When Ms. Magazine was founded in the early 1970s, women earned 59 cents to a man’s dollar.
“Now, it’s around 72 cents,” said Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of the magazine, who shepherded the journal for some 17 years. Still, she said, while problems clearly remain — “and we are definitely turning the clock backwards” — our daughters and granddaughters live in a very different world than the one that existed before “second-wave feminism.”
The first wave, she explained, mobilized to get the vote. The second wave targeted legal changes.
“I’m old enough to have traversed every movement of the modern era,” said Ms. Pogrebin, noting that she has been involved to some degree in the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the anti-war movement, “and, as a Zionist, in my concern for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“When I became involved, there were no women on the Supreme Court and only a few in Congress, no women in state legislatures, and you couldn’t take out a loan without a man co-signing,” she said. There also were no laws protecting against pregnancy discrimination or sexual harassment. Fortunately, much has changed — thanks in no small part to activists such as Ms. Pogrebin, who will speak about her “adventures” on April 7 at Temple Beth Tikvah in Wayne.
In “Activism 101, Or How to Be a Holy Troublemaker” — the annual Rabbi Israel S. Dresner Tikkun Olam lecture — Ms. Pogrebin will honor the synagogue’s former rabbi by talking about his life and career, “tying his exploits into my own in respect to activism.
“Tikkun olam, or repairing the world, fits under acts of lovingkindness, one of the three stools on which Judaism rests,” she said. “It’s exactly what activists do — look at the world and see where it needs repair, and then do our part.”
Ms. Pogrebin said it’s hard for young people to believe that the rights and freedoms they enjoy now did not always exist. Parents and grandparents “have to make it clear to our kids that we fought for things they take for granted.” Otherwise, they are at risk of losing these rights.
As for the problems women face today, she said, we only have to look at the issue of reproductive choice to see that “we’re facing the same [problems]. They’re turning the clock backwards.” She noted the irony of opposing abortion while limiting a woman’s right to contraception. “They’re trying to tie women back to our biology and keep us out of the marketplace so we can’t compete,” she said.
Ms. Pogrebin noted that women recognize what is happening and that’s why “we’re seeing so many in the street.” Such protests are positive, she said, and “we need more of it. We only see change when those in power are made uncomfortable. We have to make it clear that we’re not going away.”
Ms. Magazine, now published in Los Angeles under the auspices of the Feminist Majority Foundation, continues to be necessary, Ms. Pogrebin said.
From its outset, “We wrote about women’s lives as if they mattered,” she said, tackling issues from “stories about housewives’ rights to those about welfare women’s rights.” Her proudest accomplishment was to “keep on keeping on, fulfilling the goal we set; not just to realize that women mattered and to reflect their lives, but to make it a two-way street. We told them what was happening to other women, and they told us what was happening to them. It was a splendid cycle.”
The magazine has a proud history. According to its website, the publication was “the first U.S. magazine to feature prominent American women demanding the repeal of laws that criminalized abortion, the first to explain and advocate for the ERA, to rate presidential candidates on women’s issues, to put domestic violence and sexual harassment on the cover of a women’s magazine, to feature feminist protest of pornography, to commission and feature a national study on date rape, and to blow the whistle on the undue influence of advertising on magazine journalism.”
While Ms. once was a “lonely voice” on such critical issues, Ms. Pogrebin said, the kinds of stories it published — whether about rape crisis centers or women’s poverty — are a staple of mainstream women’s magazines today. “We led the way,” she said, noting that the magazine once again is in the forefront, bringing attention to international feminism.
One of Ms. Pogrebin’s fond memories is of working with Marlo Thomas on “Free to Be You and Me,” a record album and illustrated book first released in November 1972. Featuring songs and stories sung or told by celebrities of the day, the album encouraged moving beyond gender stereotypes, stressing individuality, tolerance, and comfort with your identity.
“I cared about non-sexist child-rearing,” Ms. Pogrebin said. Sexism “starts in childhood. If we stop it there, they grow up to be what they were meant to be.” Her own children — two daughters and a son — all are proudly feminist, she added.
One of her twin daughters, Abigail Pogrebin, is the author of “My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew.” Her sister, Robin Pogrebin, has been a reporter for the New York Times since 1995. Her son David, a foodie, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Letty Pogrebin has written more than a dozen books, producing two in the past three years. Her most recent one, published in 2015, was a novel, “Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate”; in 2013 she released “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick.” That book, written after her bout with breast cancer, was designed as a guidebook for people who feel awkward visiting friends who are ill. “It’s a combination memoir and research project,” she said.
Who: Letty Cottin Pogrebin
What: Will deliver the Rabbi Israel S. Dresner Tikkun Olam lecture
When: On April 7 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: At Temple Beth Tikvah, 950 Preakness Ave., Wayne
More: Shabbat dinner at 6 p.m., followed by services and the talk. For dinner reservations, call (973) 694-1616 or go to templebethtikvahnj.org