An interview with June Sochen, feminist historian of Illinois State University, who talks about the life and challenges of women in the frontier and on the prairies.
Part of a Home for the Weekend program collecting shorter features that involve the subject of women.
Read the Text Transcription of the Audio.
I would think that a lot of the conditions still Prevail living on a farm. Although you have modern highways me of automobiles you have radio and television. In fact, I will comment on that that is an important difference. You can reach places but still the daily Rhythm of the farm requires your presence on the farm, you know, you can't go gallivanting and even the small town that you can get at with your Highway and your new car still doesn't have a variety of cultural institutions. That is what's available in in the form of community life. I don't think it's that much different than it was a hundred years ago. Television. I would argue is the major difference because you can sit in your living room and see what's going on in Vietnam and see what's going on in New York City and London and whatever and that you do have a broader sense of the world if you lived in a farm on the Prairie and in the 1870s, you had no notion what was going on in San Francisco or in Chicago or New York. You were really isolated the world and you were really quite separate except forThe publication's you mention perhaps right, but even that would come three four weeks later. The mail was slow and irregular your contact with the outside world would be really limited today is not you can watch everybody can watch Walter Cronkite on CBS News and have a sense that they know what's going on all over the world. So that is an important difference in that sense. The Prairies are not isolated but still in terms of the daily rhythm of a woman's life on that farm on the Prairies. I would think that they're more similarities are not to previous day's one of the things I asked him about the roses that that women have always been very important and they see themselves as a very vital part of running the business operation of the farm, for example. So are you saying that they they continue on having had some say-so in what was going to what was happening or is this something more recent?Operate the farm without them. They're absolutely essential to the survival into the continuity and the prosperity but I'm just suggesting it and they should just lie be proud of their lives. And if they enjoy the roles they play so be it. I'm not suggesting that everyone leave the Prairies and leave the Farms. I'm simply suggesting that the roles women have played and continue to play that part pretty much been the expected cultural rolls. And the very few little girls have ever been given the opportunity to think what do I want to do with my life? There's never been that kind of questioning little boys are rats. Do you want to be Farmers fireman lawyers doctor if you're naturally go to science. So you want to be a mathematician or whatever. I mean, there's an ocean of choice of of your adult life is having a number of possibilities that has never been the case with women. They the assumption is that wife mother is the full-time adult occupation probably for most of the women living in the Prairies in the frontier to this day that indeed is the full-time life.But maybe there and I don't know, you know better than I the statistics of farmers daughters were leaving the Farms the Prairies weren't interested in repeating the life cycle of their mothers, but I would think those who've done it should be proud of their work. They shouldn't feel their lives have been useless are worthless. I'm not suggesting that all they've been important lives, but the element of choice has not been in it. That's the point. I guess one of my observations is that there have always been strong women and just about every culture and so forth and that given the repressive conditions and so forth are always women who are willing to to speak out and be assertive and so forth. is is heredity more important or environmental background than anything else? Maybe I could ask you the question of going to watch your own background is ask you something about your own mother and your own grandmother. Makes women Rebels what make strong women? How do you create this? I think it is a combination of genetic and environment as I think unique personality is a trait that you're born with if you're lucky to have the right combination of parents, but then you need the right kind of cultural background to you need encouraging parents, or at least one parent who says you can be and do what you want and it's interesting when you look at the the women of the past have been the leaders in various organizations. They've usually been women who had fathers would encourage them to study to work and so on in my own case, I see both my parents that I'm a I'm a twin have a twin sister Emma and we're the only two children in the family and most both my mother and father always assumed that we would go to college and we would do what we wanted to do. It was never any pressure. For example, we both got liberal arts degrees and there was never the Assumption we had to get take a vacation courses just in case you didn't marry or because you needed a practical occupation and we neither of us did the Assumption we could be and do what we wanted to I always wanted to write. I never thought I'd become a college professor but I always wanted to ride which I am doing and I always like to talk and lecture so I'm really am doing things that I I had always kind of thought about it, but I must say that a lot of my adult life has been well converting Talent than opportunity into good good fortune. The reason I went to graduate school and became a college teacher is I had an opportunity to his new school opening up in Chicago and I just had had a master's degree in history and I had no College teaching no teaching experience and had one or two years of working as a writer and really know, you know, major career plans. I still didn't really know what I was doing and what the graduate school because I didn't know what I wanted to do and I had a chance to teach at this college and once I got there, I found that I really enjoy College teaching that I really hadn't any idea what station was all about. I discovered also very quickly that they made it very clear to me that if I wanted to teach I have to go on and get an advanced degree and get a PhD as a while. I was teaching. I got a PhD and then one thing has led to another in the last 10 years because I've been teaching for 10 years. Now in other words, the the college teaching has and the going back to graduate school. Got me, very interested in women. My dissertation topic was on feminism in the 1910s always thinks we're kind of fortuitous. If I didn't get this college teaching job, which I hadn't studied or plan for I would have gone for a PhD and I wouldn't have done research on women and I wouldn't have become a woman sister. So that's another way that it's a lucky congruence of different circumstances that have brought us together, but I would say that my parents have been a positive influence in the sense that they always were encouraging. People talk about the women's Liberation movement as a monolith. And what are your own views on what this movement might consist of right now, what's some of the forces what some of the major forces are in it? And what impact it might be having our society right now. I think it's a very diverse and Rich assortment of organizations and causes as you well know that the Press has generally been negative to the women's Liberation movement, then the way to disavow and really repudiated movement as you put on television some of the most militant and radical spokeswoman for the cause in a way to downgrade it and to degrade the movement that mean it's done that because the media wants to encourage a respectfully look at the issues of women's Liberation, but rather to criticize it I think although you do have militants and I think no attempts have a right to be if you believe in free speech in this country. You have to believe in all Shades of opinion being expressed and I believe in that but you within the woman's movement today and I rather call it I guess the woman's movement rather than the women's Liberation movement because I think it is a broader term you have the era people you have an organization like now with some people call the n-double-acp of the women's movement is for very specific changes in legislation improving Social Security laws for women and widows getting rid of discriminatory laws enforcing affirmative action programs. So you have arranged you have you have those women who are working for specific legislative change those who want to see abortion remain on the books those who want the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment lesbians who want their rights protected? It's a it's a tremendous Spectrum. There is a core of ideas. I would argue that all feminists and all members of the women's movement agree to they agree that women should be treated equally in the eyes of the law that and in many cases they would argue I guess there should Special treatment for a. Of time until women have caught up there should be changes in the school system so that young girls are given equal opportunity to develop themselves as little boys. I think most women who call themselves feminists agree with these ideas summer not willing to consider minority rights of lesbians and gay men. I considered a minority in both the woman's movement. Then I'll take them a Liberation movement. I think both sexes are working toward and should be working toward a more open Frank set of relationships between them where people meet each other on a more equal basis women need a lot of changing and I think there has to be a lot of change in the society to raise their expectations and give them new dreams. What are some of the ways of giving them to dreams besides people like you're going around and trying to prick their Consciousness see the school book publisher is changing a little Dick and Jane readers that always show the girl sitting there is Dick is doing all the neat things. You got to remove all the stereotypes from the elementary school books. You have to change the teachers attitudes who still do think that the boys are mischievous and that's okay and little girls are quiet and obedient. You have to educate parents to a more open way of raising children of both sexes toy should be desensitized so that it's not you don't have just mechanical toys for boys and dolls for girls. I see every stage of Life requiring change and every level of society meeting change. And what is the time span for those kinds of changes feminist Society? What is your assessment of the success or failure of affirmative action to this point has had a very mixed record. I think there's been some institutions that have been sincerely trying to recruit women and minority group members and there have been others who haven't and some of them are under suit now and there's litigation against them the fact that the economy is in a bad way is it hurts affirmative action programs because there's simply cutting back on job opportunities. And so that's going to hurt women and minority groups who are the last one tire in there for the first ones fired. I think that there is a real serious controversial issue here. A lot of people who see themselves as Liberals are against quotas and they're against favorable or favorite preferential treatment for some groups and affirmative action essentially says that it is it's favored treatment to a certain extent but not entirely affirmative action argues that if you have two equally qualified candidates, you should take the woman or member of a minority group over the white male. Now white men feel that that's discrimination against them. But the answer to that is that number one the white that the woman or the black or the Chicano has to be of equal qualification so that you can argue that you're not choosing inferior qualifications over Superior one, but secondly, although the white males who are living at this time may not be personally guilty of sexism just has the majority of whites. They may not be guilty of racism. Nevertheless of these are isms that have been perpetuated in this culture and there's has to be a point when someone says no, it can't go on any longer. We must take I'm a conscious effort to change it. If you don't make conscious effort to change in The Firm affirmative action is an attempt at a conscious effort. Nothing ever will change. Someone from h e w suggested that perhaps some minorities and women might be at odds fighting over some of the jobs that affirmative action might gain for them. Is this the case I don't see it happening immediately, but I think it is a possibility that if as I say, there's a shrinking employment market and there are few jobs to be gotten that it may be women in the minority's fighting over the few jobs would be really sad and really tragic, but I can see it happening. And as you suggested before it, maybe two or three generations before people can gain a job on the merits on their own personal qualifications in the world. You will judge people on their merits but that world doesn't exist today and until it does you need governmental encouragement and insistence that all publicly supported tax-supported institutions must be equal in their hiring practices?