Ms. Magazine recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a party in New York, and as a former staff member, I was invited to attend. I went there not really knowing what to expect.
This is a complicated time for women’s rights. The term “feminist” is no longer as controversial as it once was, but recent events, including the exposure of systemic sexual harassment, the forced exodus of women from the workplace, and more recently the cancellation by the Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade makes it easy to feel that many of those 50 years of progress have been erased.
No such sadness hung over the nearly 200 women who gathered at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice on September 8. Mme, as a website and quarterly magazine, continues to provide information to women seeking abortions in all states what Mme has always done – advocate for women in all walks of life. (According to editor Kathy Spillar, traffic to the site has increased nearly 400% since Roe vs. Wade’s cancellation.)
Speaking at the birthday party, Eleanor Smeal, president and co-founder of the Feminist Majority Fund, which Ms has owned for 21 years, assured the audience that the fight would continue and inevitably be won.
The mood was, in fact, festive and, more importantly, reunion.
If you want to gauge how powerful the sisterhood remains, gather a group of former (and current) editors and Ms. staff into a room and try to avoid being hugged.
It had been 30 years or more since I had seen many women working in the brilliantly energetic (and more than slightly dirty) offices of midtown Manhattan when, fresh out of college, I joined the personal in the mid-80s. So it was kind of shocking how quickly I was filled with decades-old emotions.
Seven of the founding editors were there and, well, as Shakespeare wrote of Cleopatra, age cannot wither her nor custom fan her endless variety.
Gloria Steinem, at 88, remains a heartwarming and awe-inspiring figure, still maintaining deep empathetic knowingness with frank indignation and a dry wit. At 91, Pat Carbine, the former editor of Ms., is as fearsome and funny as she was when, as a young staff member, I flattened myself against a wall when she was busy in her power combinations. Robin Morgan, 81, held court and Letty Cottin Pogrebin watched her adult children, three of “Mrs. kids” who had grown up in the magazine’s offices, led some of the star guests onto the catwalk. Joanne Edgar, who had largely organized the evening, rushed through the crowd to herd the speakers.
“We recognized the opportunity to talk about the issues,” Edgar said. “But the main objective was to bring the staff together, especially those who were there at the start…to celebrate these bonds. I went to the gym wearing my 50th anniversary T-shirt and a woman came up to me and said to me: “Mme has changed my life.”
Many of the editors I had worked with the most were there, as were most of the half-dozen young women who formed my first group of professional friends. You can’t survey a group of women like this without thinking about feminism — and where and why things went wrong — but my head was mostly filled with thoughts about the relationship between work and friendship.
For me, the logo of Madame will always be as much a Proustian madeleine as the banner of an icon of American journalism.
Which he most certainly is. From its launch in 1972 until today, there has been no journalistic platform like Ms. As the premier magazine devoted to issues raised by the women’s movement and an antidote to the many other women-centric magazines who weren’t, Ms. not only gave women a new way to think about themselves and the world around them, but it gave them a connection to other women looking for the same thing. “Ms. was a miracle created by our readers,” Steinem said during her address.
My time on his team was relatively brief – three years – but miraculous. Like many college graduates, I thought I knew a lot more than I did. So learning to complete my assigned tasks, meet professional deadlines, and manage authority, was a bit of a shock. Looking back, however, I realize how lucky I was to start out in a culture where so many top editors and writers took care to nurture the careers of younger staff members.
New York was plagued by crime, trash, graffiti and crack. But he was still brilliant with magazines, especially those aimed at women. Armies of young women emerge daily from the swarming metro stations to fill the offices of these magazines. Many of us knew people in entry-level positions at Glamour, Seventeen, Vogue, and even Good Housekeeping, but we were both from their ranks and apart — just as Madame was technically but not traditionally a women’s magazine.
We didn’t have the magazine desk shine that some other young women had because we didn’t want it. We avoided shine in general. In the darkness of sample sales, Chinese flats and second-hand cardigans, we shook downtown from tiny flats in other boroughs. Madame’s office, with its narrow hallways, second-hand desks, and stacks of books, magazines, manuscripts, and Facts on File, was our real home. A house filled almost entirely with women. (When I left for another magazine, I was slow to accept that men too were allowed to be bosses.)
To our small group of young fact-checkers and assistants, we brought our troubles, our questions, our victories, our love lives, distributing them at breaks and lunchtimes for analysis and group commentary. We cooked communal dinners from “The Moosewood Cookbook” and roamed the bustling streets of Manhattan in small feminist packs.
It was an amazing place to work, and not just because on any given day Smeal, Steinem or Alice Walker might walk past your desk, stop and ask how you were doing, but because it felt like family. . Madame’s wives taught me to speak up in meetings and to stay calm when I made a mistake; how to deal with roommates and awkward groping on the subway; how to hail a taxi and survive a heartbreak; how to sincerely apologize and obtain a passport and avoid pickpockets; how to replace all my credit cards when i failed to avoid pickpockets.
This all came together over the decades as I watched many of these women gathered together at the party. Ms. magazine helped me define myself as a woman, but Ms. work helped me become an adult.
The experience of living in these offices is impossible to recreate, and that’s probably for the best. New York was not an easy or safe place to live in the mid-80s, and I ended up fleeing the daily harassment of its streets. But as we continue to discuss post-pandemic reassessments of the workplace, I worry about the loss of that kind of instant community, especially for young people.
Obviously, not all work experiences are surrounded by such solidarity. The notion of “workplace as family” is often used to keep people underpaid and trapped in unhealthy power structures. Yet the friendships made with co-workers, the people you spend so many waking hours of the day with, are often the most important, especially during the years when you’re learning to do your chosen job, or simply to yourself. stand up for yourself against a terrible landlord.
I’m sure you can now figure out how to get a passport on YouTube or how to deal with heartache on TikTok; I know some office cultures are toxic and commuting is the worst. But among all these former Ms. staffers, many of whom are feminist icons, I had to wonder: if working from home becomes the rule rather than the exception, how will you ever have the chance to rub shoulders with greatness?
More importantly, who will come and hug you when the place where you worked is 50 years old?