"Women in power are mean to each other, thinking probably that they are doing it the man's way . . . Men would be happy to pass on the work of the world to women and lie on the couch dozing."
If that sounds like the wit and wisdom of a Henry VIII or the Ayatollah Khomeini, it's not. It's old -- no, young -- Harry Reasoner, who spoke those words on network TV only a dozen or so years ago.
Reasoner uses those now unfashionable remarks to introduce "CBS Reports: The Trouble With Women" tonight at 8 on Channel 9.
Avoiding official feminist dogma, and steering clear of polemics, Reasoner and producer Janet Roach make this hour a personal, straight-forward, good-humored essay on the boons and banes of sexual evolution.
Glorida Steinem may get a passing reference, but the focus here is on mainstream women and how they have been affected by all the changes that have taken place since those dark ages when Harry Reasoner was a male chauvinist pig.
Reasoner and the cameras follow several women around, all of them seemingly representative of the prevailing winds of change. They work, talk, and try to maintain a properly raised consciousness while still playing some of the old traditional roles.
The program centers around four working women: an insurance-company vice president, a composer-lyricist, a TV writer-producer and an office worker. Their attitudes range from doctrinaire feminism to secular revelations of self-discovery.
The most intriguing of the self-discoverers is Irene Agee, a 52-year-old Baltimore widow who found independence only after her husband of 30 years had died. The man was a "bully" she confesses to Reasoner, and says, "If I did feel equal, it had to be in my own thoughts. I dared not say it or even show it in front of him."
The big moment for her came one night after her husband's death, when she returned home and slammed the door. That slamming became a symbolic gesture: "I kicked a couple of chairs as I went through and didn't even care if they fell over." She recalls thinking, "Hey, this is swell: I can do what I want to."
Now Irene attends workshops at the Displaced Homemakers Center in Baltimore. Indeed, one of the points that the program makes is that there now seem to be centers for group discusssions of practically everything -- even such intimate matters as whether or not a couple should have a baby.
For example, one working woman is seen attempting to placate and divert her little boy before going off to face the day at the office. Scenes like this capture some of the complexities of women's changing identities. Reasoner also visits the hit off-Broadway show "I'm Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road," where tenets of feminism are made manageable and amusing.
Effortless insights brighten the hour. Some women reflect changes that are taking place but are just now being verbalized. It's intriguing to hear people like Nancy Graham, expressing a new version of love American-style: "I had a wonderful life being single. I knew a whole variety of men. But they weren't the kind of men that you'd make a home with. vNow the kind of man that you have an affair with, and the kind of man you marry to settle down and have a home with, are completely different."
The words are familiar enough. Only the sexes have been changed.