Valley Girl Feminism
Douglas, Susan, The Progressive
You have got to see this new magazine--you won't believe it," insisted a feminist in her mid-twenties. She was certain that I would gag over the premier issue of Jane, Jane Pratt's modestly titled and allegedly uppity magazine for twentysomething women. But first I had to find it: It was sold out everywhere. Then I slogged through forty-eight pages of models who looked like they had spent the last eight months at Donner Pass before getting to the first piece of writing, "Jane's Diary," subtitled "Why I'm Not Quite the Biggest Egomaniac in the World." "Duh" and "whatever" are in almost every piece: the triumph of Valley Girl feminism.
It is experiences like this that make one wonder who ever invented the idea of progress. My quest for the premier issue of an uppity women's magazine reminded me of a similar and much more exuberant quest just a short while back. My God, was it really twenty-five years ago?
I was wearing hip-hugger bell bottoms, the kind that snap below the navel, with an R. Crumb "Keep on Truckin'" patch on the butt, and a Danskin leotard with no bra. Although I hardly looked like my consciousness had been raised, I was rushing to the newsstand to get that first issue of Ms. So let's remember--all kinds of women, with shaved or unshaved legs, with blush on or not, lesbian or straight, of all races--delighted in seeing it stacked up at the newsstands, thumbing its nose at Ladies Home Journal and Glamour. And when it sold out in eight days, we could jubilantly thumb our noses at ABC's Harry Reasoner and Howard K. Smith.
People forgot what Neanderthals like these used to get away with saying on national television under the guise of "commentary." On December 21,1971, the day after the first issue hit the newsstands, Reasoner announced to his audience that the magazine was "pretty sad," and predicted it wouldn't last beyond three issues. Why? Because good magazines needed someone like H.L. Mencken, and "there is no sign in Ms.--or indeed in the whole women's movement--of an H.L. Mencken." The one thing "the girls" putting out Ms. did have going for them was that they were "prettier" than the Bard of Baltimore. "There isn't an article in Ms. that wouldn't look perfectly normal in one of the standard women's magazines, and has probably already been there, only better written," he sniffed. And there wasn't anything else to say about feminism or sexism since "they've said it all in the first little issue."
The boys at ABC really had their boxers tied up in knots over this, because on the very next night, Howard K. Smith also held forth on the inanity of Ms. and feminism. The real truth was that we lived in a matriarchy, in which "women dominate our elections; they probably own most of the nation's capital wealth; any man who thinks that he, and not his wife, runs his family is dreaming." There was no inequality because Golda Meir was the prime minister of Israel, so there. Just a year earlier, Smith had announced that women "get the most money, inherited from worn-out husbands." What the country really needed was "man's lib. …