Women’s Liberation-What it was like to be a young woman in the 70s

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

–George Santayana

I have been discouraged at times when I read that some women today think it is a negative thing to be a feminist. I have thought about writing more about it.  Just recently my husband’s aunt sent me some historical photos that inspired me to write this post.

It is important for young women today to be aware of the history of women’s rights in the United States. We didn’t have the right to vote until 1920. Women struggled for many years to win that right. When our country was founded women did not have the right to own property.

When the Women’s Liberation Movement started women were blocked from all kinds of jobs considered only suitable for men. There were very few women doctors or lawyers.  Women were not even allowed to run in the Boston Marathon. Here is some biographical info, from her website, on Kathrine Switzer the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon who the officials at that time tried to drag off the race course. “ Kathrine Switzer will always be best known as the woman who, in 1967, challenged the all-male tradition of the Boston Marathon and became the first woman to officially enter and run the event. Her entry created an uproar and worldwide notoriety when a race official tried to forcibly remove her from the competition. The photo of this confrontation flashed around the world.”  Can you imagine that, it makes me nauseated, an official tried to drag her off the race course.  It was during and after the 70s that we had the first women astronauts, more women in medical and law school, and women in leadership positions in business and politics. None of this would have happened without this struggle.

During this time of the Women’s Lib Movement, some women refused to wear bras and would burn bras during demonstrations. This was because bras were thought of as uncomfortable male inventions to make women’s breasts attractive to men.  That is how the feminists were labeled “bra burners.” Women started to learn about their own bodies, some learned to do their own pelvic exams, and to request plastic speculums which were not as hard and cold as metal ones. Women asked to keep their feet down on the exam table instead of propped high up in uncomfortable metal stirrups. Women wanted to give birth on comfortable beds, or in water instead of in a surgical style delivery room with their feet in those metal stirrups.

I read about women’s history in my American History class in college and remember what an eye opener it was and how I admired so much the suffragettes and other women pioneers for freedom. One was Elizabeth Blackwell who was the first American woman MD. When she applied to medical school the dean and faculty put her application up to a vote by the other 150 male students. They thought it was joke and voted to accept her.

I read the book Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan and Sexual Politics by Germaine Greer. Betty Friedan talked about how women in the 50s who, although college educated, were encouraged to stay at home in the suburbs and were finding something missing from their lives, (like intellectual stimulation).  Women started to question these prescribed roles they were assigned to.

I am grateful that as a young woman I was exposed to these ideas and had women leaders to look up to like Gloria Steinem. Many people may not know that Gloria Steinem once had a job as a Playboy Bunny. She did an undercover assignment, as a reporter, at a Playboy Club in New York. There was later a movie made about this episode in her life. She is quoted in an article in the New York Times that at that time, when she did this reporting, she was not yet aware of her feminism.  Playboy was a popular magazine for young men and the Playboy Club was very popular. The “bunnies” ,(waitresses), wore these low cut costumes, high cut at the bottom, with bunny ears, a puffy white tail and high heels. These were some of the role models women had then.  Films usually portrayed women in very confined roles as well.  A popular film in the 60s was Goldfinger which introduced the “The Bond Girls.”  It is now known that the writer, Ian Fleming , of the James Bond series was a misogynist. But when the first movies came out the James Bond character was very popular. James Bond is portrayed as less sexist in recent years.  I remember seeing the movie Goldfinger  as a teenager. The leading female role was a character named Pussy Galore. I remember thinking that I did not want to identify with her or be like her. I think many young guys did want to be like James Bond. I always liked strong, independent women characters. I recommend that if you are not knowledgeable about your history that you read up on it. When Women’s History courses were first introduced many feminists wanted them to be called  “herstory.”

Gloria Steinem  on being a Playboy Bunny via You Tube by hudsonunionsociety:

26 thoughts on “Women’s Liberation-What it was like to be a young woman in the 70s

  1. Dan Antion

    I was at a presentation two years ago at the National Archives. They were showing immigration documents and they were talking about a time when women were simply “assigned” the ethnic heritage of their husband. So if you were French and your husband was English, you were listed as being English. I haven’t been able to find more about that but it made me sad.

    Being the father of a young woman, I appreciate the “work” the women you
    Mention did, as well as the women in our generation. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  2. Silver Threading

    I loved this post! As an early feminist, I must tell you when I went into the Air Force in 1976 jaws dropped! At my first base I was the 13th woman on the base, and that included the nurses in the hospital! I have stories I should tell! LOL!

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
  3. pattyalcala

    Thank you for sharing such great information. It is difficult for us to believe that young women today have no idea what it was like to be a woman in the 60’s and 70’s. Even though there were some female doctors, they were demeaned by their male peers and made fun of at the hospital. I witnessed it. Good for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  4. luciemuses

    I used to feel uneasy about feminism. Partly because of bad experiences with any isms.But then I thought about it, and I feel that the first revolutionary activists need to go too far so that the world moves far enough. Nice post.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  5. Prajakta

    This was a splendid post and very informative. I cannot believe those men voted thinking it was a joke! We have come far.. And what I especially liked is the way you presented this – no male bashing but only women taking a powerful stand.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Thank You Prajakta. Elizabeth Blackwell applied to this medical school in 1849. It was unheard of that a woman would study to be a doctor. In the 1960s and 1970s there was a mood of revolution in the US. It was quite an exciting time. Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Sexual Revolution, Anti-war movement, environmentalism. Young women felt empowered. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  6. Audrey Meltzer

    Last night, I was reading something which reminded me of your very fine blog, Deborah. In the Feb 23/March 2 combined issue of “The New Yorker” magazine, there’s an article titled, “Last Girl in Larchmont” – about the late Joan Rivers. Under title, its says, “Joan Rivers was a survivor of a sexist era: a victim, a rebel, and, finally, an enforcer.” Born in 1933 and not starting to make it big til the 1960’s, she experienced enormous professional and, by extension, personal torment…and which still was evident in her chosen field up through the time of her untimely death last year. Taken from a different angle and another perspective…about the very tough world of ‘Show Biz’…it’s yet another example of how women have been influenced by, have endured, and have learned to give unique voices to prejudice.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Deborah Drucker Post author

      Thanks Audrey for your comment and adding some more information to the discussion. Joan Rivers and Phyllis Diller were both early female stand up comediennes. To do stand up you have to be very tough no matter what sex. They were tough and smart ladies.

      Like

      Reply

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