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A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer A Goal Wholly Immodest By Celia Eckhardt Celia Eckhardt, for several years a Senior Editor at Change magazine, now lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, former Congressman Bob Eckhardt. She is the author of Fanny Wright: Rebel in America which will be published next spring by Harvard University Press, and hopes to spend the next year in Texas working with others to organize women to take a dramatically larger role in politics. This is her keynote address at the Professional Chapter of Women in Communications’ annual Banner Event held in Austin April 8, 1983. I find it hard to say properly how grateful I am that you asked me to speak here tonight, and gave me the chance to come back to one of the important places in my life, and the most loved. With its limestone hills and wonderful lakes and a sky that seemed, when I was 17, grander than any I’d known, it was Austin, Texas, that taught me first what beauty in a physical place could mean to one life. It was in Austin that I first knew the thrill of shared intellectual work with my peers, and came to believe in the importance of learning that the Tower and the library it held both embodied and offered in symbol. It was in Austin, Texas, that I began to nourish friendships with a few women who have proved among the major sustaining forces in my life: one of those women, Sally Leach, is, blessedly, here tonight. It was in Austin that I first knew women who lived as proudly and independently as any man. Marian Davis, who introduced so many of us to the rich traditions of Western art, set standards of high seriousness and respect for craft and detail that no one I’ve met since has ever surpassed. And there were the extraordinary women in the dean’s office Dorothy Gebauer, of course, and Helen Flynn, Margaret Peck, and Dorothy Dean along with Anna Hiss in physical education and Rosalie Oakes at the Y women whose integrity and patience and rational caring remain powerful examples to me a quarter century after I left these hills. For gifts such as they gave me then I feel a debt I must continually stretch myself to pay. But their importance in my life was not so clear 25 years ago as it is today. In one of her extraordinary volumes of memoirs Lillian Hellman uses the image of pentimento, the reemergence over time of early lines and designs that had been painted over. That image comes to me now when I speak of the gift these women made me because its value was initially obscured by cultural forces of commanding power. In the 1950s white women like me were not encouraged to take ourselves seriously as truly independent people. Our culture bombarded us with messages that would have us know that women and black people had their place; that only the emotionally or morally crippled tried to leave it; and that people were poor only if they refused to work hard enough to be otherwise. We were told, in effect, that we should aspire to little more than a derivative life to little more than becoming the devoted wives of professional men who would make a great deal of money so that we could enjoy the luxuries of the richest society the world has ever known, and mix only with our kind. We were not invited to see, much less to explore the contradictions between such goals and the high ideals of American democracy that Thomas Jefferson had written into the Declaration of Independence. Late in the 1960s, however, women began to talk together, and to think in culturally unsanctioned ways, and they began to pick up the threads of a tradition that Frances Wright began in the 1820s a feminist and egalitarian tradition rich and trenchant in its critique of the ways America has betrayed the ideals of its revolutionary past. The movement they started then began to make itself felt in my own life, along with the work I was doing on Fanny Wright’s biography, and my discovery that women had been sold a shoddy bill of goods when they bought the idea that a pedestal is a dandy place to be. The mixture of those strands changed my life forever. It turned me in middle age into a feminist committed to fundamental social change. For me, consequently, and for most of my female and some of my male friends, the feminist movement has both the urgency and the moral weight to command our loyalty to the death. Our goal is wholly immodest. We want to use that movement to change the world. Let me be quite clear about what I mean when I speak of feminism. It is not about making it: its goal is not to get a few more women into 22 SEPTEMBER 30, 1983 positions of power, so that they can behave there exactly as men have behaved in the past. Quite the contrary, it is a principal force in our time that works toward a humane society. I want to borrow here from Charles Black, a native of Austin and now Sterling Professor of Law at Yale, to describe the world we seek: “a society whose people strive continually to feel and to value the common humanity that unites them all, and to see in this kinship the defining and holy truth about humankind. It is a society that works into life the illimitable saying of St. Paul: ‘We are all severally members each of the other.’ ” As women in communications you know the power of your medium both for good and for evil. You know how readily the media can distort, how easily they can stereotype people so that we lose our sense of the common humanity we share. Therefore you should be immune to mediacreated images of feminists such as the one, for example, about braburning. Now, I’ve never understood why anyone would be upset if someone else burned a brassiere, though doing so strikes me as a rather silly destruction of a presumably useful article of clothing. But in fact no one burned a brassiere at the Miss America pageant, however long ago that was. The women were there to protest against the trivialization and degradation of women that pageant represents, and I cannot imagine that thoughtful women can disagree with their judgment or dismiss their outrage. Witness my dismay, then, when I made what I hope were a few discreet inquiries, only to discover that many women here tonight don’t like to call themselves feminists. Though you are competent professional women, and to that extent independent, some of you find the image of feminism distasteful. Now, you are exceedingly powerful in our culture, and frankly I want you on our side. You are powerful because you deal every day of your working lives with the ideas that shape the culture within which all of us must find our meaning: you are in the business of creating and sustaining the images by which we live. Accordingly, I hope to make you see the feminist from a more generous angle of vision, and to begin doing that I want to tell you a little about Frances Wright. Her story suggests the ways images have been used to cripple and ultimately to destroy courageous, truth-telling women, and how women themselves have so often participated in that destruction. So far as I’ve been able to discover, Fanny Wright was the first person in America to argue that women are men’s equals and should be treated as such in all the business of public life: the first to argue that professional women like you ought to be where you are today. She began to talk that way in 1828, when women in America and abroad faced a formidable set of barriers. They could not matriculate in a university, much less teach in one, and apart from a few local and minor exceptions, they could not vote. The laws that governed them and the creeds by which they lived were all written, interpreted, and enforced by men. A married woman could neither sign a contract, control money she earned, nor hold title to property originally hers by dowry or inheritance. Her children belonged legally to her husband. Her job, she was told, lay in raising those children, though she was forbidden to know the world for which she shaped them. Modesty and self-sacrifice were the goals held up to her. No one expected her to excel. No one demanded that she be great. No matter how intelligent, ambitious, and dedicated, she was ineligible for a profession and had no natural role to play in any , established institution that battled publicly to make the good prevail. Now, 150 years, by our world’s accounting, is not a very long time, but you can see from even a sketch so brief that your lives, and the lives of many American women are profoundly different from those of women then. Fanny Wright, who began the fight for rights that most of you doubtless take for granted, was subject to social ostracism you would find it hard to imagine. And I want you to know something about her because I think it is crucial, especially for women, to know how hard these fights have been, and how relentless the opposition. She was born in Scotland in 1795, brought up in England, and came to this country in 1818, when she was 23. Seven years later she became an American citizen, spent about half her adult life here, died in Cincinnati in 1852, and is buried in Spring Grove Cemetery there. She became the first woman in America to act publicly to oppose slavery, the first to speak in public before a large secular audience of men and women, and, as I said before, the first to argue that women should have the same