It wasn't lost on the activists at the National Women's Conference at Hunter College that literary lion Norman Mailer, whose writing became a target of feminist wrath during the seventies, died in New York on the same day that their event began. The weekend-long program, which drew members of some 50 women's and girls' organizations, was planned by the late congresswoman Bella Abzug's daughter Liz to mark the 30th anniversary of the first such gathering in Houston. And while the elder Abzug once told Mailer, "We think your views on women are full of s---," she supported him in his losing 1969 campaign for mayor of New York, as did Gloria Steinem, who spoke Sunday morning to a cheering crowd of about 600 women from 21 states who had attended workshops with titles like "Smashing the Glass Ceiling."
In an interview a few minutes after her address, Steinem made it plain that she didn't regard Mailer as a total enemy of feminism. "He wasn't hostile like the ultra-right-wing anti-feminists — he just didn't get it," said the svelte black-clad liberation leader who knew Mailer personally, having run for city comptroller on his secessionist ticket along with columnist Jimmy Breslin, a candidate for president of the city council. "And he will leave an absence because he was an original. He was a wonderful writer, and I always thought The Prisoner of Sex was a good title," explained Steinem, referring to an essay Mailer wrote for Harper's that provoked an acrimonious 1971 Town Hall debate between Mailer and feminists like Village Voice writer Jill Johnson and Australian author Germaine Greer. "He was a prisoner of sex." —Mary Reinholz
Earlier: Norman Mailer Dies At 84