from the archives

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Photo: New York Magazine

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the August 24, 1970, issue of New York. We are republishing a selection of Gloria Steinem’s writing from our archive to celebrate her 90th birthday.

Soon, very soon, kids will be back in school, the fall rain will wash away most of the heat and some of the smog, and we can stop worrying about Con Ed cutting off our lifeline to the air conditioner. Soon, the rich will have their psychiatrists back (where do they all go in August?) and the poor will have a brief respite between too much heat in their houses and no heat at all.
But right now, the city is still like an anthill inside a Thermos bottle: who can be expected to have an attention-span more than 30 seconds long? So this column — devoted to women’s news in honor of the big doings on August 26, the 50th anniversary of the day women got the vote — is divided into short items again, suitable, I hope, for reading between snorts of rage at McSorley’s. Or just while waiting for the monsoons (or the doctor) to come.

Strike! “I propose that on Wednesday, August 26, we call a 24-hour general strike, a resistance both passive and active, of all women in America against the concrete conditions of their oppression … I propose that women who are doing menial chores in the offices cover their typewriters and close their notebooks, and the telephone operators unplug their switchboards, and waitresses stop waiting, cleaning women stop cleaning, and everyone who is doing a job for which a man would be paid more — stop! Every woman pegged forever as ‘assistant to,’ doing jobs for which men get the credit — stop! In every office, every laboratory, every school, all the women to whom we get word will spend the day discussing, analyzing the conditions that keep us from being all we might be. And if the condition that keeps us down is the lack of child-care centers, we will bring our babies to the office that day and sit them in our bosses’ laps. We do not know how many will join our day of abstention, but I expect it will be millions.”

That’s part of the Strike Call written by Betty Friedan, the originator of the idea that this 50th anniversary be used to focus some of the free-floating energy of the new women’s movement, and it is beginning to strike terror into the hearts of various business and government administrators across the country. What if women really do retreat from offices? march through the streets? bring their kids to City Hall? picket businesses that discriminate against them? leave even a few thousand of those low-paid positions at the nation’s switchboards?

The suspense is increased because no one really knows what will happen, not even the Women’s Strike for Equality headquarters here at 229 Lexington Avenue. Women at that coordinating office try to pool information, to provide speakers for various rallies around the country, but there’s a good deal less coordination than there was for the Moratorium. And a lot less money.

News drifts in. Chicago women are holding two big rallies in the parks. Boston women are taking over the churches, just as their suffragette grandmothers did to get the vote. In Washington, the Federally Employed Women (accurately and acronymically known as FEW) are forbidden by law from striking, so they’re holding a rally after work. Nurses, also unable to strike, are holding meetings and teach-ins in hospitals. The Strike office here will announce a nationwide boycott of those companies that discriminate most against women; in employment, advertising exploitation, or both. Radical nuns are displacing priests for the day in the pulpit. Women theologians may rewrite some of the more sexist prayers, notably the one requiring Orthodox Jews to thank God every morning that they aren’t women.

In New York, there will be a noon demonstration at City Hall, with both welfare and middle-class mothers confronting politicians (and bringing their kids along for what is being referred to as a Tot-In) on the issue of child-care centers. At 5:30, women will gather at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, and then march down Fifth to a rally in Bryant Park. Beginning at 8:30 that evening, there’s a $5-a-head victory celebration at the Village Gate: wine, music, and dancing.

The New York Tea Party. Upstate and suburban women have a few plans for the 26th, too, notably a mock tea party (to symbolize the only political activity allowed to women: pouring tea) at the Rochester home of Susan B. Anthony. After the tea-drinking, they plan to smash the cups.

Waiting for Bella. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm has been getting a lot of surprised reaction to a McCall’s article in which she wrote what she has been saying for years: that she has experienced more discrimination in politics because she’s a woman than because she’s black.

In the halls of Congress, however, that fact comes as much less of a surprise, and she gets another kind of question. Worried fellow congressmen, having read about our own Battling Bella and being reasonably sure she’ll get elected, tend to draw Mrs. Chisholm aside to ask, “What’s this Abzug woman really like?”

I’m not the madam … ” Since “Mr.” doesn’t indicate marital status, there’s been a lot of resentment of “Mrs.” and “Miss” as required forms of address. Now, many politically sensitive organizations have started using “Ms.” on letters and forms to indicate the addressee is female; a simple counterpart of “Mr.”

The New York Commission on Human Rights, headed by Eleanor Holmes Norton, solves the problem by addressing all women correspondents the way they sign themselves (Miss Betty Smith, Mrs. Betty Smith, or Mrs. John Smith), but using Ms. Betty Smith if marital status isn’t specified.

Personally, I’m all in favor of the new form, and will put it on all letters and documents. But an airline clerk asked me, “Miss or Mrs.?” on the phone, and I was stumped. How the hell do you pronounce Ms.?

The Second-Oldest Profession. The Strike had a political side effect when a fundraising party given on its behalf at the East Hampton home of Ethel Scull caused the one and only public fundraising effort of Richard Ottinger to be canceled.

Or rather, the publicity given to the Strike party did it.

After reading Charlotte Curtis’s coverage of the bash at Mrs. Scull’s (Ms. Scull’s?), the Ottinger staff decided they couldn’t risk that kind of ridicule. “And we really needed something public,” said one Ottinger volunteer regretfully. “Dick’s biggest problem is that his only contributor seems to be his mother.”

Actually, the Curtis story on the party was both funny and fair. (Though it didn’t explain the use the money would be put to: paying for the expenses of the Strike coordinating office in New York.) Aside from the fact that some of the women with rich husbands or rich fathers were connecting for the first time with the problems of their poorer sisters (“We don’t like to face the fact,” said one rich wife frankly, “that we’ve been living like children”), it was a charity party like any other. The only solution to having reporters perceive, and write ironically about, the drinking-Champagne-for-starving-children endemic to such parties is not to invite the press at all. I, for one, would respect anyone who kept me out.

Fund-raising is necessary, but it’s an indecent activity, and should be carried on in private.

Uncle Tom. In spite of all the public successes of the women’s movement, there are still plenty of internal problems. And not the least of them is the women candidates who get elected by adopting male attitudes. Of the five women who are expected to join the 11 women incumbents in Congress this fall, three probably reflect the male view of their sex. Louise Day Hicks of Massachusetts and Ann Uccello of Connecticut don’t say much about the issue, but probably are as conservative there as elsewhere. Phyllis Schlafly, a former Goldwater supporter from Illinois, said proudly, “I don’t believe in women’s rights, I believe in chivalry.”

That leaves Ella Grasso of Connecticut, whom the Congressional Quarterly assesses as “not a crusader for women’s liberation.” And, of course, our own Bella Abzug.

However, of the 11 incumbents, nine are clearly not Uncle Toms, and the other two — especially Patsy Mink of Hawaii, though feeling in her state caused her to vote against the Equal Rights Amendment — seem to be changing rapidly. Congressman Emanuel Celler from Brooklyn, the most vocal foe of the Amendment (and one who may suffer from his stout resistance in the next election), is said to fear that Bella and Shirley together will be enough to activate them all.

Two men. I know this column is supposed to be about women, but a headline in the Los Angeles Free Press, one of the best of underground papers, deserves a reprint: “NIXON GUILTY MANSON SAYS.”

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