The women’s movement is not exactly a hotbed of happy marriages. But against the odds, feminist Brenda Feigen wed a Harvard Law classmate, Marc Fasteau, in 1968. Just as she was leaving the reception in Manhattan’s fusty Harvard Club, she spotted a NO LADIES ALLOWED sign in the library and could not resist “liberating” the male sanctum in her bridal gown.
If anything, Feigen, now 30, is even more radicalized in her post-honeymoon period. For example, she gave up the private practice of law for a while to cofound (with Gloria Steinem) the Women’s Action Alliance. But, fortunately, Marc Fasteau, now 32, has come a long way in sensitivity himself, baby. He became volunteer general counsel and secretary (not the steno kind, though) of the alliance, and combined his name with hers in 1971 to create their new name, Feigen Fasteau. This fall he published The Male Machine, a 225-page screed against the damaging effects of sex stereotypes.
In an admiring foreword to the book, Steinem hails Marc as a “spy in the ranks of the white male elite” and declares his men’s lib line “the revolution’s other half.” What’s more, Steinem, though not enamored of the institution, even blesses the Feigen Fasteau marriage as a “good partnership—they can do together things they can’t do separately.” One of those things they just did a month ago: bearing their first child, a daughter, Alexis. “Getting pregnant,” reports Brenda royally, “was a decision we backed into. We stopped trying not to get pregnant as hard, and so we got pregnant in a month.” Just as they divide the housework in their Manhattan penthouse duplex, Marc vows to do an equal share of the child-rearing. For now, however, he spends half his time out promoting his other baby, the book, which is in its third printing.
Brenda, who is nursing Alexis now, plans—through the services of a nurse and Marc—to return to work later this month in their new venture, a two-person law firm, Fasteau and Feigen. (He got first billing on a purely alphabetical basis, they explain.) “I will be able to know and enjoy my children,” Marc insists, “in a way that is impossible for work-obsessed fathers with the sole responsibility for family support.” Even their law practice will specialize in what they preach. In one of their first joint cases they won a ruling in favor of paternity-leave rights for a New York schoolteacher, and they are taking on child-custody cases: Marc is fighting the “myth” that the mother automatically gets the kids.
For reformers against what they consider male aggression, both the Feigen Fasteaus started from rather stereo-typically striving middle-class beginnings. Her father was a Chicago lawyer, his a Washington official with HEW; both mothers were housewives. Both kids graduated cum laude in math, he from Harvard, she from Vassar. Both are Jewish, and Brenda partially attributes her embattled nature to snubs suffered earlier on. She went after causes on campus like Streisand in The Way We Were, and to this day there is a little Barbra in Brenda’s delivery. Before feminism, she had latched briefly on to Ayn Rand’s objectivism, and during the Cuban missile crisis she phoned the White House in concern over the blockade. At about that time Marc had detoured for a couple of years as an assistant to Sen. Mike Mansfield, before the couple met in 1967 at Harvard Law School. Feigen was still dating her high school sweetheart, and Fasteau was going steady with a painter. But one day Brenda slid in next to Marc in the cafeteria, half expecting him to say, “What’s a nice girl like you doing at Harvard?” and instead heard, “What do you think of the Schmerber case?” Marc, who now confesses that he was half on the make, soon settled in for some painful years of consciousness-raising.
“I felt from the start,” says Brenda, “that I was putting a lot more into the relationship than Marc. It wasn’t a 50-50 kind of thing emotionally. Marc would go off to play squash,” recalls Brenda, “and I would be crying and screaming. He was my target because he represented everything. He was on Law Review, gorgeous, smart, athletic, liked. It was what that elite male institution expects of its very best.” Though he recalls considering his new love “crazed”—”I was obnoxious,” Brenda interrupts—Marc was empathetic. He remembers boycotting the then male-only Harvard squash courts “until I got the athletic director to integrate them.” Some unreconstructed chauvinist classmates nicknamed him “Mr. Feigen.” “Even then,” he says, “I could see through her armor. I saw the other side—her tenderness.”
Later, when Mark began working for a New York law firm, he would refuse to lunch at clubs that discriminated against women. All the while, he was reexamining his lifelong success drive that had earlier led him to the law grad’s pinnacle—a Supreme Court clerkship (that he never served, because the justice who appointed him, Abe Fortas, was forced to resign). Soon Fasteau dropped out of corporate law to write his book about how the masculine mystique was bringing men loneliness (emotion is taboo) and psychic damage (those who didn’t reach the top felt worthless), and that it even prolonged the Vietnam war (withdrawal threatened the leaders’ macho image).
Brenda, meanwhile, was ambivalently finding her own way through liberation. In 1971, for example, she both helped establish the National Women’s Political Caucus and posed for a fetching fashion spread in Glamour magazine. One of Brenda’s sisters in the movement, actress-writer Anselma Dell’Olio, comments on the Feigen Fasteaus: “They’re in this radical group, and they are very conventional. I think of them as my freak friends. A happy couple is really a joke, you know.” But a psychologist friend, Don Levinson, takes the Feigen Fasteaus almost as seriously as they do themselves. “They really feel responsible for the human race,” he says. “They really feel they have a mission.”