Legacy is such a big word. It implies that you have something significant to contribute.
It seems arrogant, it seems vain and it is intimidating. Legacy is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t experience for me. Three years ago I found a stream of interest I wanted to explore, and found a little river that ran into a creek that brought me to the brink of an ocean and with that, the sense of being overpowered. Initially Since baby boomers are approaching 70 and have lived their lives pretty much changing the canvas and breaking new ground of what was possible as they’ve gone along, I wondered what they saw as their path forward. As I examined what was ahead, I became profoundly aware of all that had come before. I experienced a deep sense of my debt to all the women, and the society they brought along to women’s rights that made for the life path I found available to me.
For me, on the brink of this number 70, I felt enormous energy and more engaged in life than ever with more available to live my life fully than ever before. I spend my time and energy generously with alot less life maintenance that when I was younger, raising a family, with a career. Emotional ups and downs, dramatic turns in the road to unknown dilemmas are no longer the pull day to day. Rather there is a sense of certainty and competence to deal with new experiences, and the sense of trust that what I need will be there within myself. How is it for others and what is the basis of that trust seemed like great questions for interviews with other women turning 70.
The women who responded to an an email in a group that had met for over 30 years in Northern California, and found lively, engaged and productive women turning 70 were the responders. The group is a mixture of women 25-80 years of age, with open membership. Thousands of women who have passed through the group with a small number who have maintained the structure of the group allowing the group to continue the many years that it has.
The interviews were unstructured, so the women talked about anything of interest to them. But again and again, we found in those discussions that the years of social change – the mid 60′s and 70′s – made for the shifts and changes that drew them to new paths. With the antiwar movement, civil rights movement, the womens movement for most were distant drums yet the ideology and practice in the cultural shift of how people dressed, thought and lived was undeniable. The media provided access to many women far away from the urban areas where women congregated and noisely clammered for women having ownership of their bodies relative to birth control and equal rights. The hot spots in New York, Chicago, Madison, Berkeley, San Francisco with the colleges and universities bringing the changes possible to many women all over the country. With each woman interviewed, reference to the period of social chaos and change was a prompt for them to make the changes that directed their lives, ones ones we never would have encountered without the social upheaval of the 60’s and 70’s.
It was stunning to really look at where the world was and what the experience for these women and myself had been from the the beginning that 1940 or 1939 provided. Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, put out the first material on family planning. She had gone to the poor neighborhoods and witnessed the misery of the women providing what she perceived to be cheap labor for farm lands and factories. In 1940, it was illegal for a book store owner to sell that book on family planning with a penalty of 5 years in jail. That is where a timeline emerged that shows the advent of birth control in 1964 was the beginning of women coming to power personally and politically and the social policies followed. Following the graph of the timeline, it was so clear that for women, then and now, what we call our personal lives are political. The changes that occurred for women in owning their bodies and defining their lives that we witnessed from 1940-1980 are the basis for liberation that we have witnessed and lived through . This has been the process for women in our country. For the women in countries where women have no rights, in areas of the United States where education is limited and poverty reigns, that process toward liberation may not even be underway and the choice for women to choose birth control is key. What guides what we consider possible, what directs our behavior may be invisibly instilled in the grain of the sand we stand on. The frontrunners-born before the boomers-and the boomers who joined the movement brought through the basis for women’s liberation and equal rights. We lived our lives, with the choices we call our own seen in a broader sense as a variation on a response to what was accessible to us.
1964 is when women were given access to birth control. With that, it is evident that women were given the door to liberty if you look at all that followed. All the changes that happened for women came after 1964 when birth control became available to married women. In 1972 birth control became available to unmarried women. Roe vs Wade and the right to take a pregnancy to term happened in 1973. Even as doctors could make available to mothers like myself the means to manage birth control, if asked prior to 1971, I didn’t know or even have curiosity about how that happened. It is remarkable that divorce went from 4% in 1950 to 24% in 1973. Women were looking for new answers for their lives, going back to college, getting jobs. At the time, there were heated discussions about the rights women had around their sexuality having negative repercussions, What would happen if women, like men, had choice of partners and sex without marriage? Just like today, the rumblings about change in the power structure of choice was very threatening to segments of the population who saw limiting womens rights as a way to deal with the potential threat.
All of this happened while most of us were dealing with the issues of daily life often head down straight ahead. Marriages, children, jobs, the direction was forward. The few who broke through social and legal constraints were the frontrunners, guides to what was possible for all women. Throughout the world, this process is in different stages of evolution. Sexual consciousness determines the level of development socially, politically and economically throughout the world. Each woman and the society with whom she shares her life represents points on the line of equality and dignity throughout the world.
How could I take each woman’s personal journey, the civil rights history of women and the current struggles for women world wide and see the larger picture of the development of our sexual consciousness, and the consequences? How it begins is certainly the women born before 1966, and the baby boomers who followed. They were brought together by the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement and the feminist movement that took them forward legally, politically and economically to hard won new ground. For some this meant being on the frontlines in the movements, for others it was through their church groups or return to school where they were exposed to different ways to think about their lives. They report being inspired by the country under social and political change that challenged their assumptions about their own lives often prompted by personal change/trauma of job change, divorce, loss of identity that had them take a new look at the world around them and themselves in a way they had not before.
Many reported leaving their home of origin and heading to California, New York, LA and Memphis during the mid and late 60′s. They left what they knew and formed new identities that kept the question open as to what was possible. That question is still open, and there are still uncharted ground to cover was the report from those who elected to be interviewed. Their story and our story is one of discovery . We have been pioneers in our own lives to whatever degree. We know that if we just look around the world, we can measure the progress of women world wide by their choices in life. By their access to choice, we can measure their power. We can know the level of civilization and humanity for men or women by their accessibility to choice.
So rather than this being a story about women turning 70, what I find it to be is a description of the consequences of developing our sexual consciousness that move the world forward to new ground, new laws and new problems.