase for the ambivalence people feel when moving on to something new.
To me, the value of her book lies less in the calibration of change than in the raw research, the vivid anecdotes with which these women and men describe their lives. There's enough front-line reporting of the sexual revolution here top keep you thinking a long time about who is winning, who is losing and who the casualties are.
Some interesting theme songs-like Wanting It All-run through the interviews. "Out only problem," says Carolyn, a law student, married to David, another law student, "is that we have so many choices, and that we're greedy. We want it all." The possibilities are mouthwatering to those of us who missed out on this smorgasbord. up for grabs today is law school or medical school or the corporate ladder or government service or a (ew deal" marriage (that's the kind with two equal careers) or splitting child care or-no children at all. Except that it's not as easy as it sounds. Chris and Aaron Have It All: they both work as city planners; they have a baby; they divide the bedtime stories and the breakfast dishes. They also have "more hassles that our parents did," says Chris. "My father had the work hassles, my mother had the home hassles, but we have both of them. We have no time. I mean . . . no time."
Haven Help Me From Becoming Like My Mother is the recurring lament of these true confessions. "I was terrified of becoming my mother," says one young woman. "I always have this feeling one false step and I will be my mother," says another. "I'm afraid to be like her and I'm afraid to be too much unlike her," says a third. Allyson was so frightened of becoming like her mother-an alcoholic with seven children-that she had herself sterilized at 22. Sometimes you begin to think these new "achievers" can't go out and achieve until they first wipe out Mom who stayed at home-Mom, who must have been as bright as they are (where did these kids come from after all?) but was "screwed by a society that told her to put all her marbles in the family basekt," as one daughter says with metaphorical abandon. Wiping out Mom can be a tricky business. "I've never . . . asked her if she feels her life was wasted," says one young woman. "I don't want to hear her say yes . . . Because I'm the one she wasted it on."
Husbands catch so much flak in these case histories that when I got to page 245 and read that the "best part about being a housewife. . . (is) being married to a man I really like," I thought for a minute the printer must have dropped some words.
Ellen Goodman fans will miss the light touch of her newspaper columns in this rather solemn treatise. Maybe writing about women who go from moth to butterfly (or butterfly to moth, as one former sex object describes her metamorphosis) is a sobering experience. Mercifully, she avoids the worst of the jargon that sets your yeeth on edge in studies like this. But not all. I'd been crossing my fingers that I'd make it to the end without once reading the words "role model." No such luck. They surfaced on page 32 and reappeared five more times before I stopped counting.
The returns aren't all in on where we are as a result of the feminist movement, but when the definitive work is written, it will owe much to the solide research and reporting of books like Turning Points . CAPTION: Picture, Ellen Goodman