Nation: Women on the March

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 2)

Storks Fly. Betty Friedan, whose 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is credited with reviving the feminist movement, originally called the strike at the conference of the National Organization for Women in March. As head of the hastily assembled National Women's Strike Coalition, she had predicted an impressive turnout and was not dismayed by the figures. "It exceeded my wildest dreams," Friedan said. "It's now a political movement; the message is clear. The politicians are taking heed already."

So they are. President Nixon issued a proclamation recognizing the suffrage anniversary, and the mayors of New York, Pittsburgh and Syracuse issued statements designating Women's Rights Day. Feminist leaders vowed that opponents of the equal rights amendment would feel the election-year sting of the women's vote.

Inevitably, the women had their detractors. The San Francisco Chronicle's Count Marco called the strike "a day of infamy and shame" and urged his supporters to wear black armbands "mourning the death of femininity." Boston marchers filed past counterdemonstrators carrying signs saying "Hardhats for Soft Broads." In Los Angeles, H.O.W. (Happiness of Womanhood) members paraded posters proclaiming "Communists Have Done It Again" and "Women's Lib Is a Society of Man-Eaters."

On rare occasions the women replied in bitter kind: "Male Chauvinists Better Start Shakin'—Today's Pig Is Tomorrow's Bacon." But mostly the demonstrations were signally good-natured, marked by cheerful and witty posters: "No Vietnamese Ever Called Me

'Chick' "; "Fight the Fags—Boycott the Midi"; "I Am Not a Barbie Doll." Stewardesses protesting regulations that prevent women with children from keeping their jobs carried banners reading: "Storks Fly—Why Can't Mothers?"

A Boston lady marched along chained to an oversize paper typewriter; in Berkeley, women wore pots and pans strapped to their backs. New Orleans States-Item women reporters ran engagement announcements with pictures of the groom-to-be instead of the bride-to-be. In Los Angeles, women at a rally donned Nixon masks and handed out flyers that read, "Thank you, women of America—by receiving low pay, paying those high, high prices and by increasing unemployment, you are valiantly contributing to my fight against inflation."

Hairy Legs. All in all, the day was a victory for the less flamboyant elements of the Women's Liberation movement.

There were no charred bras and few of the shock tactics of earlier local demonstrations, such as ogle-ins aimed at hardhats ("I bet you've got nice, hairy legs. Why don't you wear shorts?"). The movement has little organization, few chants or ringing slogans, and plenty of detractors, such as West Virginia Senator Jennings Randolph, who called the demonstrators "braless bubble-heads." But the women turned their opponents away with more tolerance and humor than has been the norm in American street politics. In the process, they probably won new support and undoubtedly new awareness among both men and women of the case for female rights.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page