While listening to NPR on the drive home from work today, and wondering whether or not I had anything to blog about, I heard these words: “Gloria Steinem is 82 years old.”
Not possible! the voice in my head argued. (I never talk to myself out loud while driving, at least not when other drivers are close enough to see through my window.) But then I reasoned that it must be true, because it was NPR, after all, and doesn’t that stand for Numerous Professional Reporters?
I let Ms. Steinem’s age (and, therefore, my own) sink in for a few flips of the odometer. And even though I was driving forward, my mind was spinning backward, to much younger versions of Gloria Steinem and myself. It was an era that many know about only from history books (the good ones), documentaries, or their mothers’ reminiscences. I’m talking about 1960s feminism.
I have to admit, though, with much chagrin, that even I (someone who shares a home town with Susan B. Anthony) was caught off-guard when my college roommate joined the women’s liberation movement of the 60’s. “But I like being the weaker sex,” I remember telling her. (It shames me to my core to reveal that here, but if I’m going to blog, I want it to be honest bloggery.) I’ll never forget the look on her face when I said that: pure disdain. We were never that close, but I think our friendship died that day.
Hearing myself utter those ridiculous words must have embarrassed me into rethinking my position, and I soon came to embrace feminism and to strive to live my life in a more liberated way from then on (although sometimes it’s been a struggle). But I’ve come a long, long way from the high school girl who once let her date win at bowling (by purposely throwing a gutter ball), to the woman who is incapable of doing that today. (And not just because I don’t know anyone who goes bowling.)
In my defense, the prevailing mode of thought in my teens was that girls should learn how to cook, sew, wear makeup, and catch a husband, and boys should learn how to fix things, build things, make out with girls, and settle down with a good wife. And, by the way, that wife could never, ever, dream of being President of the United States.
Just take a look at what my classmates actually said in response to a poll (“A Woman President?”) published in my high school student newspaper in 1964 (the year that Margaret Chase Smith ran against Barry Goldwater for the Republican nomination):
S.G.: “I feel that a woman could be a good president because of her natural ability of arguing for an idea until hoarse, yet easily changing her viewpoint for different people.”
D.W.: “In this time of crisis we need a strong president. Foreign leaders would not respect a woman especially in the Asian countries that still consider women inferior.”
B.F.: “I couldn’t respect a woman president. I think a man should hold such a position of leadership. If a woman were president, I’d feel responsible for all her mistakes.”
D.S. “I’d agree to having a woman president if they’d change the age requirement to between 21 and 30 years old.”
J.K.: “We have not yet reached the point of social equality. A woman could not be accepted in this country or in foreign nations.”
R.F.: “I would not elect a woman to the office of president since the job requires a rational, objective thinker. A woman does not possess these essential qualities.”
G.A. “A woman can hardly balance her own budget let alone that of a country.”
K.B.: “If she has the same qualifications as a male candidate I don’t see why we shouldn’t have one.”
H.R. “We might as well have a woman for president. The whole country is a matriarchy anyway.”
J.K. “I don’t think we should have a woman for president. Most women wouldn’t vote for her because of jealousy. She couldn’t handle world problems as efficiently as a man.”
N.B.: “Woman’s place is in the home. I don’t see how her marriage could work if her husband was continually subjugated to her duties as president.
B.A.: “I feel that a woman is just as capable as a man to handle the presidency. However, I believe that the woman to hold this office should not have the responsibilities of raising a family. A woman such as Margaret Chase Smith would probably do a fine job, I’m sure, but it will probably be quite a long time before the opposite sex really makes a race out of the Presidency.”
G.S.: “I can’t see a married woman in the White House. She couldn’t run national and world affairs and at the same time let her husband run the family. Not only would she have a press secretary, but fashion secretaries too. And one more thing, I can’t see her husband decorating the White House.”
J.K. “This country is not ready for a woman President. I think there are women capable of the job and I am glad there is a woman brave enough to pioneer in this field previously untouched by women. Perhaps the country is ready for a woman vice-president.”
D.C.: “This is a woman’s world anyway. Why not a woman President?”
That was 1964, when I was just a freshman. In 1966, that same paper published my anti-war poem. And the changes just kept on coming.
When I vote this November, I’m going to be thinking about Gloria Steinem, Susan B. Anthony, and my old college roommate, and uttering a deep and profound thank you to all three of them for raising my feminist awareness and giving me the gift of a liberated life.
My new photo book about the Pacific Northwest, “Standing in the Surf,” is available in e-book and paperback formats here: