“Maybe we weren't at the Last Supper, but we're certainly going to be at the next one.” Bella Abzug
LUCY BURDETTE: Since the talk about the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique and Rhys's post last week, I've been thinking about how feminism and women's liberation affected me.
First I should admit that I was late to the party. Not that I wasn't affected by the issues: I had a younger brother who enjoyed different privileges because he was a boy among three girls. My older sister was very excited to apply for a an after-school job at the local veterinarian's office. But she was told only boys would be considered. So she took a job checking out groceries at the A & P instead. And I was told by my guidance counselor that medical school wasn't a reasonable goal for a girl. Which I took to heart.
But the first time I really thought about the question of equality between men and women was in graduate school in Tennessee in the mid 1970's when I took a class on women's issues. Our teacher told us about an incident in which she and her friends decided to raise public consciousness about the objectification of women. They sat in the university dining hall with flash cards to rate passing men on a scale from one to ten on attractiveness as they went by. This was ground-breaking!
Outside of class, we were encouraged to form consciousness raising groups. In my group, we talked about society's unconscious oppression of women and how we needed to recognize it and break out of it. We read OUR BODIES OURSELVES from the Boston Women's Health Book Collective to learn about taking control of our own bodies. We bought plastic speculums in bulk so we could look at our bodies without embarrassment and understand what was normal. We talked about whether it was right to take the man's name when and if we got married.
This period of time was so important and formative for me, as it raised so many questions I might not have considered on my own. How about you Reds; What you remember about those times?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My 1970's vintage copy of Our Bodies OurSelves--now in the millionth printing!--is all batttered and dogeared. I mean...there was just no one else to ask.
And I got my first job in broadcasting in 1970 ONLY because I invoked the new EEOC laws. I applied for a job at a radio station. When the news director asked if I had any experience, I told him, no. But--I added, very smiley--this station's license is up for revewal at the FCC, and you dont have any women working here. The next day I had my first job in my now 43-year-long journalism career!
He'd also asked me if I could type. I lied. I said no. RAD-I-CAL!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Hank, that makes me think of high school, when I refused to take typing because I didn't want to risk getting shunted into secretarial (ie, women's) work later in life. Of course, within a decade, the personal computer had taken off and everyone was expected to do his or her own typing...boy, did I blow that call.
I graduated from college in the eighties, and I was the beneficiary of a lot of working, organizing and legislating women had been doing for twenty years. My greatest feminist influence was my mother. She encouraged me and my sister to achieve to our highest abilities, and taught me from girlhood that I should be prepared to work and support myself, even if I got married. She had a subscription to Ms. Magazine (which I loved!) She gifted me with two attributes that I've kept my whole life: the ability to look at our culture with a critical eye, and the conviction my sex should never hold me back from doing anything I want to turn my hand to.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: It's funny, growing up in the era that I did, it never occurred to me that there was anything I couldn't do. My parents certainly weren't liberated in any political way--in fact they were staunch Republicans. But my mom worked with my dad, and I never felt I was expected to "Get married and have kids." Then, in college, I was a science major at a very good school where at least half my classmates were female and many were pre-med. We thought we owned the world.
What a shock when I got my first "real" job out of college, working for a couple of bozos who treated me with utter contempt and behaved sexually inappropriately, to say the least. My bubble was burst. Up until then I don't think I really understood what feminism was about.
I wish I could say I felt sure that things have changed since then, but the bozos are still out there, laws or not.
RHYS BOWEN: I also grew up believing I could do anything. I went to a good girls school and it was expected that we'd go on to med school, whatever we wanted. Then I joined the BBC in London and was given an incredible amount of responsibility for a young person--speaking to the world on the World Service and then studio manager in drama, telling famous actors where to stand etc. I was also expected to drag heavy mikes into place, move studio equipment. I never asked for help because I was equal.
When I went down to Australia to work for Australian broadcasting I found women got 75 percent of men's pay. So I'd get my things together half an hour before the men and say "I'll leave you to put this away because you're being paid more." and "No, I can't come in on Sunday. You're being paid to do it."
I never was a blushing violet!
HALLIE EPHRON: My mother, who was a professional screenwriter back when women rarely worked outside the home, advised me to "learn to type," too - it was something to "fall back on."
I remember reading MS Magazine, and my copy of Our Bodies Ourselves, and Erica Jong's Fear of Flying -- though her idea of 'liberation' and mine had little overlap -- and the PILL which made **things** possible.
I've said this here before, but recently I wrote about "consciousness raising" in my piece in "O" Magazine about growing up in the shadow of a supremely talented and dysfunctional mother, and the editor asked me "what's conscious raising?" Needless to say she was in her thirties. But I thought, hey, if she's got no idea what it is then neither do their readers. And THAT'S how far we've come. ROSEMARY HARRIS: I too was a little late to the party. I do have a dusty copy of Our Bodies Ourselves somewhere - and I took a class with Erica Jong at City College - but my first real job was as a bookstore manager and in retail there may have been a little less of a prejudice against women. Or maybe I was too clueless to appreciate it. Same for the video business and public television.
Where I do see and feel a change is in the perception of beauty. How much nicer must it be to grow up in a time when the definition of beauty is not simply blond, blue-eyed, tiny nose!
LUCY: Tell us your stories ladies and gentlemen! And Ro, got to hear more about Erica Jong!