In 1960, 60 percent of women entering college didn't graduate. Many dropped out once they became engaged. When you enrolled at Marquette University, did you have plans for a career after college?
It was just a given that I would go to college. The suburb I lived in was not awash with academic people. So my father went back to the Catholic university where my grandfather had gone and sought advice from the priest about where the best place to send me would be. The priest said if the goal was for me to find a good Catholic husband, I should go to this all-girls Catholic school that was high-end. He said, "She should go there because the Kennedy girls have gone there." It was regarded as the best possible place to go if your idea was to marry a good Catholic boy. But he said, "If she's planning on doing something, like writing, Marquette has the best journalism program." That was the information that was brought back home. So I went to Marquette.
Was there a moment when you decided you are a feminist?
You hear younger women say, "I don't believe I'm a feminist. I believe women should have equal right and I believe in fighting for the rights of other women, but I'm certainly not a feminist. No, no, not that!" It's just a word. If you called it "Fred" would it be better? There've only been about five seconds in American history when the word "feminist" is popular. So you come up with another one.
I spent my college years saying, "our issues here are civil rights and the war in Vietnam. And it took me until I got out in the world to realize I was being completely ridiculous. I slowly figured out I was part of the group, and it was central to my identity. It's the moment you think, "what am I?" And you say, "I'm a leftist," or "I'm a rightist" or "an Ohioan" or "doctor" or whatever. But when you say, "I'm a woman," how soon does that come up? It took me until I was out in the workplace working with other women to understand how important it was.
What, if any, obstacles did you face in the workplace?
I'm happy that comes up, because I really didn't encounter that problem. The women who came in two minutes ahead of me, historically speaking, got in the face of their publishers or editors or bosses, but didn't get the rewards. I got the rewards. Women who get to have the editorships or the good assignments don't get the chance to thank the women who were one second ahead of them.
The problem Friedan illustrated "had no name." Do you think there's a modern version of this problem? Something we've missed?
Women's voices are so powerful now. I don't worry that they won't find ways to define their issues. I look around me and see all these incredible young women who are writing and talking about stuff. The most interesting thing is when I run into young women who grew up thinking there were no issues regarding gender left. When they got into work, they were being deliberately discriminated against, but they would complain that it's less easy to bond with the guys and work on the same level as the guys in some industries. They just feel a little bit left out. They don't know what to do, because the idea that you'd be discriminated against as a woman is so outlandish in this day and age. The answer is to talk to other women. You make friends with and support other women in the workplace. There seems to be a real issue there that is outside the expectations of women today.