Another woman shares the story of her becoming with us below. Happy Solstice to one and all. May the diminishing of the dark throw increasing light into all the areas of our lives where sexism lingers and, like our sister in this week's story, may we renew our commitment to see and eradicate this perilous disease of patriarchy.
It Happened in '69
You were alive in the fifties? My son can’t merge this information with his view of me. I think he’s considering how long I’ve lived and how little time I must have left. To my kids, my birth date sounds impossibly distant. I am ancient. Yes, I say, I used to sing Whistle while you work, Stevenson’s a jerk in the “way back,” the cargo section of the station wagon, during the Adlai Stevenson/Eisenhower presidential campaign. My son is horrified. You were a Republican? My parents, I explain.
I was born in 1954, an astonishing year, a year of firsts. The first color TV. Transistor radio. TV dinner. Burger King. Broadcast of the Miss America pageant. The USSR tested a nuclear weapon.It was a year of changes, too. The Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools are unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Edward R Murrow produced A Report on Senator Joseph McCarthy. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu ended in French defeat. President Eisenhower gave his “domino theory” speech. Vietnam was split into North and South. Eisenhower warned against US intervention in Vietnam while Vice President Nixon warned that “our boys” might end up fighting in Indochina. Events were sent spinning that year, like shards of glass on a highway after an accident, with effects that have yet to come to a full rest.
Marilyn Monroe, about whom it has been said—by whom?—all women want to be her—married Joe DiMaggio that year.
Here's another image of a "typical" woman in 1954.
I became a feminist in 1969. Although there was plenty in my family background to prepare me--a mother who was discouraged from studying math in college and who gave up her job charting bombing raids during WWII with the Army Map Service to get married to someone she hardly knew, because he was shipping off to war; a family dynamic that buried uncomfortable subjects; my own feelings of seeing things differently from the people around me, and wondering if I was a little crazy--these were just the stage. The undeclared war in Vietnam, the “Conflict” it was called by the government, was the event that changed the lens through which I saw the world.
The government lying, the cynicism of the military-industrial complex, somehow made me look at everything differently. I couldn’t help but see the imperialism, genocide, racism, homophobia, destruction of the environment, and sexism we were steeped in. Something had to change. Everything had to change. I didn’t sing Republican jingles anymore.
In high school, my dearest women friends and I called each other “sister,” we wrote pamphlets, we demonstrated. I created a slide show on women’s liberation, and my friends and I performed the script, featuring songs, poems, and stories at the nearby state college and for other community organizations.
What did they make of us? I can remember the women in the audience—the middle aged ones—responding with surprise, and I think, some delight. For the first time, I knew people—women—who saw what I saw, who understood the world the way I did, who felt that the accepted scheme of things was out of whack. And these women happened to be lively and intelligent and funny. They didn’t seem crazy to me. Maybe I wasn’t crazy either.
The other day I walked by an Ivy League college in another state, as I have many, many times. Although I had known the school didn’t accept women until 1968, for some reason that fact particularly struck me at that moment as bizarre and inexcusable. And this school didn’t begin accepting women because the administration had been affected by the justness of civil rights. This school had accepted women because its applications were declining, because men were applying to the schools that had started to accept women.
I became re-feminized, reminded of how much I still accept without thinking. I was reminded that good causes and work don’t always get results. Women can’t wait to be asked to apply to an Ivy, or to run for Senate, or to be treated with respect. Women have to insist.
What would media images of women in 2009 include? Women of color. All ages. Women in the act of working, and not necessarily in the kitchen. Although they could be. Anything you can think of, and some we can’t. And if in the fifties it was said we wanted to be Marilyn Monroe, who would it be said we want to be now?
That’s easy. We have our own authority. We want to be ourselves.
—Meg from the East