What We Left Behind: Girdles, Silence and Illegal Abortion

MS Blog

January 18, 2012 by

When I went to work at Ms. in 1972, I wore a matching pink skirt and blouse—and a girdle. I had just gotten married and was, therefore, not able to get a bank loan without my husband’s approval. I had given up playing basketball (half-court for girls) in college because no coach or court could be found. And I had had an illegal abortion.

Actually it was having had that abortion that was my first tie to Ms. and the women’s movement. The Preview Issue of the magazine, which was excerpted in New York magazine, included among such classics as “Click! The Housewife’s Moment of Truth” by Jane O’Reilly and “I Want a Wife” by Judy Syfers, a list of celebrity names under the headline “We Have Had Abortions.” It took a lot of courage back then to admit to what was a crime. In the corner was a coupon which readers could fill out to add their name to the list. I filled it out with pride and relief (I hadn’t admitted to my crime before), and by the time those coupons were being counted and processed several months later, I was managing editor of Ms.

Many of the social, economic, and political restrictions that held women back were overthrown during the 17 years I was there, and Ms. was a prime mover in that wave of change. Every day at work I was learning a lot about women and about myself. I know for sure that I would not be the person I am today had I not been part of the Ms. experience, and I certainly would not have had the expertise to draw on when I started writing about Second Adulthood (Inventing the Rest of Our Lives, Fifty Is the New Fifty, and out this month How We Love Now). Without the women’s movement, I wouldn’t have had the courage or the confidence to even draw on that expertise and go public with my ideas.

This year Ms. celebrates its fortieth anniversary. It’s hard to believe that it has been so long, and when I look at photographs I am amazed at how young we were! My daughter is 25, the age of most of the staff back then. She wears whatever she pleases—but never a girdle (do they still exist?); she has several credit cards in her name; she has maintained a commitment to volleyball throughout her school years and now plays on a (co-ed) New York City team; and if she needed an abortion, she could get one (though women, especially rural women, in other states, would have a much harder time).

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.