Fairly or unfairly, the feminist movement in the United States has suffered from a negative public perception about it. But then political feminism has too often been ill served by its own advocates, especially those liberals who seemed to preach that True Feminism requires its adherents to view marriage as bondage, and to view a paying job outside the home as necessary for any woman's self-respect. And, of course, all that "viewing" had to be conducted while being relentlessly suspicious, humorless and confrontational.
Probably the best, and maybe the only, way to change such a negative perception would be through the skillful use of television to communicate a different message. A good idea, for pro-feminists, would be to have as their spokesman a woman who is bright, happy and proud to be a wife, a professional and an authentic feminist. You might even show this bright, happy feminist woman on television with her own daughters, saying something about choices and "the one choice" she had made and never regretted: "to be a mother."
For doing all this and for getting Pepsi-Cola to spend millions just to broadcast such a message, Geraldine Ferraro ought to be toasted and saluted by the liberals and feminists who were ready to canonize her last July in San Francisco. Instead, we read that some of her former supporters are outraged. Ferraro, it seems, has cashed in, sold out, or worse.
It turns out that Pepsi can be sugar-free and caffeine-free, but not guilt-free. Apparently, soft drinks, which up to now had escaped the wrath of social reformers, are not morally neutral.
This episode reveals a lot about the assumptions of some contemporary American liberals, and it may explain why liberals lose elections.
First of all, the argument is not about endorsement. If that were the case, then former Senate majority leader Howard Baker, who is now doing TV spots for USA Today, the national daily of the Gannett Corp. on whose board Baker sits, would be getting whacked equally as hard. He is not. And while soft-drink companies don't endorse political candidates, newspapers do.
Nobody of note has been vilified recently for doing one of those "profiles," sponsored by a scotch whiskey company and found on the back pages of a magazine with a high literary content. You've seen those ads, the one where the celebrity confides to us which is his favorite Elizabethan sonnet. Very classy.
No, the problem is that Geraldine Ferraro, a practicing liberal and feminist, committed the sin of television. Television, for a lot of liberals, is to be ridiculed and shunned, unless it is a program introduced by Alistair Cooke. These superior people would watch "Bowling for Dollars" if it were hosted by Cooke and produced by the BBC.
Not being comfortable or "good" on television is advanced by some liberals as conclusive proof of one's moral and intellectual superiority. Because, as we all remember, he is not only very "good" on television, he even once made his living from doing Boraxo commercials on TV. By doing television, Geraldine Ferraro has robbed some of her supporters of their sense of moral superiority over Ronald Reagan.
Making a living is something some American liberals, like the British ruling class, view with discomfort and prefer not to discuss. Geraldine Ferraro did not simply put her own message on the air and get Pepsi to pay for it, she also got Pepsi to pay her a lot for it. It would have been so much nicer if she had a trust fund or foundation grant. It would have been so much less, you know, commercial.
As for me I'm delighted to see Pepsi-Cola, the company that had Richard Nixon on its payroll between his campaigns, paying to put the genuine Geraldine Ferraro on the air.