Karen DeCrow and I were friends for more than 40 years. In the early 70’s, when she was President of NOW (the National Organization for Women) and I was on the Board of NOW’s NYC chapter, she asked me to run NOW’s Task Force on the Masculine Mystique. When others protested my incorporating expanding liberation toward men, Karen supported me.
Karen and I worked together on my organizing the men’s section of the Women’s Strike for Equality in D.C.. She valued men as an auxiliary, but also sensed we had our own work to do—not as apologizing oppressors, but as fellow humans in a parallel straight jacket.
In the early 70s, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Karen and I would often say, “what the world needs is more women at work, and more dads at home.” This was N.O.W.s position until about 1973. However, as divorces increased, NOW started hearing from moms who were dropping their memberships because, as the complaint usually ran, “I know my child best; I know what she or he needs. If I don’t want the dad involved, it’s for a reason—he’s either a bad dad or we’ve had a bad experience and I just need to take my children away and start a new life.”
N.O.W. was caught between supporting equality versus jeopardizing its base. It chose to not jeopardize its base. Gloria and Betty, while not changing their position rhetorically, looked the other way as NOW intensified its efforts to portray men either as deadbeats or self-interested (“they just want the money”) or prone to domestic violence. Karen was the only other leading feminist who not only spoke differently, but agreed to speak at fathers’ conferences. Karen’s courage marginalized her from the feminist leadership and the millions of dollars of speaking fees she could otherwise have obtained.
I knew what Karen was enduring, because I took the same road she took. While my break was cleaner, Karen tried to walk the tightrope of the balance between integrity and retaining feminist colleagues and friends.
When she agreed in 2005 to write the foreword to my Why Men Earn More: the Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap–and What Women Can Do About It, she shared with me some of her lifetime of worries about losing feminist support. It wasn’t just the lost speaking fees. It was the isolation. It was desiring to lead, but being kept at arm’s length by feminist leadership.
As Karen shared that, I recollect envisioning a devil and angel fighting inside her. In the case of the foreword and in other cases I witnessed, Karen almost always chose the angel of integrity.
With Karen’s death passes a feminist who, were her leadership allowed to be the guiding light, would have allowed millions of children to have a dad to guide them and love them.