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A turning point for women

This year will go down in history as a turning point. Not only are women running for office in record numbers; the millions of campaign dollars contributed by women have also put their agenda in the forefront. But it is happening not only in politics.

By year's end, women-owned businesses will employ more Americans than all the Fortune 500 companies. In the Winter Olympics, women won nine of the U.S. team's 11 medals, including the five golds.

Such changes symbolize the critical mass of support that now exists among women and men for the freedom and opportunity the women's movement has always sought. Acceptance of social change builds slowly until a threshold of critical mass is achieved. Then it is only a matter of time before the majority embraces it. At that point, a trend becomes a megatrend, an idea whose time has come. Although many obstacles remain before women's liberation is achieved, the movement toward it is unstoppable.

Simple demographics play a part, too. From Margaret Thatcher to Gloria Steinem, exceptional women have made their mark on the world. But behind these women stands the great wave of baby-boom women, the first generation with full-time, lifelong careers. For a decade or two, as CEOs, activists, attorneys, politicians, designers, theologians and athletes, they have quietly introduced feminine values into their corner of a male-dominated world. Now they are ready for a bigger stage _ leadership in business, politics, society.

The United States counts only two elected women senators and three women governors, but these depressing numbers obscure how many women hold the statewide offices that are the steppingstones to the governorship: There are 14 state treasurers, 10 secretaries of state and seven lieutenant governors. I predict that the first woman president will be elected in 2004 or 2008.

Opportunities in leadership will abound in the 1990s, but baby-boom women who would accept them _ and the responsibilities that are part of the package _ must begin now to prepare for jobs they never dreamed they would hold. That might mean running for the statehouse or learning how to raise large sums of money.

Women's liberation is not the end, not by any means; it is the beginning of a lot of work. The world needs to be totally transformed so that women and men can create, desire, build and play. If women are willing to answer the call of leadership, then we have already begun.

Patricia Aburdene is the author, with John Naisbitt, of Megatrends for Women. This commentary first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.