By Joanne Greene
PROMPT — The way I see it ...
I couldn’t throw out, okay or recycle, the pink “While You Were Out” slip that showed I’d missed a phone call from Gloria Steinam. It was 1976 and I was producing a weekly feminist show for Berkeley KRE Radio called “Women Making Waves.” You get the double meaning, right? Airwaves? And “making waves’, like making trouble?
Gloria was one of my heroes, a feminist role model of the highest order, and Ms. Magazine, of which Gloria was co-founder the year I graduated from high school, was something between a manual and a bible for me.
In 1977, I went to Houston for the National Women’s Conference because a group of Lesbian Separatists raised the money for my round trip flight. Listeners to my radio show, they thought the only way they’d get the truth about what happened was to send their own reporter. Alice, the station manager, said, "Yes" because it wasn’t going to cost her anything. It didn’t occur to me how big a deal it was that a woman was running the radio station.
I met Margo, a fellow journalist. in the elevator of the Houston Convention Center, on my way to pick up press credentials. “Where are you staying?” she asked in a lilting southern accent. When I shrugged, she said, “It’s settled. You’ll stay in our guest room! And I’ll drive you to and from the conference each day.” Southern hospitality is really something.
There were so many women, from every state, every ethnicity, and every walk of life, all there to claim their rights. For the right to an abortion, to love whom they want, for decent childcare. Rape crisis centers. Shelters for battered women. Rights for prostitutes who consciously chose their profession. An organization, based in S.F., was called COYOTE, an acronym for “Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics.” And then there was conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly with her bullhorn, trying to keep women out of the military, out of the Board Room, and send all of them, all of us, back into the kitchen. Four former First Ladies spoke, and I washed my hands in the Ladies’ Room right next to feminist icon Kate Millet.
I recorded everything — the plenary sessions, the conversations happening in the hallways, interviews with the most fascinating women I could find — and somehow, with the help of the radio station’s production director, I turned it into a one-hour documentary called, “Women on the Move,” the title of the conference.
I assumed that the Equal Rights Amendment was a slam dunk, that there would be National Women’s Conferences every few years. That this was just the beginning of normalizing rape crisis centers. That battered women shelters would spring up in cities across the country. What never entered my mind in 1977 was that Roe v. Wade could be overturned by the Supreme Court, and that women in nearly half of our nation would, once again, be forced to choose between risking their lives or taking an unwanted pregnancy to term. Of course, I also couldn’t have imagined that the Supreme Court would legalize same-sex marriage in all fifty states. It’s a good thing I’m not a betting woman.
Joanne Greene, writer/podcaster/memoirist, is the author of "By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go" to be published June 2023 by She Writes Press. After decades in SF radio and television, Joanne hosts two podcasts: "All the F Words" and "In This Story....with Joanne Greene." She writes from Novato, CA.