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A Feminine Feminist

While the Second Wave of Feminism had not yet exploded, it was certainly smoldering in the early sixties. The movement is usually believed to have begun in 1963, when “Mother of the Movement” Betty Friedan published her bestseller The Feminine Mystique. It took a few years for the full blow explosion of the second ‘movement’ to be taken up by discontented women, especially housewives. It was unlike the First Wave of Feminism which had a primary focus on women’s right to vote, equality in property rights and changes in the marriage relationship.

We forget that our brave sisters who crusaded in the first wave fought not only for women’s right to vote but also for women’s right of ownership of her children should a divorce occur. Moreover, inconceivable as it may now seem, women had no legal recourse against rape by her husband. These are just a few of the hard earned women’s rights now secured by women in the United States.

The Second Wave of Feminism focused on subjects like abortion, birth control, and overall reproductive rights of women. Feminists during the second wave movement viewed popular advertizing of the times as examples of the inequality of women. Many feminists tried to enlighten women to the idea that they are shown false images of how they should act and the roles they should play. In her national best seller, The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf shows how images of beauty are ultimately used against women in a million ways, “…so diffuse as to be almost invisible.”

By the time Betty Friedan founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) to function as a civil rights organization for women, I was barely hanging on as a woman in any sense of the word. Like many popular songs forewarned, I had totally bought into the notion that I had to beautify myself in order to be the best woman that I could be, or else divorce, abandonment and social rejection were certain consequences.

Divorce, abandonment and social rejection came to pass as I endeavored to become the “right sort of woman.” During the early sixties, solidifying these misguided notions, just after having ended my teenage marriage to Marilyn Monroe’s step-son Joe DiMaggio, Jr., I became a stewardess, (I say more about this in my soon-to-be-published book, Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe.)

First, however, a dozen airlines turned me down because I was soon to be a divorcee. In those days, a divorcee was considered ‘used goods’, unusable damaged merchandise. No, really! I was actually told those exact words. So I felt very fortunate this one (and only) airline gave me a chance at my childhood dream job.

Being a stewardess in an industry that ‘showcased’ their girls, with the emphasis being on looks, body and style of dress, I completely skipped the Second Wave of Feminism that pulsated during the 60s, focusing solely on how to groom the presentation of myself. During the beautifying portion of flight training classes, we were taught that first impressions were of the utmost importance.

Since we often were the first personal contact the passenger had with the airline, we were, according to our instructors, in the position of acting as the airline’s representative. It sounds silly now, but at the time, it made me feel so proud to be a representative for the airline. I actually stood straighter and made sure that my little wings pin was always buffed to perfection.

From my first flight, I was placed on probation since according to their 1960s weight charts, I was ten pounds overweight for my height which was 5’4 and 125lbs. Cheeks burning and knees weak from the embarrassment of having my body poked, prodded and judged, it never once occurred to me that I had the right to say stop. These are the kinds of things that our sisters protested during that Second Wave of Feminism.

Looking back, I now understand why some of the second wave feminists thought that it was a slap in the face to the women’s liberation movement to primp and adorn oneself in paint and lace. Not understanding the exact nature of the feminist’s movement, I wanted to be just like them, I believed in everything they stood for but was confused because of my proclivity towards all things soft, sensually draped, dangly, pastel and sexy. Oh, the internal conflict!

“I did what they said and all it got me was a lot of abuse. …Big breasts, big ass, big deal. Can’t I be anything else?” –Marilyn Monroe

NEXT WEEKS BLOG: Oh, the internal conflict!

 

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Comments

  1. Ron Kelley says:


    Although I was barely a man when the Second Wave arrived, I, too, was ‘taught’ that there was that roll for women that was ‘proper’, just as I had my own role to play. I was supposed to be smarter, earn more money, and (as I remember) be the boss. Maybe that had something to do with my not finding the ‘right’ woman during those years.

    RonK

    • Hi Ron,

      What a great example of ‘assigned roles’. Like quick sand, we all get stuck in them. The only way that I know to pull ourselves out of the muck is to become aware of our roles. Once aware, we can each chose to remain, change, or (in some cases) leave that particular role.

      For example, can I change my beliefs about how to be a woman? Yes, most definitely. I can change the particular way in which I play the role of victim, aggressor, care giver, patient, parent, money manager….etc.

      Thanks for writing. Dawn

  2. Hi Dawn,

    It’s great to know about American history of feminism. I looked up “feminine feminist” and found this post of yours. I believe I am a feminist and when I tell this to my American coworkers they are like “Really? You don’t look like one”. So, I wanted to figure out what quality in me doesn’t let me give the feminist impression.

    Though I live in the US now, I am from India, where culture takes more social precedence over laws. Though everybody is equal in the eyes of the law, women are considered as honor of the house, something that needs to be protected (which is a form of objectification). On marriage, a woman moves to her husband’s house who still lives with his parents. This is a joint family. She is called the ‘daughter-in-law of the house’ where her job is to make sure everybody in the family (including husband’s parents, siblings and possibly their wives if they are older) are waited on hand and foot. A woman who does this is considered very virtuous. A woman who wants to have a house of her own with her husband is considered to be a woman who ‘breaks homes’ as opposed to a woman who ‘wins hearts’. The woman has to seek permission of the elders before going out with her friends or even meeting her own parents.

    Though this culture is slowly changing in big cities due to nuclear families, the mindset of ‘owning’ a daughter-in-law still exists. Plus, there are sex-selective abortions in India because people prefer a male child who gives them support in old age as opposed to female child who leaves the parental home upon marriage.

    So, a lot of work needs to be done in creating awareness and I am involved in that cause.

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