Figuring Out Feminism ~ The First Time

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I grew up during the time when feminism had teeth. I was too young to participate in much of the dialogue; but I did hear the conversation. And while I was confused by it, I learned from it.

Battle of Sexes

I'd say the birth of such thoughts began in 1973, when I was 9 years old.

I remember vividly being at my grade school's open house, and the parents pouring into the school, debating and awaiting the results of The Tennis Match. Our school, normally filled with nurturing parents, eager to see what their children had done and to brag to other parents about it, was now filled with cool, even somewhat hostile parents who resented not being able to see the match.

Tensions didn't lower any when Billie Jean King beat old what's-his-face, either; in many cases, this was the real start of familial battles of the sexes & brought more than a few marital cold wars. My parents, thankfully, were both more progressive and such strife didn't infect our home. But when visiting with friends I heard it, felt it, even cringed from it.

Billie Jean King Wins

And I thought about it. A lot. Including about how what I was seeing there was different than "at home", yes; but also about what made my home, my parents, different than those parents, that couple... But also about what I saw that didn't match-up quite right.

It wasn't just that men and women were often on the other sides of the proverbial tennis net, but sometimes it was like there was just one player lobbing balls to no one...

Or worse, an announcer giving you the play-by-play, but with no game to see.

Equality was as much a belief and faith as any religion back then, for as much as you heard, there was little to actually see.

While the conversation and argument raged on in homes and in the media, permeating the air of my youth, there was little to see, little evidence of equality and change.

Bobby Riggs in Chauvinist Pig Tee

Just five years after Billie Jean Kink kicked male chauvinist ass, my afternoons were spent watching America ogle Charo on The Merv Griffin Show, nod approvingly as Mary Tyler Moore had her good girl head patted by the paternal Lou, and celebrate Happy Days' Mrs. C. for her continuing standard of womanhood ~ so much so, that even Rhoda wanted to get married.

And don't tell me that those traditional values didn't affect Geraldine Ferraro's VP run. I heard the talk, live, at holiday dinner tables, in school hallways, at the local drug & dime stores, in the crowds lined-up to watch Fourth of July parades... Ferraro was one uppity woman to think she could do such a thing. And those who believed she could or should were delusional. If you were a female of feminist faith, you were not only as irrational as your gender, but even more dangerous in your potential for organized action.

The world was like one unhappy husband; it could easily tune out one woman flappin' her gums, and a group of them resulted in a headache, but having them move from the morning coffee klatch at the kitchen table to larger groups organizing in the living room? Oh boy, no good could come from this...

I didn't go to any of the meetings, but Phil Donahue and copies of Cosmo (magazines left lying around in everyone's home, while the Playboys were hidden) told me of such groups. Some women gathered with mirrors to look at their vaginas and tell themselves how beautiful they were ~ a grown-up version of Free to Be... You and Me. Others, who presumably had already done the mirror thing, met to discuss sex as power, how women had it and that it was OK to use it ~ and if he didn't respond to it, he was likely gay. And that was OK too. As was the fact that you might not only find women succumbing to your sexual power, but you might prefer it. All of this likely sent more than a few women back to the mirror with questions.

November, 1971, Cosmopolitan What To Wear To An Orgy Article

But while Donahue wore a skirt (further developing my crush on him), I didn't see any other men following suit. (But three-piece suits were definitely dwindling.) And while Cosmo told us that it was OK to go to an orgy, they did so while telling women what to wear ~ which really seemed to send the message of dressing for others, not of the freedom portended.

And while discussion of open marriages were plentiful, the talk centered on adding other people to the mix rather than addressing "openness" in the way I saw it was needed, with couples talking honestly and openly with one another about what was all going on... Everywhere people were running after things, one another, but few couples were really talking to each other. I knew this not just because more of my friends' parents were divorced/divorcing, but because of those still married, the number of those with separate bedrooms far out-numbered those sharing beds.

The cognitive dissonance was huge ~ higher than my babysitter on a Saturday night.

February, 1975 Como Mag

Perhaps nowhere was it most easily noted was in the Cosmo "working girl" fashion spreads. The suggested work outfits consisted of tops cut so low &/or skin-tight, skirts so short & slit so high, and shoes so strappy and high-heeled that the models rivaled the cover model for (what I can only honestly describe with my then-mind as) the slutty sex-sells factor. They were dressed like working girls alright, but more like movie versions of street prostitutes I'd seen than any women I knew. Why did the cover lines say we didn't need to get on our backs to get to the top, but suggest we dress as if we would?

I not only knew that this mode of dress was, at best, impractical advice, but that it was counter-productive to employment. My mom worked in HR, and not only did she never-ever dress like that, but she took the great pains of her appropriate dressing and turned it into knowledgeable advice for the recently divorced women who were now forced to look for employment. So I knew that what Cosmo suggested in terms of fashion for the workplace was not reality.

And why did they insist on calling us, themselves, "Cosmo Girls?"

It was all so off-base, that I often wondered if I was missing the satire... If, in fact, the whole darn thing ~ feminism ~ wasn't a joke.

To be continued...

Image credits:
Billie Jean King & Bobby Riggs photos via New York Times & AP.
Bobby Riggs in chauvinist pig t-shirt, via Sports Illustrated.
Cosmo orgy image via TobyMelt
Retro Cosmo cover via AdArt Gallery.


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