The title leaped out at me from the course catalogue. Women in a Male Society seemed to describe my current life. In the middle of my senior year in college, I was one of 175 women about to become the first female graduates of Yale College in its nearly 300- year history.
So I signed up for the class that would change my life.
It was a small seminar with just 20 students; taught by Dr. Ellen Keniston, a quiet, gentle, thoughtful woman who was a psychologist at the Yale Child Study Center.
Of course Women Studies didn’t exist yet; not at Yale; not anywhere. Mrs. Keniston assigned reading that included Helene Deutsch, the first psychoanalyst to specialize in women; Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Freidan, Germaine Greer, and articles from current newspapers and magazines where history was being written before our eyes.
Even as a history major, I wasn’t well-informed about the roots of the women’s movement; and the 20th century movement was still in its infancy.
Ms. Magazine was still a year away from its first issue with the famous description of the click moment.
Long before the article or the magazine, I had my own click moment—the instant I stepped on campus. On my way to register for classes, a reporter for the New York Times had stopped me, asking if I thought women “deserved” to be at Yale.
If that incident was a click; then the seminar was more like a sonic boom.
I never joined a consciousness raising group; but the reading and discussions in that seminar certainly raised my consciousness. Plenty. And permanently.
That’s why I was prepared to repeat my Yale experience as a woman in a male society after I graduated.
That’s why two of my first writing assignments in television were on abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment.
That’s why I pressed to produce ground-breaking documentaries on rape and breast cancer.
That’s why I think everyone, every age should watch the new documentary Makers produced by PBS about the women who changed the world for all of us.
And that’s why, recently, I did something I
never rarely do—approach a celebrity.
On a cold rainy night on my last trip to New York, I was leaving a restaurant when I noticed a woman walking down the sidewalk heading our way. I felt conflicted about stopping her, but I felt compelled to introduce myself to Gloria Steinem; tell her how grateful I was for her work and how much she had influenced my life.
She was very appreciative; and way more than graciously polite. She stood on the sidewalk, answering and asking questions; engaging in conversation until I felt guilty for invading her time.
I guess this happens to her often. Recently a friend told me about a similar encounter; when she noticed Gloria sitting across the room in a New York hair salon. My friend also felt compelled to do what I did—express her admiration and gratitude.
And she got the same response. Even with her famously gorgeous hair covered by foil wrappers, Gloria stood talking with my friend; gracious, interested, curious.
At least my friend didn’t ask Gloria to take a picture wearing foil wrappers.
I did. I just hope she’ll forgive me for posting it.