When it comes to feminist trailblazers in the second half of the 20th century, Ms. Magazine jumps to the head of the list. Before Ms., those of us growing up in the post-World War II years had little by way of models for strong, independent women.
Television was portraying us as happy housewives or victims or painted dolls. Newspapers and history books were ignoring us. In high school we were pointed toward careers as secretaries, teachers or nurses. My school’s counselor looked at my straight-A average and told me not to bother with university. It would be wasted on a wife and mother.
Women had only two designations, whatever our ages: Miss or Mrs. Both defined us by our marital status. Then along came a new magazine and a new title: Ms.
July 2012 marks 40 years since the life-changing magazine hit the news stands. A sample insert had appeared in the December 1971 New York Magazine. I never saw the test run, but the Ms. HerStory page says columnist James J. Kilpatrick dismissed it as “a C-sharp on an un-tuned piano.”
When Ms. made its stand-alone appearance the following July, Harry Reasoner taunted, “I’ll give it six months before they run out of things to say.”
How wrong he was. He overlooked the market for images of women who were identified as intelligent and multi-dimensional. The magazine’s co-founders, Gloria Steinem and Letty Cottin Pogrebin, were articulate and fearless and gave us courage. Ms. writers took on abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, violence against women, and the whole patriarchal system that trivialized or denigrated women’s concerns.
In her essay celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ms., Marlo Thomas quotes Pogrebin’s summary of the magazine’s role in our lives:
A world without Ms. would be a world without feisty, fabulous, trouble-making, truth-telling women. For the last 40 years, wherever I go, women have told me how grateful they are to Ms., how reading it changed their lives for the better, inspired them to demand their rights, broaden their aspirations, feel less isolated, and speak truth to power. I’m proud to have been one of the magazine’s founding editors.
Ms. was one of the most important reasons we stopped being afraid to identify ourselves as feminists. “Women’s libber” had been a pejorative label for any woman who dared speak out for gender equality. The visibility of Ms. Magazine gave us allies and leaders, women who refused to be subservient, women for whom “feminist” was a badge of pride.
The magazine has gone through re-organizations, financing challenges, and editorial shifts in its 40 years, but one thing has never changed. From its first issue, the magazine has retained its integrity and leadership as the strongest voice for women.
Care2 community, please join me in thanking Ms. Magazine for 40 years as a beacon for women everywhere.
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Photo of Letty Cottin Pogrebin receiving Making Trouble/Making History Award from Gloria Steinem, by Jewish Women’s Archive via Flickr Creative Commons