Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The women's movement redux

Watching a fascinating PBS documentary tonight on the women's movement. A lot of terms and events come flooding back to me--Katherine Switzer who in the late '60s outraged the running world by entering and completing the Boston Marathon, a male race for seventy years; NOW--the National Organization for Women; "consciousness raising" groups; Women's Liberation; the sit-in at Ladies Home Journal; Roe vs Wade; ERA and Phyllis Schafly. I lived through those years but there was much I wasn't aware of. I knew there'd been a split in the movement, but I didn't understand it until hearing Gloria Steinem's words tonight that Betty Freidan wanted women to have new lives in society as it exists, but Steinem and younger women wanted to transform society. And I didn't realize that  women of color early on saw women's liberation as a cause for white women; they didn't believe it would do anything for them. It took work and time for all women to come together. Because I was raised by a doctor I was aware of the problems of abortion and later, married to a doctor, of both abortion and the pill, so I kind of had a sideways knowledge of the sexual revolution. Still, it was eye-opening to hear Sarah Weddington talk about Roe vs Wade.
I graduated from high school in the mid-fifties, part of the generation who expected to marry, raise children, and live happily ever after. I majored in English because some man was going to take care of me, and I wouldn't have to worry about making a living (that didn't quite work out and I raised four children as a single parent, but that's another story). My then-husband and I were just "conscioiusness raised" enough that we were considered the slightly amusing, on-the-edge young couple by the medical society in which we moved. We adopted children, incuding a mixed race baby; I was the first to wear a denim suit (wish it fit me today--from Neiman's and really good looking); I had ambitions to write and Joel supported me. I remember one doctor, new to town, who introduced me to his wife, saying, "She's a woman's libber."
Yet watching tonight I realize how much I was on the fringe, benefiting from what women of greater courage and nerve accomplished for all of us. Hearing Freidan, Steinem, Letty Cottin Pogebrin, Susan Brownmiller, Judy Blume, Sarah Weddington, Bella Abzug, Hillary Clinton, and others showed me the intensity of the ongoing movement. That I raised four children alone and had a good career in publishing is due to those women whose shoulders I stand on. An eye-opening documentary. Hope they rerun it.

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