Consciousness Raised

In the early days of the Women’s Movement, as it was called before it splintered into various sections and sectarian arguments (I’m talking 1970-71 here – and yes, I really am that old) women gathered in groups in their homes. Consciousness raising, as it was called, and we told our stories and learned from each other. I lived in Texas. We were furious that the Equal Rights Amendment wouldn’t happen. We were castigated for wanting to “dismantle the foundations of American society,” as if the long war in Vietnam wasn’t dismantling enough.

We were women in our mid-to late 20s and many, like me, already with children. We were, many of us, stay-at-home moms. That’s probably why we had time to go to meetings! A misnomer, stay-at-home-mom. I was far from the leisure class. I baked all our bread; bought grass fed meat and raw milk from the same country lady, skimmed the cream from the gallon jars, and made our butter; had a huge garden; worked part-time in the art therapy workshop at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas; took college classes; and still had time to stomp into school and confront a teacher who told my third grade son that he couldn’t take his retainer out to eat lunch. This, mind you, after the poor kid had undergone two dental surgeries to remove supernumerary front teeth so his permanent could come in. The principal moved him into another class with a more accommodating teacher.

I also worked in politics (surprise surprise). Those were the days when politics in Texas were fun and the days of Barbara Jordan and Sissy Farenthold, Sara Weddington who, as a young woman, had the courage to argue Roe vs. Wade before the Supreme Court. My only claim to fame was being a founding member of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus.

But, as a new member, I went to the first women’s convention in a hundred years (since the Seneca Falls convention) at the Rice Hotel in Houston.

All the big guns were there: Betty Friedan, Sissy, Gloria Steinem and Germaine Greer. Barbara Jordan came. But there were a whole bunch of the rest of us. I talked to Barbara Mikulski, newly in Congress (and yes, she’s really been in politics that long and now Senator Mikulski but not any taller than she was then.) And a slew of workshops: political action, anti-war, consciousness raising, children and work, raising wages for women. The one I chose was titled Sexual Freedom.

Now, you have to understand: I was in my 20s and married to a soldier who’d been away from home three out of five years and when he was home, mostly he was out for weeks, sometimes months, training for the next time he’d go to war. I’d had enough. Sexual freedom seemed reasonable for women if it was okay for men.

So I went. Only it turned out to be a workshop full of lesbians. Fancy that. I had no idea sexual freedom were code words. I sat a bit stunned, wondering how I could get myself out of this fix, they probably wondering what a blond Army wife and mother was doing in their caucus. But we talked. And had a great time. And when time came to vote in a block, I voted with the Sexual Freedom girls. It comes without saying, I’d think, that my world view shifted.

Imagine you’re told something will be cancelled forever or taken over by an evil corporate force.

In truth, it nearly was cancelled forever. After the ERA was finally passed, the next generation of women became more concerned with careers than with protecting equality. They’d grown up with it. Things were different. Not.

And now corporations really have taken over the women’s movement. I don’t think they are “evil corporate forces” necessarily, but the conventions have become very pricey. Stellar names still appear, but they are whisked on and off stage and into limos and never meet the proletariat. And they get big speaking fees. And interestingly, the women who were more concerned with careers are attending. They are easily in the mid-to late-forties. They have the money to go and they see the vaunted “glass ceiling” isn’t going to be broken easily.

But perhaps that’s how generational change goes. You get older. You pass on the work. Besides, been there; done that.

And on a lot less money.