Where were you during the sexual revolution?
Last night I noticed that VH1 was running a retrospective of the “Sexual Revolution” of the 60s and 70s. I had a front row seat for the original show, and I thought it would be interesting to look back on the liberation process from the viewpoint of a wise woman. In the daily battles of life, one can forget large victories and small blessings. It was illegal to share information about and to sell contraceptive products in the early sixties. Sex education was limited to, “Keep you knees together until you say I do and have a wedding band on your hand.”
Then came the great liberator, THE PILL!
Women could have a career AND sex and not have to worry about an unplanned pregnancy. This was a big damn deal in the fight for equal pay. Companies used the ‘impeding-mommy’ excuse to deny women promotions. After all, women were only in the workforce ‘temporally’, until like good girls, we got pregnant and stayed home to fulfill our real job— wife and mother.
That sounds insane more than 30-years later, but in the 60s and 70s the newspaper want ads were divided into two sections, MEN and WOMEN. Guys got offered the career positions and we got the pink-collar, clerical positions. In 1969, I was up for a promotion based on education and demonstrable experience. My boss, looking directly at my abdominal area, said that he didn’t want to train me for the manager’s position, only to loose me to a pregnancy-leave. I looked dear old Gil straight in the eye and honestly stated, lip quivering for affect, and hoping the glint of anger in my eyes might be mistaken for a gentler emotion and said, “I can never have another child.” He looked acutely embarrassed to have brought up an obviously distressing subject, and agreed to give me the manager’s slot on a trial basis. I left his office knowing that indeed I hadn’t lied. I would never have another child. I could never afford another child.
I was a single mom, struggling to pay the mounting hospital bills for my son who, at 18-months, suffered an adverse reaction from his DPT vaccine. Twelve hours after his injection, my happy healthy little boy, was hospitalized with Glomerulonephritis (nephritic syndrome) a disorder characterized by body tissue swelling (edema), high blood pressure, and the presence of red blood cells in the urine. Tom was in and out of the hospital for the next 6-years, and had special needs requirements through high school.
Business associates often thought I was career driven. Actually, I devoted most of my early professional life to simply paying for my son’s medical care. Every pay raise mattered. For many of the working moms in the 70s, and we were not a small sisterhood, reliable birth control was the basis of a reproductive rights revolution. Having reasonably safe, reliable birth control allowed women to take control of our personal and professional lives, and the ability to develop careers that would support our families.
So as cool as the pre-aids, free love, movement sounds on VH1, for most of us, the benefits of the sexual revolution were far more pragmatic. The sound track of the “sexual revolution” still holds up, however it is disconcerting to hear the music of one’s rebellious youth in the elevator and on the easy listening radio station.