Women in a Male Society: From a Click to a Boom

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. 

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  1. says

    Thanks for sharing, Darryle. This is a wonderful post, and what an experience. Amazing how things just happen, having such an impact on our lives; becoming cherished memories.

  2. says

    Absolutely. I feel really really lucky to have grown up at such an exciting time. seeing history made. Such huge huge social changes in so many aspects of life. i think it’s hard for people today to grasp how fast things changed. fFor instance, I started college freshman year with a strict curfew; sophomore year had no curfew but no men allowed upstairs; by junior year I was living in a dorm with men. And thanks Jane.

  3. says

    Thank you, Denise. I felt so inspired by the Makers documentary I guess I really wanted to add in my own experience of feminism. And now I get to add the memory of meeting Gloria Steinem to the rest of them! I was just thrilled.

  4. Kate Granado says

    fabulous post. i am 66 and was in the middle of history and it still amazes me of the impact the womans movement made on society. we have to continue to stand together so our rights and our path way to freedom is not blocked by simple minded men and woman who want to change what we have earned.
    i saw gloria interviewed on msnbc with marlo thomas, look it up, it was a great, informative interview.
    thanks so much, you inspire me to write a blog about being a 66 year old with an ageless spirit.

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