BRAD LEMLEY'S last wrote for The Magazine about A. P. Thomson's apple orchard.
ELEANOR SMEAL has a low-octane, cruising-speed anger that propels her through her working day as president of the National Organization for Women. It is manifested in a loud voice and large gestures. Now, for example, she is at the podium delivering a high-decibel denunciation of politicians who oppose abortion rights -- many of them, she cries, are only interested in "maintaining a cheap labor pool!" The fury draws happy whoops and applause from the 200 union leaders in this banquet room at the Sheraton Washington Hotel, perhaps because they are people who understand shouting and pounding, the ritual anger of the bargaining table.
But Smeal has another, rarer kind of anger that blows up inside her and is a little frightening, like the wisp of smoke that curls up from an underground bomb test. It shows in a tightening of the neck, a whitening of the knuckles, and a voice so soft and trembling it can barely be heard. It is this trapped, explosive anger that boils up in her now, as she leans her sturdy 5-foot-5 frame into the microphone, her jaw tight and her head swiveling slowly. "It is time to raise hell," she says, "against an opposition that is frequently nothing but fascists!"
"Whoa," whispers one man.
But as the 15-minute speech ends, the crowd is on its feet applauding. While it may be too strong for some, most at this convention of government employe union leaders are apparently ready to listen to a liberal leader who takes the kid gloves off.
Smeal has never been accused of being meek, but only recently has she started calling the new right fascist. An hour after that speech she is waiting at National Airport to begin a two-day Midwest speaking tour, where she will slap the label on them again in Ohio and Indiana. "I worried about it, but I finally decided that is what they are," she says. "They have all the classic attributes: nation-states first, capital punishment, lock people up and throw away the key. Hitler said there were three roles for women: church, children, kitchen. And they call us communists! What was the old fascist excuse? Stop the communists!
"I don't enjoy calling people names. But from now on we've got to show them for the bigots they are. We've gotta wrap it around their necks!"
Tough talk from Smeal is at least as old as her first tenure as president of NOW from 1977 to 1982. She unnerved some admirers even then, never satisfied to call a politician "uninformed" when "nincompoop" struck her as more descriptive.
But she has shifted her confrontive rhetoric into overdrive since regaining the presidency this year, after a bitter campaign fight with her successor, Judy Goldsmith, whom Smeal had originally supported. Goldsmith, in her two-year term, had proved to be a coalition-builder who worked closely with the Democratic Party and sought to raise NOW's credibility in conventional politics.
Which is precisely opposite Smeal's philosophy, summed up in her campaign slogan: raise hell. "History is replete with examples," she says. "Fight for your rights and people give them to you. Act like a doormat and people walk all over you. We have lost a tremendous amount of ground in the last few years, and I say that's it. We've had it . . . We're not in either party's pocket . . . We don't have to be good anymore."
Smeal's devoted followers swept her back into office with an apparent mandate to stick it in the right wing's face, and it is clear that she sees the goal of the feminist movement as far more than scraping the rust of sexism from a few old laws. In her view, it is time for an all-out battle with the right wing, ad the winner will gain nothing less than the ability to define what is moral behavior. Smeal is a feminist trench warrior from 'way back and some in the feminist movement worry that her rabble-rousing style is outdated, but she wades into the fight against the right with serene conviction.
"Somehow, we have allowed them to come off as apple-pie-all-American while we are the baby killers," she says, seamlessly shifting into her quiet-voiced rage. "We have got to take the moral high ground."
WHEN those conventioneers surged to their feet, it was the second standing ovation Smeal had received that morning. One hour earlier, she had delivered a similar no-nonsense message on Channel 9's "The Carol Randolph Show," which brought the dozen elderly women in the audience out of their chairs at the end of the broadcast. As the lights dimmed they swarmed around Smeal.
"I'll do absolutely anything for you. I mean anything" said one woman bedecked with several pounds of silver-and-turquoise jewelry.
"Check in with NOW," smiled Smeal.
Fifteen minutes later, in the hotel lobby, a young woman approached, face aglow: "I saw you on TV. I think you're wonderful." Again, at the airport: "I agree completely. I just wanted to tell you."
Smeal says it happens all the time. "They are always very nice, very complimentary. I've never had anyone run up and start screaming at me or anything like that."
Scream they may not, but Smeal has plenty of critics, and they have ways of making themselves known. There are, of course, the few men who venture up and begin reading from the Bible, emphasizing the be-obedient-to- your-husbands passages.
More to the point are the voices that reveal a basic split in the feminist movement. There is broad agreement in NOW on the general goal of equality for women, but two dramatically contradictory ideas on how to get there. Goldsmith, who lost to Smeal 839 to 703 at NOW's July convention in New Orlens, charged that Smeal had left NOW "devastated both structurally and financially" by incessantly pushing for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The ERA failed when only 35 states -- three short of the number required -- had ratified it by the June 30, 1982, deadline.
"I felt we had to be more than a single-issue organization," says Goldmith, a former English professor who says her future remains "unsettled" after her defeat. She says immediately after Smeal left in 1982, "We had people calling NOW national headquarters saying 'I want to join ERA.' That's what they thought we were . . .
"We also have to have more than one tactic," Goldsmith adds, referring to Smeal's campaign promise to "take the women's movement into the streets." Goldsmith says though demonstrations sound appealingly radical, "the fact is that at times it can be radical to lobby and conventional to demonstrate."
Such reasoning failed to impress most of NOW's state and local leaders, many of whom had quit their jobs to drum for ERA and were incensed when Goldsmith declared in an interview in The Washington Post that further pursuit of ERA was "an exercise in futility." Led by NOW board member Patricia Ireland, they spent several weeks lobbying Smeal to come back.
Smeal has returned to tough times at NOW, about 90 percent of whose members are women (officials say they keep no record of their members' income, age, race, sex or geographic distribution, saying NOW regards such demograph "divisive"). In 1982, the last year of the ERA campaign, NOW peaked at 220,000 mem budget; in 1985 it has about 150,000 members, a $5.3 million budget and $2 million in debts.
And though Smeal says since her return "the spirit could not be higher," many NOW members remain seriously disaffected. "Ellie is not a coalition builder. When she was president (the first time), NOW had a tendency to say to other public interest groups, 'We'll send out our own letter' on a certain issue," says Carol Tucker Foreman, NOW member and former assistant secretary of agriculture. "It was like, you can ride along on our train, but don't forget who is the engineer. I think that is happening again, and it makes me sad."
Martha Buck, Smeal's former executive vice president, who quit in 1977 and returned five years later to work for Goldsmith, is openly hostile. "I think (Smeal's re- election) is a tragedy for NOW," she says. "Judy did a masterful job of turning NOW to the panoply of feminist issues. Ellie is not creative, not a sharer . . . it is very much a business of a woman who wants power, and will do whatever she has to do to get it."
Smeal denies she shuns all other groups, but says, "I feel it is important to march to your own drummer."
And as for being power hungry, "Any time a person has a strong personality and is active, people say that kind of thing . . . All I can say is I had to be talked into running this time, you can document that. And why would people have been so loyal for so long -- family, friends and supporters -- if I am just the kind of person that a Martha Buck would maintain I am?"
Perhaps the charge that most enrages Smeal is that she is out of touch with young women. "I am so sick of hearing that. I have spoken on hundreds of college campuses. There is no other national leader who is out there more than I am, and I can tell you, they are with us! The young women in college are our biggest supporters."
ELEANOR SMEAL and her husband, Charles, live in a comfortable two-story Colonial house in a quiet Fairfax neighborhood. Although Smeal seems more relaxed at home than at the office -- "Watch, I'll act like a housewife. Want a Coke?" -- the phone rings about every 10 minutes and NOW personnel troop in and out with easy familiarity. It's clear the distinction between home and work place was blurred long ago.
There was no magic moment, she says, when she became a feminist. She was pushed into it indignation by indignation, outrage by outrage.
The first push came in the suburbs of Cleveland, when 10-year-old Eleanor Cutri discovered that some girls were not allowed to date her brother because her father was an immigrant from Calabria, Italy. "We were the first Italians on the block, and people started moving out. My mother always had to keep the house immaculate so people wouldn't think we were dirty . . . it always shocked me."
Her father was a "social democrat, and I got a heavy dose of that." Though he ran a successful insurance agency, "he always felt it was just chance that we got out of the ghetto, and we should not forget the people who didn't. Social movements, politics -- that was the dinner-table conversation."
Push No. 2 came when she enrolled at Duke University in North Carolina in 1957, and discovered on arrival that no blacks were allowed. "I was totally shocked. I immediately identified with the black struggle; the connections were so easy to make." Describing herself as "a student-leader type, president of the dorm, Phi Beta Kappa and all that," she picketed and organized a move to integrate the campus, though integration did not come until some years later.
Push No. 3 came when she was talked out of becoming a lawyer by a professor who argued that "I would end up being a law librarian. I would never litigate cases or be a partner. It was the first really sexist advice I got."
Still, in 1968, housewife Ellie Smeal had not put it all together. Married to Charles Smeal, a metallurgist she met as a graduate student, and busy with two small children, she saw herself as more politically aware, but otherwise not terribly different from other young matrons of Erie, Pa.
Then, out of the blue, pushes No. 4 and No. 5. The first came one winter night in 1968, with friends playing bridge. "I'll never forget. We started talking about our problems, and suddenly I realized that every single woman in that room except me was on tranquilizers and in counseling. They were desperately unhappy, they felt isolated, alone. It was incredibly depressing. That was it. I never did that again. I couldn't stand it. I wasn't like that, and I didn't want to get like that."
The push that put her over the brink came a year later: two ruptured disks, caused by the stress of pregnancy on an already tricky back that sent her to bed for most of the next year. Smeal had "bumped into" the ideas of the suffragists and feminists in her college years; she began reading their works almost exclusively. "Charlie was getting my books for me -- he said he kept getting those books because I seemed to like them."
It was in that bed, in pain so raw she could scarcely move, that Eleanor Smeal learned about the 19th-century feminists who pounded away for more than 70 years to reshape society. And it was in that bed that Smeal rearranged her life's plan -- she would forget caution, forget the young matron routine, forget waiting for the kids to grow up and then maybe go to a feminist meeting or two. "I just made up my mind," she says. "If I ever got out of that bed, I was gonna live full speed ahead."
The Smeals were now in Pittsburgh, and true to her horizontal promise, she joined the local NOW chapter and ripped into the work.
"It was fantastic in those days. We did all kinds of stuff, direct action. If it was discrimination, we went after it. You could see the prog She became president of the Pennsylvania state organization in 1972, and chalked up a remarkable list of accomplishments: pushing through a state equal rights amendment, integrating Little League, challenging TV licenses for exclusion of women from programming. She is perhaps proudest of NOW's suit against the Pittsburgh Press' segregated want ads, which became a Supreme Court case. "We only won by 5 to 4, but that did it. There are no sex-segregated want ads anymore."
Her methods were often as unorthodox as they were effective. "I'll never forget going to family court and hearing a judge tell all the men that as a Christmas present they wouldn't have to make their child support payments that month. Some pres How about the women? How about the kids? What kind of present is that for them?" Smeal's response was simply to begin packing the courts with women and children. She says NOW soon found that judges faced with a courtroom full of stern-faced mothers and sad-eyed moppets were not likely to coddle delinquent fathers.
By 1975, she was chairman of NOW's board of directors, and began assembling a loyal following among the more confrontive elements of NOW. In 1977 Smeal became the first housewife to be elected NOW president.
She is adamant about the housewife title. "People kept coming up to me and saying, 'Don't call yourself a housewife, say you're a political scientist.' I say, wait a minute, I have a master's degree in political science, but I never worked a day in my life as a political scientist. Being president of NOW is the first paying job I ever had (her original salary was $17,500, now it is $55,000). For 14 years I was a housewife, by every definition of that term -- I have the IRS forms to prove it."
"I credit Ellie with giving NOW what it really needed -- the common woman theme," says Ethel Klein, author of Gender Politics and long- time analyst of the feminist movement. "She came at a time when it was seen as a movement that was becoming more and more elitist and said, 'This is really a move- ment for all of us who want self-respect.' Membership just took off after that."
So as housewife Ellie Smeal, 46, has immersed herself in 20-hour days and seven-day weeks as NOW president, her family has once again adapted. Tod, 21, a junior at MIT studying chemical engineering, and Lori, 17, a senior at W. T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, have accompanied their mother on countless trips, and marched in demonstrations.
By all accounts, husband Charles is his wife's biggest booster -- she has called their marriage "perfect," and friends say Smeal's marrying him is a prime example of her skill at long-term decision-making. A gentle man with a quick laugh, he joined NOW in 1971, on the same day as his wife. He has gone to rallies, served as a treasurer, and in 1979 changed careers, from metallurgist to ceramicist, so the couple could move from Pittsburgh to Washington. Two years ago, he changed jobs again to become his wife's agent; during her hiatus from the NOW presidency, she was a top draw on the college lecture circuit. Now that his wife has returned to NOW, Charlie Smeal is once again looking for a job.
Asked if he is proud of his wife, he seems surprised. "Sure I am," he says with a chuckle. "If I weren't, why would I stick around?"
AMONG accomplishments Smeal lists for her first presidency are the passage of the Pregnancy Disability Act, a 1978 federal law that requires disability insurance programs to include pregnancy among the conditions they cover; the halt in the drive for the Human Life Amendment, which would have greatly restricted abortion rights; the "59 cents" campaign which, in a flood of buttons, bumper stickers and posters, popularized the statistic that a woman earns 59 cents to each $1 a man earns.
"We are the people who broght you the gender gap," boasts Smeal.
Smeal also bolted together NOW's political machinery -- new computers that spew blizzards of mass mail, and 81 newly created political action committees to work on issues from abortion to violence against women. All of this, plus the ERA campaign, came together to raise both NOW's visibility -- 74 percent of respondents in a recent poll by Marttila & Kiley of Boston said they regard NOW as a trusted source of information on issues such as pay equity (as opposed to 20 percent for Phyllis Schlafly).
But the greater part of Smeal's first presidency was devoted to the campaign for ERA. Although the ratification effort failed and some feminists have lost heart in the issue, ERA remains nearly sacred to her. She says she has not yet begun to fight, and compares the effort necessary to win the issue equivalent to the suffrage movement. "When they got stopped at the federal level, they moved to the state level. When they got stopped there, they went back to the federal level. It is just mind-boggling what these women did for 72 years. Well, we've gotta do it too."
Smeal intends to do exactly what the suffragists did: hammer at federal lawmakers until efforts seem to be failing, then switch to state lawmakers, then back to federal, then state, etc. More specifically, NOW is planning to fund a model campaign in Vermont to push through a 1986 referendum for a state ERA. Sixteen states now have state ERAs. Smeal believes a victory in Vermont can be a catalyst for more. "It would be better to have the federal one, no doubt about that. But with the state ones you can do some good things too."
Smeal says that while she is president, NOW will also tackle the most controversial women's issues head on, including:
*Abortion rights: Fliers with a drawing of a bloody coat hanger and the words "Never Again" (symbolizing NOW's position that making abortion illegal only leads women to attempt self-surgery and risk mutilation) are being circulated to promote an abortion rights rally in Washington next spring. Smeal wants 200,000 protesters to march against President Reagan's "appointment of radical right ideologues to the federal bench," as the flier puts it. She says this is the main issue in which the "moral high ground" must be captured.
*Lesbian and gay rights: "Schlafly has a brochure out on the ERA-AIDS connection; ERA permits homosexual marriages, homosexuality leads to AIDS. Very crude inflammatory stuff. It's not true: the ERA does not give homosexuals any additional rights, and we have got to take them (Schlafly) on -- I want to develop radio and television ads that attack homophobia." NOW also plans to work to repeal sodomy statutes in 25 states.
*Independent political action: "The perception remains that we have become too intertwined with the Democratic Party," says Smeal. "That perception must change."
There are literally dozens of other issues on NOW's agenda -- passage of the Civil Rights Restoration Act, pay equity, stemming spouse abuse, and righting inequities in Social Security, pensions and insurance -- but always, inexorably, the theme loops back to passage of the ERA. Smeal has been criticized for refusing to abandon it.
"The fact is, it is a legal tool," she says. "Frankly, I don't have a lot of hope eliminating these inequities in this climate, but if I had an ERA I could be in court litigating. That is why it is so crucial. Social Security, pensions, insurance, credit, education -- with ERA I'd have the legal weight to sue them."
Smeal is convinced ERA lost for economic reasons, not social ones. "The real reason is that businesses think sex discrimination makes them money." Even without the national amendment, NOW plans to drag businesses such as insurance companies into court and start suing on the basis of state ERAs.
ELEANOR SMEAL often looks tired. Her aides often look tired. She speaks of early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony, who fought sexism to "her dying breath." It is remarkably easy to imagine Smeal doing the same.
At the office one day recently, she is getting angry about pornography. "Have you seen this stuff? These sadomasochistic things, they torture and maim us, the bondage stuff is enough to drive your . . . they say that's freedom of speech? . . .
"People are incensed about this, maybe it's the videos or something. But they've had it. I think the murder and violence and rape has touched a far larger segment of the American female population directly than we have imagined. When I was lecturing on the campuses, the subject of date rape came up spontaneously all the time. I believe in freedom of speech, but that can't mean that noth be done in this area, that anything goes.
"In the old days, we would have got out the spray paint . . . " She trails off, mindfuof the attentive reporter. "We're going to form a commission that more fully defines our position."
It galls Smeal to fight sadomasochistic pornography with commissions and position papers. Yet she knows there must be limits, and there are still some areas she is wary about touching at all. "I constantly question myself: Should we take on religion, after all? Religion has a special place in our society, separation of church and state and all that, but isn't it so that religions are so discriminatory? There are places we can't be priests solely because of the condition of our sex. Some nincompoop tells me that God's only in the image of man, I mean really. And I worry, oh, I better not say nincompoop, because they'll think I don't respect their religion, but after all, the man just told me I'm subhuman!"
So although battling sexist religions may not be immediately practical, it is on Smeal's list as a proper target in a moral war. The same applies to marriage; there is nothing private or sacred about it if wives are beaten or ripped off in divorce court. As she puts it, "I'm not going to be a second-class citizen in my home, my government, or my church."
But Smeal says nothing will happen if other liberals don't get angry too. "I don't think our side has had enough moral outrage," she says. "It's not enough in The Washington Post, it's not enough in the media, it's not enough in business circles, it's not enough in academia. I mean, last night on television, you had some guy from the right justifying apartheid -- 'Oh, some blacks like it!' That's what I have been hearing for years -- 'Some women like it,' being discriminated against. That's what they do, that's the trick, and now they feel they can even use it on apartheid, the most extreme condition."
And yet, says Smeal, it is all so ironic. For once, the boiler inside her seems to vent a bit. When she speaks again she sounds more sad than angry: "Whenever you treat someone as a lesser, and you benefit from it, you are really injured in the process. The clearest thing in our country was slavery -- despicable to the blacks, but it surely destroyed the South too. It slowed progress, slowed the industrial revolution. When you exploit people, you tend not to manage efficiently or effectively.
"And I think you affect your own moral well-being in the process. It's like, if I step over a body that is lying in the street, I have not helped that person who needed my help, but I have just as surely lost a part of my own humanity. Eventually, you become numb to human suffering. Those of us in the abused classes do the most pushing, but there are no winners in this kind of thing. It should not be a divisive thing; no one should feel threatened. The appeal is to all people. We should all rise."