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Women’s Lib: Then and Now

Suzanne Braun Levine

A Founding Feminist’s review of five issues that still need work

In 1972, when I joined Ms.magazine — the exciting and very controversial new “women’s lib” publication — I had just gotten my “MRS degree,” which was considered an honor, except that being married meant that I could not get a bank loan without my husband’s signature. Also, back then, I wasn’t allowed in most restaurants wearing pants; job listings were segregated under “help wanted – male” and “help wanted – female” and I had had an illegal abortion.
So, when the Supreme Court handed down its Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, 1973, six months after I started my new job, I was personally, professionally and politically exhilarated.

And the breakthroughs kept coming.

“Stewardesses,” as they were called, were early activists; they rolled back restrictions on age and weight and marital status.

“The Year of the Woman,” 1973, ushered in change to politics-as-usual when the number of female Senators went from one to six. They joined their Congressional colleagues, including the great Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), who ran on the slogan, “A Woman’s Place is in the House – The House of Representatives.”

And the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas, attended by 22,000 delegates, including three first ladies — Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter and Lady Bird Johnson — showed anyone who still doubted it that American women were on the move.

(MORE: At the Frontlines of the Women’s Movement)

Yes, we thought, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

And indeed today, 42 years to the day after Roe v. Wade, many demands that some predicted would end the world as we know it are now taken for granted — girls playing soccer and sharing dorm bathrooms with boys as well as women generals, firefighters, rabbis and news anchors. (One TV executive told Ms. that the public would never accept a female as a voice of authority.)

We have retrieved our history, transformed our health care, and both men and women think nothing of taking orders from a female boss.
Yet, there are some disappointing relapses. If we saw a light at the end of the tunnel all those years ago, it was because we were — as the feminist joke goes — looking in the wrong direction. The job is not done. Here are five issues we still need to work on… Read More


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