I interviewed my mother for the Oral History project. I did not know the extent of her involvement with the feminist movement nor did I know if she had even strong feelings about the issues involved. However I thought given her age she made her a rather ideal narrator for the period of second wave feminism whether or not she was deeply involved. If anything I knew she could provide a unique view that might vary from the typical views of the time.
I asked her the basic biographical information before starting and these are the answers she gave.
Birthplace: Rockville Centre, NY
Birth date: 6/24/50
Education: 2 years Niagara University
Marital status: Married
Occupation: Staff secretary Newton-Wellesley Hospital
Religious Affiliation: Irish Catholic
Political Party: Democrat
I knew prior to the interview that my mother was not deeply involved in the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. However she grew up in a very liberal atmosphere that I thought would put her closer to the movement than a good majority of the public. I soon learned that this was really not the case. My mother was quick to tell me how little she thought the feminist movement actually affected her, her routine or her values. She was firm in this explanation and she seemed to take some pride in this fact. That she was this adamant about her distance from the organized movement is an interested detail of the interview that I will cover later.
Early into the interview my questions quicker became broader and broader as I realized the detachment from the feminist movement my mom had experienced. Soon I was asking the rather broad question: How much would you say the (feminist) movement affected your day to day life? My mother replied with an abrupt “None.” This was done not to be terse, as it may sound, but she was being blunt to emphasize the fact that she had no connections. Knowing my mother would not answer in the affirmative any questions pertaining to her association with the feminist movement I changed the tone of the subject by asking broadly her views on the subject of abortion. Her reply was not lengthy however she said she was pro-choice. I asked how this reflected on her Roman Catholic upbringing and I thought her reply was logical and useful for echoing the sentiments of the time. Her response explains why I think this;
“My parents had different feelings from me on abortion- They were strictly against it. But they way I and my friends rationalized it was by telling talking about how the older generation was so out of touch. Since the Catholic Church was something our parents had brought us up in we saw it as old-fashioned too. And their views on divorce and sex (before marriage) made them kind of easy to alienate”.
The course of the interview obviously led me to begin to find out why mother distanced herself from the feminist movement itself while she supported some of the individual issues. My mom explained that she found herself turned away by the organized movement and it was not the cause of the movement that displeased her. Seeing the movement as “overly dramatic” and “detached from the regular lives of people” she held a somewhat distinctive view. She knew that the changes that were being made were absolutely necessary and due to happen immediately but the changes were going to transpire regardless of what objective was being pursued at the time. In a sense the movement was going to happen one way or another, she just happened to dislike the crowd that was setting the wheels in motion.
I may have slipped in asking a leading question as my mother finished up her thoughts on her deviation from the movement’s view when I asking “Did you see the movement as being too radical?” She answered in the affirmative however she may have done so just because she wanted to see me grasping her idea (but not realizing “radical” could refer to one section of the feminist movement instead of the broader dictionary term). But if she meant radical as in simply being too extreme or excessive than this reply also shows how my mother saw the movement as too “brash”. Other terms that my mother used to describe how she saw the larger movement were “dry”, “boring”, “sour” “just not appealing”. She clarified her feelings about the people involved:
“It is not that I did not respect what they (those involved with the feminist movement) were doing and I definitely saw it as necessary but I was more concerned with my life and I was working a lot so I didn’t have a lot of time to pay attention to what they were doing. So they just came off to me a group of sour women who had something to say but were not doing a good job of relating it to the regular working person.”
It should be mentioned that my mother was involved heavily in the anti-war movement protesting against the war in Vietnam. She explained to me how all-encompassing that effort was and she said how this could have easily contributed to her lack or of interest in the women organizations. Since that protest effort was more dramatic and hot-tempered it can be understood how many impressionable young people would be drawn to this effort and contribute their total energy.
Sensing that her responses may have been less than ideal for (she is trying to help her son write a paper after all!) my mother tried to explain the underlying reasons for he disinterest in feminism hoping to give me some material for the assignment. This effort which came across as an easygoing last ditch effort to supply me with substance for a paper actually yielded some very interesting thoughts that I think truly describe my mother as well as answer the nagging question I had been wanting to clear up pertaining to my mother’s lack of interest.
Following the examples set by my mother’s older female relatives, my mom “was going to be a strong independent woman” regardless of a social movement taking place at the time. This relates back to the small sense of pride my mother felt as she stayed removed from any feminine movement. Coming from a strong household, my mother was brought up to be a strong young woman as her mother and other relatives had been.
She was always supported by her family and her father’s death when she was fourteen years old matured her beyond her years. Hence when second wave feminism picked up in America my mother was already on her way to living an independent life and making her own decisions. This is what separates her views on the people of the feminist movement and the actual changes that were being made. She was grateful and “glad it happened” however she felt she did not need a “Freidan figure” in her life to lead her along the right path. Instead of devoting time to outrage my mom saw it more beneficial to continue working her hours and awaiting change.
Looking back today my mother is undoubtedly grateful for the people who devoted their lives to the fight for gender equality. But the interview concerned her views on the movement as it happened and she was clear on how she felt at the time. Distinguishing the movement from the faces that my mom saw as the representation of the organized effort is a crucial step. Living what is supposed to be the youthful prime of one’s life, a concerted effort was need to protest the Vietnam War and my mother saw no need for someone to tell her freedom was something being held from her when she had grow up learning the exact opposite from her own mother. My feeling is that had my mother grown up in a different family atmosphere her involvement in the feminist movement would have probably been heavier.