Monday, March 11, 2013

Liberated Women?

“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!


  1. I was raised in a family where I was never told "you can't do that, you're a girl." When I went off to college I wanted to be an FBI agent - this in the late 60's when J. Edgar Hoover was not about to allow women in his organization. I sent off an application to the National Park Service when they recruited at our law enforcement school at San Jose State, looking for seasonal rangers with law enforcement training. They hired me but while the male students were park rangers I was a clerk typist. I stuck with the Park Service and about 3 years later became the first female park ranger to go through the U.S. Park Police Academy and become a fully certified federal law enforcement Park Ranger.It was an interesting experience and opened the way for more to follow. Wasn't easy - the Park Service was/is a very male, tradition bound organization but it did change.

  2. I didn’t skip that typing class in high school, just in case I had to go to work instead of going to college, and, although I never needed the typing for a job, it’s come in handy with the whole computer keyboarding thing . . . . I remember cooking and sewing in home economics, but [gasp] I never felt I was being pigeon-holed by the requirement to take the class, and I really enjoyed it. To this day, I like to cook and I’ll happily admit to several years of making little dresses and such for my daughters . . . .

    I went to work as soon as I was able to get a work permit, and always had a job until I was married and, for a few years, stayed home with the children when they were small . . . a choice I made because I really wanted to stay home with them. My mom had always encouraged me, my husband has always been supportive, and I was never discouraged from tackling whatever I thought I wanted to do . . . .

  3. hmcmullin, i've always had the fantasy of being a National park ranger! I've been to over 80 parks/rec areas. Imagine working at Yosemite!

  4. A friend and I wanted to be FBI when we were freshmen in high school. The letter we received in return offered us jobs a secretaries!!!! JEH was a male chauvinist!(among other things). Dee

  5. I joined the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner as a copy boy in 1965. Hadn't heard much about the woman's movement yet, but our City Editor was a woman who kept a pistol in her desk and fired a blank more than once to wake everybody up in the afternoon. Agness Underwood was her name, a day didn't go by without her screaming at someone loud enough so the whole newsroom could hear it. Boy, was she tough!

  6. Agnes Underwood! Named after the typewriter no doubt! That's a name worthy of a Dickens story.

    I've worked for many women, and I may say they 've been my BEST and WORST bosses. The less said about the former Lt. Col. the better. But talk about being before her time.

  7. I've been a beneficiary of what so many of you did for women. I was a kid in the '70s and '80s, the only child of a single mother, and let me tell you, she made it a point to make sure I knew there was nothing I couldn't do if I wanted to.

    But I'm still very attuned to balance and inequities in the workplace, which I attribute to my first job out of college: working at a small women's college. The best part about that job? Looking around one day and realizing I was surprised to see a man in a leadership role. Think about that mental place!

    Now I work for a small company owned and founded (and still ruled with an iron fist by) a woman, and populated with a lot of men who are used to being told what to do by one. It's a different world, thank goodness.

  8. hmcmullin, what a brave road you paved! I had a discussion the other day with a friend about how much harder the path to equality was for women at the very front of the movement--like you!

    I know Julia had some comments up but they have mysteriously vanished...sigh...Do you think Blogger is a man or a woman?

  9. Like Hank, I ended up in broadcasting because of the social -- and legal -- pressures to hire women. There were few qualified women to be disk jockeys in the 1970s, but some program directors were willing to look for ‘qualifiable’ women. I was lucky to meet them. Still, in my 25 years in the business, it was rare when a station hired more than one. I recall men would comment about the imperative to hire women, saying more of less the same thing: “women have it knocked. They have to hire a woman.” Of course, 1 out of 6 full time jobs was going to go to a man. And they say women are bad at statistics.

  10. Rosemary, I worked at Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, plus a year in Washington, DC but did training at a number of other Parks, including Yosemite.

  11. I embraced feminism in the early seventies, but I had already been a kid and teenager who always felt wronged when a boy got to do something I wasn't allowed to (mind you, I was the shortest and youngest in my class and the third girl in my family, and was always a little overassertive!). My mom was home with us but was the most competent camper, Girl Scout leader, baker, and seamstress, and taught me all of it.

    I also was part of a health self-help group, speculums and all! One of my classes at UC Irvine was Feminism and Marxism. After I got my BA, I worked full time in a Mobil service station on Highway 1 in Newport Beach and LOVED it when customers asked if my dad was in (why else would a girl be pumping gas if her dad didn't own the joint?) and I could tell them no, my dad was teaching school in Monrovia, why did they want to know?

    I didn't raise daughters but seem to have done something right with my sons. I am grateful that they appreciate strong women their own ages (in their twenties) and that they are competent in the home: both great cooks, know how to clean a bathroom, never assumed they shouldn't do their own lauundry once they were in high school.


  12. Ah, you take me back -- Our Bodies Ourselves, Consciousness-Raising. My most memorable demonstration -- 30 below, outdoors, as trustees were entering for a meeting. We had to be very careful not to touch the megaphone to our lips, but we did prevent a cut to women's health care at the U of MN.
    I did take the ubiquitous secretarial job at graduation, because teachers were not being hired, but after a couple of years, I was recruited to be that Prudential agency's first female agent because they also feared a lawsuit. I also noted as words were dropped, one by one, from the ad for agents: white, married, male . . .
    When my Shakespeare class looked up feminist in the dictionary, following a student-initiated discussion, they all voted that they were, in fact, feminists. We have made progress!

  13. I meant "FIVE out of 6 jobs would go to a man." Obviously I never took typing.

  14. I still remember how much trouble I got in because I wanted to be a server at church. The minister told me only boys could be servers. For once I found my voice and asked why. Let's just say my mother was not impressed with my rudeness.

    I grew up being told that there was a whole list of things I couldn't do because I was a girl. It was a shock to get out in the real world and discover how many options I really have.

  15. Agness Underwood! I truly love it.

    True story: I had named a city editor Alex Olivetti, without even consciously thinkg aobut it. When I realized--I changed it.

    hmcmullin--oh, I;d lvoe to hear more!

  16. From Wikipedia: Agness “Aggie” May Underwood (December 17, 1902 - July 3, 1984) was an American journalist and newspaper editor, and the first woman in the United States to hold a city editorship on a major metropolitan daily. Born in San Francisco to Clifford Wilson, a journeyman glass-blower and Mamie Sullivan Wilson, a housewife. Underwood would adopt the distinctive double “s” at the end of her first name in 1920. In November 1907, Mamie died in childbirth. Underwood and her younger sister were handed over to relatives in Terre Haute to be raised. Underwood recalled that she and her sister did not stay in Terre Haute and that they moved frequently, often winding up in the hands of public charity.

  17. hmcmullin - my dream jobs! Love them both. I wonder if Helen's Corral Burgers is still operating at the north end of Y'stone...

  18. I flunked home economics on purpose, because I was forced to take it. I wanted to take shop. Boys took shop. Girls took home ec. The following year I was allowed to substitute band for home ick. I was the only girl who did that. Everyone, except for my very best girlfriend ever since, made fun of me. She married the one boy in town who didn't make fun of me. They're still married. We still play together. WWF, miles apart.

  19. Interesting and sad Underwood story.

    One of my first jobs was as a volunteer for the McGovern campaign at the national hdqts in DC. "No," I said, "I can't type."

    As a result, I did research on the Issues book! That was 1971.

    I have enjoyed raising four daughters. On Friday night I saw a performance of "Vagina Monologues" at Columbia University with my almost 30 yr. old youngest. We both loved it, and had a great conversation about "Our Bodies Ourselves."

    There is so much that still has to change. I believe we could still use the Equal Rights Amendment.

    But, having grown up in the 50s and 60s, I am very happy to celebrate Women's History Month 2013.

  20. I believe we could still use the ERA too, Denise!

    Reine, you bring back memories of home ec for me. I don't think it occurred to me to protest--and actually I'm glad I learned to cook and sew. We also learned how to do our nails:).

    But one summer my family lived in a campground outside of Allaire state park in NJ, where there was a restored village circa 1822-55. My sister and I got jobs flipping burgers while our younger brother got to work in the blacksmith shop. And he made $1.50 an hour, while we made $1.40. That made me mad!

  21. Unlike Reine, my sole ambition as an eighth grader was to get to high school, become a sophomore, and take Home Ec. I had loved sewing with a true passion always, but we didn't have a machine at home.

    However, when I graduated in 1969, and was looking around for what to do next, my friend and I went to a talk on a new two-year night college that was starting that next fall. One of the programs was called Police Science. Since I was already a devotee of mysteries, I decided that was my career path, and I convinced her to sign up with me.

    Well, she and I were the top students in the program, and we were the only women. The male students included several Vietnam vets, some of them much older than us, and already with families. During the course of the year I talked to our instructors who were mostly from the local police departments, and I learned that I didn't have a prayer of getting on a police department as anything but a clerk.

    At the time, the requirements for a male recruit: 150 pounds, 5' 8" height, vision no worse than 20/200 (but correctible to 20/20), and either a high school diploma, two years of military service, or a GED. That would qualify a man for any starting position with a police force.

    By contrast, the requirements for a FEMALE recruit: 150 pounds (I weighed 118 then, soaking wet), 5' 8" (I was 5' 7" if I stood up very tall), the same vision requirement (my vision was correctible to 20/20, but it was way worse than the standard, about 1100/950). But the education requirements were the worst for women: a Masters, at least, in either Social Services or Psychology. And then, what did that qualify one for? A desk job. Period.

    I ended up marrying a guy in the program, and dropped out halfway through the second year. He became a police officer, and ended up having quite the career (he's still in an offshoot of law enforcement/security). I did go on to more male-oriented career paths, but was always paid 25-40% less than my male counterparts until I went straight commission. Then I was able to finally make more than the men in the same field.

    We still have a long way to go. But raising my three daughters, I always told them to go for whatever they wanted to do, and they have. The oldest is a nurse educator, the middle in an engineer/energy consultant, and the youngest is a microbiologist who is close to getting her doctorate (and who was the 171st woman to graduate from the once-all-male Citadel).

    hmcmullin, you are my hero. You didn't take "no" for an answer!

  22. I learned to type because I was determined to become a newspaper reporter. That was my first career, so it paid off.

    Here's my feminism in action story: I was on the staff of my high school paper when Title IX was adopted in 1972. The next year, I spearheaded an investigative series about the disparity between spending on boys and girls sports, making the connection to Title IX's promise of equity and demonstrating how far out of compliance our school was.

    We were inspired after learing about the new law by reading Ms Magazine,interestingly enough. My feminist crusade must have freaked out my parents. It definitely dismayed my older sister who just wanted to fit in.

    But as it turned out, the sports-equity story (for which I still have the clips somewhere) had real world impact. Before I graduated, female athletes had (somewhat) better access to practice facilities, matching uniforms and an expanded offering of sports from which to choose.

    I'm quite proud of my small contribution to creating consciousness in the Central Massachusetts mill town where I grew up, and I'm proud of all of you for the ground you broke, too.

  23. I wish more young people heard these stories today. I, too, joined the feminist "party" late. My dad always told me I could be anything, do anything--we fixed engines, split wood, and went fishing together. But I didn't understand how lucky I was until much later. As I raise a daughter, my awareness of bias and sexism in the media (particularly advertising), as well as the limits that do still exist, are heightened. I'm so grateful for all the work that has been done by strong women--but there's still so much to do!

  24. OMG, Rosemary, you remember Helen's Corral Burgers, too???!!! It's not there any more, but my husband and I still dream about her artery-clogging burgers that took both hands to eat and dripped down your arms.

  25. Karen, At one point in my Park Service career at Grand Canyon I had to take training in structural fire control, taught by a Battalion Chief in the Phoenix Fire Department - before many women were ever allowed into fire departments. There was one other woman in the class besides me, the rest were men we both worked with. The instructor was very uncomfortable with us at first, but then we could see him relax as he discovered we weren't totally inept and willing to try everything - and better than some of the guys at some things. At the end of the class, he went out for drink with my husband and me and sheepishly admitted "When I started this class I was totally against women in fire departments, but now I think they might have a place."