Assignment: 1966: The National Organization for Women

It’s June 30th, 1966. The top 3 songs in the country are, in order, “Paperback Writer” by the Beatles, “Strangers in the Night”, and “Paint It Black” (the rest of the Top 10’s a bit of a train wreck, however). The Mothers of Invention release Freak Out!, their debut album, on the 27th. The album is initially a bomb, but as the Mothers (and Frank Zappa especially) rise in popularity in the ’70s, it’ll be hailed as a classic. The Beatles, who are said to be influenced by Freak Out! (despite being referred to by Zappa as “only in it for the money”), begin an Asian tour in Tokyo at the Nippon Budokan, which will become not only a popular venue for rock acts, but for acts to record live albums in after Cheap Trick’s popularity exploded worldwide in the late ’70s in the wake of Cheap Trick at Budokan. In non-music news, Dr. Maurice Hilleman announced that a vaccine for mumps was successfully tested on Saturday the 25th. The Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York was decommissioned as a result of the increasingly huge ships being unable to pass under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. On the 26th, the “March Against Fear”, by now having over 16,000 marchers after being started by one man, James H. Meredith (who was shot and hospitalized after starting), ends at the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi. In lighter news, J. J. Abrams is born the next day, and John Cusack and Mary Stuart Masterson the day after that. And throughout the week, there are some big sports stories: Dikembe Mutombo and Mike Tyson are born on the 25th and 30th, respectively, and Ron Santo of the Chicago Cubs is hit in the face by a wild pitch on the 26th, breaking his cheekbone. When he returns on Independence Day, Santo will begin wearing a helmet with an earflap, which eventually lead to them being made mandatory by baseball in 1983.

This is all secondary, however, to the formation of the National Organization for Women on the 30th. In the 50 years since, NOW has grown from 49 founding members to over half a million. While Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique, is credited with touching off the “second wave” of feminism, it’s the formation of NOW that brought the movement kicking and screaming into the mainstream. More importantly, it forced the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to actually enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in regards to women. The problem with this is, however, is that it means that NOW is pointed at (primarily by critics) as the embodiment of all feminism. This just isn’t the case.

Firstly, NOW under the leadership of Friedan gave no time for its lesbian membership, a sad situation that Friedan spent that last thirty-some years of her life walking back from. Furthermore, a key complaint about The Feminine Mystique was that it ignored the plight of women who weren’t middle-class and white (without having actually sat down to read the book and make my own assessment, it sounds suspiciously as if Betty Friedan is the first person who was ever told to check her privilege). Lastly, and on a personal level, there is no monolithic standard for feminism, even if the core goal (equality for women) is universal.

Maybe it’s because I’m a guy who’d like to see himself as a feminist, or at least an ally, I’m sensitive to these schisms. I don’t look down at porn or Power Girl’s notorious boob window (or most of the more debated female superheroine costumes), and I’ve definitely staked something of a claim towards being far more sympathetic to Xander over at the StoryWonk forums than most (I’m about the only person who didn’t bury “Go Fish”, for instance). A lot of this is because I’m trying to not be a total hypocrite, but also because I’ve been that guy over the past 38 years way too many times, and I know first hand how hard it is to be a better person when literally everything drummed into you culturally says that it’s OK to be sexist (for instance). That white male privilege thing is absolutely real, everybody. On the other hand, I’d like to think I’m pretty ahead of the curve when it comes to bisexuality……but I also recognize that how I came to that position can be construed as being less than pure (which is why The Great Willow Sexuality Rant took months of writing and over 20 revisions before I published it).

But with those largely personal caveats aside, NOW has done a lot of great things in the world, and as with everything, the organization is constantly growing and changing. Not all at once, and maybe not perfectly, but they’re fighting the good fight as best as they can.

Next time, we inch ever closer to actual episode reviews again (yay!) by introducing Robert H. Justman’s preferred Star Trek music composer.

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