|FEATURE | fall 2007
In honor of Ms. magazine’s 35th anniversary, we asked a variety of women from across the country, and around the globe, to reflect on feminism. How has it changed their lives over the past 35 years? Where is it going in the next 35 years? See the quotes featured in the magazine.
We asked you to add your voice to the chorus as well—here is what you answered to: “What have feminism and Ms. magazine meant to you?”
Return to previous responses
I am a lesbian who worked as a union blue-collar mechanic in Miami for the majority of 16 years, and can say that as a result of that I became a feminist out of necessity. My on-the-job experiences [with sexual harassment] have been horrendous.
I approached the situation from the position that sexual harassment was against company policy and tried to work it out in house. When that didn't work I went through Human Resources and found that mostly ineffective. Incidents became worse, more frequent and unmanageable. Being the only female mechanic in a shop of about 70 left me a wide-open target in my department and eventually in other departments as well. The burden of being grossly outnumbered, disliked for my sexual harassment complaints, disliked for my lesbianism, and having to watch my back every time I step out the door has been a nightmare.
The males who have taken indecent liberties against me basically have had unlimited immunity for their actions. It's my word against theirs. It is always my fault. I have not consented to the assault on my body or life. " Silence is not consent" is posted on Washington state sexual-assault posters, and speaks to the fact a woman's inability to speak in a moment of attack is not consent. Given my experiences, I am tremendously concerned for isolated lesbian and heterosexual women in blue-collar America. I believe the women's community needs to be more outspoken against this invasion of our bodies on and off the job. I believe we need to stand together and not let cultural differences divide us and minimize the seriousness of sex crimes against women.
-Marilyn La Luz
In the 1970s when I was 23 years old I began subscribing to Ms . magazine. It empowered me as a young woman, already married, with three young children. I began writing short stories and even took a feminist writing class at the local community college in Saginaw, Michigan. The teacher and most of the class continued as a feminist writers group long after the semester ended. They encouraged me to keep submitting my stories to various publications. Because of that group of women, mostly older than me, I really found my own voice, and I feel indebted to them for the woman I am today and for the legacy I have handed down to my own two daughters.
I think I was lucky enough to be born just ahead of the baby-boomers, [in] 1945. I grew up thinking I needed a man to take care of my basic needs, [but] the idea of feminism has helped me to earn a living all on my own. When I felt that I needed a man to make me feel whole, women like Helen Gurley Brown and Gloria Steinem encouraged me to be the best I could for me.
I never thought I could make it on my own, without a man, but here I sit 62 years old, never married, and although I always leave that door open because I love the company of men, being a feminist helps me to understand that I do not want just any man. I want a man who will appreciate me as a person and a very special woman, just as I am willing to appreciate him as a very special man.
Being a feminist has helped to enrich my life far greater than I ever dreamed it would be.
In 1965, when I was two years old, my mother-a mother of three children-committed suicide. I think that act was significant as my introduction to the world of gender. In fact, the suicide rate of U.S. women was a
significant factor then in the formation of Kennedy's Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. Growing up, my father was sexist and my adoptive mother was traditional, so the only alternative gender vision I learned was from Ms . , one aunt and the feminist consciousness of public school teachers.
My school years were years of integration: Girls were allowed to wear
pants to school instead of dresses, the first all-girl basketball teams were formed, and I was the first girl crossing guard at my elementary school, as well as the first girl to go cut down the school Christmas tree. I played high school girls golf, and three of my teammates received full golf scholarships to the University of Iowa.
I was 33 years old when I entered the Community College of
Denver, then I transferred to the University of Colorado in Boulder where I earned a B.A. in women's studies in 2003. I loved the body of knowledge that Women's Studies introduced to me.
Without feminism and Ms . magazine I wouldn't know how amazing and
inspiring it is to live for something bigger than yourself, and for that I thank you.
I really feel that feminism has helped me find confidence in myself and
direction in my life. I am currently a senior at Milton Academy, a small
private school in Massachusetts, and it wasn't until last year when I began
studying U.S. history that I found an interest in feminism. Every year, each
U.S. history class has about three weeks to write a 15-page paper on a
topic of interest, and I decided to focus on the problems of the media
today and how young girls are not as active as the women in the 70s.
Soon I realized that I didn't have any female role models because the only
women that I constantly viewed in magazines and on TV were women such as
Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
I was completely discouraged and decided to find my own female role model who could help me find hope for women today. One day, my SAT tutor and I were talking about my paper, and she handed me a copy of Ms . magazine and told me about Gloria Steinem. I immediately went home and searched about her, only to find quotes from her that made me feel so powerful and encouraged. It was so nice to read such positive statements about womens' potential. I ended up recieving an award for my term paper and I think the reason was because I was so passionate about feminism and wanting women to be more than just objects to men. I had found a new role model, Gloria, and I really wanted other girls to find someone just as inspiring to them.
This year, I am writing another 15-page paper about Gloria Steinem, and
after doing so much research on her I am so inspired to really make a
difference in the world, not just as an American but as a woman. I really
don't think I would be as motivated as I am right now if I had not found
such an inspiring female role model and such a passion about feminism.
To me Ms . has been like a lone voice crying in the wilderness. I believe that the magazine has been the voice of women from all walks of life: women of diverse cultural beliefs, and religious backgrounds. Ms . magazine has not ignored any woman. It reaches out to women all over the world and brings a ray of light and a voice of hope where I sometimes see none.
I remember how happy and hopeful I was when Ms . magazine hit the stands. Finally a voice for women! Finally a magazine that was worth buying and reading cover to cover. Finally, a magazine that I was not ashamed to share with my sisters, my mother, father, and husband and, in later years, with my sons.
Thank you Ms . magazine for continuing to be that strong voice for women all around the world.
When I think of feminism and Ms. it reminds me of Jeanette Jimenez, a teacher that I had in high school. I thought I knew everything and one day she sat me down and gave me a ticket to the real world. It was, of course, a Gloria Steinem book, and the next week I read my first Ms. magazine. That was 20 years ago and I never looked back. I am now a regular reader of Ms. and a very proud feminist. All thanks to Jeanette. I will never forget what she did for me that day. And I can of course pass the torch to someone else one day.
Ms. magazine and the feminist movement provides a lifeline which connects me with other human beings who, like me, believe in and struggle for all the women on Earth to have full equality in all realms of our lives. With each issue, Ms. reminds me that the movement is still alive, our cause is just, that I am
not alone in this struggle and that we shall succeed.
P.S. Isn't it time for another big march in New York and other cities? The rallying cry "Don't iron while the strike is hot!" is still on point
.-Susan M. Hesse
She married and was trying to be a successful wife and mother of
four when she read Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique . Standing
in the kitchen wiping noses as she read, it was "Yes," "Yes," "Yes,"
and "Yes" again. Ms. Magazine appeared with story after story in which the gender issue became clearer and clearer. She swam in it and drowned in it.
I thank you for back then.
As a mother of four children, I started college when I was 30 years old. Ms . magazine and Gloria Steinem provided the inspiration I needed to get out of the house, the dead-end clerical jobs and just being Mommy. I, along with many of my college friends, supported the ERA which, I believe, would not have come to anything without Ms. Steinem and Ms . When the ERA failed to be ratified, we were devastated by the loss (I still have my ERA pin).
Back in the 70s, when I finally got through all my pre-req's and started upper division classes for my accounting major at the University of Minnesota, only 11 percent of all business students were accounting majors and only 3 percent of those were women. By the time I graduated, the top five scholastically were 4 women and 1 man. Today, my daughter looks upon me as one of those who did the hard work to make way for women to move to upper and executive management in business, and I am proud she considers me to be one of the "Ms." women.
We did rack up financial gains for women up through the 90's, but unfortunately our entire working population has been losing for the past 10 years or so. Tax laws, federal regulations and labor relations have been skewed toward the upper class and we have all lost because of it. Today, our fight isn't just for women's rights but for the rights of everyone in the lower and middle classes.
Personally, I am fighting by financially supporting those political candidates who share my views. Because it costs so much money to mount a campaign, as well as to stay in office, I believe it is more important to contribute money to a campaign than to build an extra 100 square feet into a house or buy one more electronic toy.
My belief in the capability of women runs strong and deep because of my grandmother, my mother, my aunts, my exceptional women friends from college, my daughters and daughter-in-laws and the added influence of the knowledge and shared experiences gained from the Ms . magazine.
-Marjorie R. Larson
Feminism saved my life. I was raised to believe that I was as good as
any boy. So I was astonished to receive a letter from the Fraternal
Order of the Elks informing me that while I ranked first in a
countywide college scholarship competition, they had given the
scholarship to a boy who ranked second because they thought he would
contribute more to society than I could as a girl. Of the three
careers deemed suitable for women in the 1950s-teaching, home
economics or nursing-I chose nursing. I married a physician and moved to a Portland, Oregon suburb where sexism was a way of life. The feminist movement gave me the courage to face the domestic violence that almost killed me and get a divorce. I was the first in our small town to divorce, the first to talk openly about domestic violence, the first to go back to school, the first to change careers, the first to remarry and continue working. Ms . magazine gave me the strength to be "different." I'd like to think I was strong enough to survive, but without the feminist movement and Ms . magazine I could have ended up
like my friends "headstrong" grandmother, who shot herself in the head
because she "just couldn't take it any more."
When a female non-believer confronts me with "I'm not a feminist," I ALWAYS answer, "I am proud to be a feminist." and then I tell them why. Thank you, Ms . magazine, for continuing to fight for women, and against those who
would take us back to the days when women were chattel--the property
-Gussie McRobert, former mayor of Gresham, Ore., and author
of The 'Improper' Woman-The Tyranny of Expectations .
It changed my life and empowered me.
Before I remembered the sexual abuse I survived as a child, I didn't "get" Ms . magazine. In fact, I felt uncomfortable reading it. Looking back, I think it felt dangerous to me for women to be raising their voices and talking about injustice. But Ms . became part of my healing process. Issue after issue, as I remembered my abuse, healed from it, and recovered myself, I understood more and more clearly that my personal horror was part of the horror of sexism. I remember in particular the survey on violence that asked women not just about acts of violence against them, but their fear of violence and what that prevented them from doing. The fear even more than the acts keeps us in our place. And the fear engendered by abuse had kept me in my place. But not any more. Now I see myself as part of the effort that Ms . is making to free us from all of the ways that we are silenced and our power threatened. And I will never, ever be without a subscription to Ms .
That feminist ideas could be debated and you could see yourself as a
feminist reflected back to you in the pages of a magazine was radical-is still radical. Ms . allowed feminism to exist in living rooms, waiting
rooms, party conversations, leading to a whole generation of socially aware
feminists eager to move the world closer to social justice. As part of the
board of Third Wave Foundation, I am fortunate to be constantly inspired by
youth whose social justice, activist work shows just how much feminism is no
longer an addition to a generation's ideals, but rather completely in sync
-Jessica Hidalgo Holland
Feminism did not change my life, feminism is my life. From the moment in the early 1970s when I attended a presentation at a homemakers' coffee hour by the Baltimore Women's Liberation Movement, I became a feminist. A wife, a mother of four, a former Playboy bunny, supporting as a single mom three small children, I have not looked back. A lifetime of feminist practice, activism and leadership has brought me to today where at 67 I am a partnered lesbian, a feminist activist/scholar and professor. I am a proud subscriber of Ms. , which continues to inform and incite!
-Penny Gardner, Ph.D.