Ms. Magazine: Gloria Steinem Discusses First Issue Ms. magazine raises questions for "the thoughtful woman seeking definitions of her own role." Linda Wertheimer and Susan Stamberg discuss the first issue with editor Gloria Steinem.

Is 'Ms.' A Magazine Or A Text For Revolution?

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Ms. is edited by feminist writer Gloria Steinem. Two women from National Public Radio staff, Susan Stamberg and Linda Wertheimer, looked at the magazine.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: Ms. - Ms., capital M, small S, period - a salutation recommended by secretarial handbooks for use when a woman's marital status is unknown, that's the name of the new magazine, the form of address which extends to women the privilege men have always had, that of a neutral address, the same for married and unmarried people. Editor Gloria Steinem spoke with me recently about what her magazine is trying to do.

GLORIA STEINEM: The women's magazines that are around, most of which all of us who work on Ms. have worked for, are really talking about women in their roles as wives and mothers, really, in spite of the fact that every once in a while they do a different kind of article saying that women are human beings. Even then, the next month, in order to be objective, they publish another one saying they're not (laughter). And that's fine. But it is not honest.

I think that all of us, when we read those magazines, get a sense of dishonesty that - in a way, that's almost why we read them. You know, it's an escape from our lives. It's all beautiful and glossy and sweetness and light, and all the stories turn out well and so on. And that's a function. You know, it's like going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon. But it doesn't help you when you come out of the movie. It doesn't help you to change your life. And it's not really allowing women to tell the truth about their daily experiences.

I mean, I feel that I am - even I and lots of other women are very isolated from each other so that we need a magazine that's a kind of consciousness-raising group in itself, a friend, you know, that comes into your house and is something that really tells the truth about your life and that will help change life instead of just offering an escape.

WERTHEIMER: Ms. is part who you are, part how-to. The longer articles deal with women understanding themselves, but there are also articles on how to establish a day care center, an article called "Heaven Won't Help The Working Girl" with some suggestions on helping oneself. For those women who are constantly hearing that you must be near your period when they lose their tempers, there's an article called "Men's Cycles - They Have Them Too, You Know." And at the end of the magazine, for women who want to know more, there's a list of organizations providing information and services on day care, legal aid, abortion and working women. The articles provide information; they don't harangue. Susan.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: The standard bearing article in this first issue is by Jane O'Reilly - "The Housewife's Moment Of Truth," it's called. And it stands as a summation of many of the ideas that make up the women's liberation movement, as well as those ideas which the magazine itself hopes to advance. Jane O'Reilly catalogs incidents in which women confront one another or themselves and experience a shock of recognition, a click, a moment of truth that creates instant sisterhood. The incidents all relate to man-woman confrontations in which it becomes blindingly clear that the man views the woman as somehow a second-class citizen. Examples - Jane O'Reilly writes...

WERTHEIMER: (Reading) In Houston, Texas, a friend of mine stood and watched her husband step over a pile of toys on the stairs, put there to be carried up. Why can't you get this stuff put away? He mumbled. Click. You have two hands, she said, turning away.

STAMBERG: Another O'Reilly example - (reading) last August, I was on a boat leaving an island in Maine. Two families were with me, and the mothers were discussing the troubles of cleaning up after a rental summer. Bob cleaned up the bathroom for me, didn't you, honey? She confided, gratefully patting her husband's knee. Well, what the hell? It's vacation, he said fondly. The two women looked at each other, and the queerest change came over their faces. I got up at 6 this morning to make the sandwiches for the trip home from this vacation, the first one said, so I wonder why I've thanked him at least six times for cleaning the bathroom. Click, click.

Summing up the clicks, Jane O'Reilly writes, in the end, we are all housewives, the natural people to turn to when there is something unpleasant, inconvenient or inconclusive to be done.

WERTHEIMER: "Why Some Women Fear Success" by Vivian Gornick - whatever happened to that girl who was the brightest sixth-grader? Why is it that little girls lead their class in grade school, in junior high, even in high school, then they go off to college and something happens? The little boys who were mischievous in the sixth grade, the little boys who didn't do their homework in junior high - they're the law students, the medical students, the college professors. And where is that girl who was so bright in the sixth grade? She's married to that medical student who didn't do his math homework in junior high. What happened to her that didn't happen to him?

Vivian Gornick writes of Dr. Matina Horner, doing research on motivation and achievement at the University of Michigan, who discovered what she calls not a will to fail but an active, anxious desire to avoid success among the female students in her study. Here's how she puts it.

STAMBERG: (Reading) These girls were positively anxiety-ridden over the prospect of success. They were not eager to fail and have done with it. They seemed in a state of anxious conflict over what would happen if they succeeded. It was almost as if this conflict was inhibiting their capacity for achievement.

WERTHEIMER: What would happen if the bright girl at Michigan did get into law school? Would she be thought aggressive, unfeminine? Would she marry? Would she be attractive to men? Apparently, the cost of success looks more dangerous than the cost of not succeeding.

STAMBERG: "Sisterhood" by Gloria Steinem - sisterhood is the most radical idea of the women's movement and resistance by other women its most serious enemy. Gloria Steinem begins this article by quoting herself. Here are some of the things she heard herself saying.

WERTHEIMER: (Reading) My work won't interfere with marriage. After all, I can always keep a typewriter at home. He says I write about abstract ideas like a man. Who would want to join a women's group? I've never been a joiner. Have you?

STAMBERG: Gloria Steinem documents for readers her own feminist revelation, trying to understand her role as a woman without seeing herself as a downtrodden or oppressed person. She concluded that it is not logical that women should have so few alternatives available to them socially and professionally and that women's role shouldn't be primarily to provide services and support for the economic and social progress of men. That painful process of revelation brought one reward at the end - sisterhood. She writes...

WERTHEIMER: (Reading) First, we share with each other the exhilaration of self-growth and self-discovery. Whether we're giving women this new knowledge or receiving it from them, the pleasure is enormous and very moving. Second, we make another simple discovery - women understand. We may share experiences, make jokes, paint pictures and describe humiliations that mean nothing to men. But women understand.

STAMBERG: Two words come to mind in reading Ms. - smoldering and dangerous. Smoldering eyes, they used to say about movie stars like Hedy Lamarr - dark eyes, burning, sexy. Smoldering ideas in Ms. - not sexy, sexist - ideas that you may merely glance over in the various articles and then find coming back to you as the day goes by. The ideas smolder, burning behind the small events of the day, making the bed in the morning and remembering Letty Cottin Pogrebin's article "Down With Sexist Upbringing" when she talks about the hidden role-playing messages in fairy tales, like the one about the princess and the pea.

WERTHEIMER: (Reading) If we're fragile, vulnerable and helpless, we'll feel that pea tucked beneath 43 mattresses. The prize is a king-size bed and a lifetime of making it up every morning.

STAMBERG: Sorting laundry - you remember Jane O'Reilly in "The Housewife's Moment Of Truth" writing...

WERTHEIMER: (Reading) Men may argue, why do we need a washing machine? I wash my socks, and we send everything else out. They simply cannot understand that we are the ones who must gather and list and plan even for the laundry we send out. It is quite simply on our minds and not on theirs.

STAMBERG: Getting ready to go to an evening movie, you remember Judy Syfers' article "I Want A Wife," in which she writes...

WERTHEIMER: (Reading) I want a wife who'll take care of the details of my social life. When my wife and I are invited out by my friends, I want a wife who will take care of the babysitting arrangements.

STAMBERG: Ms. puts clicks into the small events of life. The clicks smolder and build, and they become dangerous. There's danger in stepping back to observe the events of your life, danger to your own ego and self-image and to the egos that share your life. The article "Why Women Fear Success" ends with the sentence, new questions are what women's liberation is all about. Ms. raises many of those questions. The reader of Ms. must raise still others. How effective is Ms. as a magazine? And is it a magazine or a text for revolution?

WERTHEIMER: As a magazine, it works - articles written with style and thought on a variety of topics related to a central theme. It hits the market at a time when magazines are folding left and right, and only the small special interest magazines - Psychology Today, New York Magazine - are surviving successfully. Ms. is surely a special interest magazine, but that very fact can spell its success or its failure. Gloria Steinem says she wants her magazine to become a companion for women, but it's a dangerous companion. It raises questions, which will raise consciousness. But once that consciousness has been raised, it's got to have someplace to go.

STAMBERG: Can Ms. be a vehicle for revolution? Probably not by itself. It offers a compendium of clicks, but the clicks are collected between the magazine's two covers. And many more women than men will take serious looks inside those covers. Steinem quotes a housewife as saying, it's only by getting together with other women that we'll ever find out who we are. But for revolution, that's not enough. There's a whole nonwomanly world out there that needs to be convinced.

In the last five years, we've been conditioned to stop blinking when a Black family sells us toothpaste on TV. In the next five years, widely dispersed Ms. articles and ideas could lead us to nonblinking attention as a man sells us soap powder on TV - not in a suit and tie, providing expert opinion to the little woman washing the dishes, but right there in the kitchen, up to his elbows in suds at the sink with no canned soundtrack laughter or even the suggestion that what he's doing is strange. That's revolution. It'll mean he's come a long way, baby.

WERTHEIMER: In the meantime, Ms., as the newest media event, seeks to reflect not the woman in the TV ads or the glossy magazines but the thoughtful woman seeking definitions of her own role and the role of those around her. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg.

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