Lately, I’ve found myself reading a lot of stories of multigenerational female narratives. I’ve been watching movies – old and new – that depict women trying to "have it all.” I recently devoured Jennifer Weiner’s latest book Mrs. Everything which focuses on two sisters finding themselves as they hit various milestones in the background of the women’s liberation movement to present day. As I got deeper into the book, I kept wondering, have we (society) really come that far since the '60s? Or are we bound to keep spinning in circles, imposing laws on women’s bodies, debating women’s rights and the notion of “having it all,” balancing career and family?
Nora Ephron gave a commencement speech to the Wellesley class of ‘96 that discussed this very question:
“I want to tell you a little bit about my class, the class of 1962. How long ago was it? It was so long ago that while I was here, Wellesley actually threw six young women out for lesbianism. It was so long ago that we had curfews. It was so long ago that if you had a boy in your room, you had to leave the door open six inches, and if you closed the door you had to put a sock on the doorknob. In my class of, I don't know, maybe 375 young women, there were six Asians and 5 Blacks. There was a strict quota on the number of Jews. Tuition was $2,000 a year and in my junior year it was raised to $2,250 and my parents practically had a heart attack. How long ago? If you needed an abortion, you drove to a gas station in Union, New Jersey, with $500 in cash in an envelope and you were taken, blindfolded, to a motel room and operated on without an anesthetic.”
– Nora Ephron
As you read that, how much of that shocked you? For each of those scenarios that you read, how many current examples did you think of in today’s society? What news headlines ran across your mind? Ephron continued her speech to point out the magnitude that these examples hold by saying “Why am I telling you this? It was a long time ago, right? Things have changed, haven't they? Yes, they have. But I mention it because I want to remind you of the undertow, of the specific gravity. American society has a remarkable ability to resist change, or to take whatever change has taken place and attempt to make it go away. Things are different for you than they were for us. What I'm saying is, don't delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth.” This speech was given over 20 years ago, and yet it could still be applicable to a graduating class this year. This infuriates me. It feels like every step forward, there’s two leaps backwards.
The one silver lining I see whenever I come across another troubling headline or story is the power that lies with knowledge and a unified voice. The collective voice continues to stay loud. Storytelling is prevalent. Both are setting change into motion. Many men are also becoming part of the unified voice, not willing to stand by as society regresses in some aspects.
There is power in sharing stories with each other, realizing that we’re not alone in experiences where we feel shame, guilt, and isolation. The ability to advocate for ourselves and others based on shared experiences with the on-going hope for the next generation to feel more empowered. The strength and familiarity that comes with the community that is built on shared goals, hopes, and stories of womanhood. What do you want the next generation to understand? What do you wish your younger self could have known? How can we support the next generation of girls?
Written by: Robyn Singer