Interview with Mary Kay Place and Virginia Carter
Ruth Iskin and Joanne Parrent
When “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” first hit the television airwaves in January, 1976, it was a unique experiment. The widely discussed serial dealt with controversial social issues through the eyes of its characters, the residents of a fictional average American town—Fernwood, Ohio. It managed to introduce many topics—formerly taboo in television—that pertain to women’s lives: the housewife’s routine and trivial though all-consuming problems, the struggles of a female factory worker isolated and ridiculed by her male coworkers, the hair-raising lot of the battered wife, the miserable options of the unwed pregnant woman (unemployed single motherhood, adoption, or abortion), the pain of giving birth, the attempts to train police officers to treat rape victims decently, and attitudes toward bisexuality, lesbianism, and female sexuality in general. The slightly absurd treatment of all the controversial issues the show covers allows us to see ourselves and our society in a critical way that raises our consciousness while still providing topical, often hysterically funny entertainment.
Following two highly successful seasons of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” the same company, Norman Lear’s T.A.T. Communications, recently premiered an initially more shocking series, “All That Glitters.” The new show manages to go beyond any previous television material dealing with sexism in that it illuminates the nature of oppressive female role conditioning by portraying men carrying out the duties of housewives and secretaries, being treated as sex objects, and displaying very little self-confidence except perhaps when serving a delicious meal they have prepared. Additionally, it exposes male supremacy and the callous insensitivity of much of male behavior through the lives of the women executives and major breadwinners who have been “managing the government” since the first days of creation. The show’s virtue for feminists is not that it presents a vision of a new feminist world without sexism, but that it so clearly reveals the horrors of sex-role discrimination through the unique role-reversal setting.
Virginia Carter and Mary Kay Place are two women whose efforts have helped bring the feminist perspective evidenced in these two shows to television. Virginia Carter was a physicist in a Southern California aerospace company and a former president of Los Angeles N.O.W. She met Frances Lear through her feminist activities and subsequently took a position as vice-president in charge of creative affairs in Norman Lear’s company. In addition to her many other duties in the company, she is creative supervisor of the “All That Glitters” show.
Mary Kay Place plays Loretta Haggers on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” Shortly after this interview took place, it was announced that Louise Lasser, who plays Mary Hartman, will be leaving the show. A sequel series with a working title of “Fernwood U.S.A.” is planned for the fall. Mary Kay Place will continue to play Loretta, and her role is expected to gain even more prominence in the new series. In addition to her acting, she is a writer and a singer. She has written for numerous television series, including “Maude,” “M*A*S*H,” “Phyllis,” “Rhoda,” and the “Mary Tyler Moore” show, and is currently working on a screenplay. Her first record, a country-and-western album done as Loretta Haggers with C&W greats as Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Anne Murray singing backup for her will be followed by a new release this summer.
In the conversation that follows, Virginia and Mary Kay discuss the working of their company, women and sexism in the television industry, and how media can affect changes in people’s consciousness and share some valuable insights about the feminist movement.
Virginia Carter (to Mary Kay): The sight of you saddens me because it reminds me of Florida. You know, we lost 21 to 19.
Mary Kay Place: I know, I know.
VC: Mary Kay spent last weekend in Florida campaigning for the ERA. She’s a wise and more experienced woman now. You know there is that famous old line about “Now that she’s had sex, she’s a woman?” But that’s not what does it—it’s campaigning for the ERA. If you want to grow up in a hurry, go campaign for the ERA.
Joanne Parrent: Particularly in Florida.
VC: They’re not what you would call openminded.
MKP: So many people down there are fundamentally religious—they hear a few key words then close their minds.
JP: What did you do in Florida?
MKP: I mostly counteracted Phyllis Schlafly’s anti-ERA press with pro-ERA press.
Ruth Iskin: I’m curious to find out how it happened that there has been so much feminist content in various episodes of the “Mary Hartman” show lately.
VC: First, let me say that I’m thrilled out of my mind that you think it’s feminist. I think a lot of it is too. And I can’t take any more credit than many others. Mary Kay is a very conscious feminist and she’s on that set almost every day, so a lot of the credit goes there; Norman Lear also deserves credit. At first I was so suspicious of him for professing these liberal views of humanity which included women that I thought, “This guy needs to be watched very carefully.” I’m not kidding, I watched him very carefully and while he isn’t a biological woman, his efforts on our behalf are so distinguished that I made him an honorary woman about a year and a half ago. Norman’s wife, Frances Lear, is a very thoughtful feminist, and when she and Norman go home at night they talk about things, so a lot of the credit belongs with Frances. Norman’s consciousness is where it is because he rubs shoulders with Mary Kay, with Frances with me, and that’s not all—I am just naming some of the key reasons.
MKP: On a practical day-to-day level, the scripts, in terms of concepts, come from the writers and from Norman and a whole group of people in story meetings. I wasn’t working here when the idea for “Mary Hartman” was conceived. But what I think is important about the show is that the character of Mary Hartman has an enormous curiosity about her state in the world even though on the surface she is concerned about her coffee and whatever—and that curiosity is catching, it makes people think.
Occasionally I have had scenes where according to the script I have to talk to Charlie like a he-man, and I restructured the lines because I thought they sounded a little bit too the “total woman.” Loretta is somewhat the “total woman” but it has nothing to do with what one is supposed to do or with what she thinks her place is—rather it’s out of genuine love for Charlie.
JP: She went into a “total woman” phase for a while, after Lulu.
MKP: Yeah, right, and there was supposed to be more of that, but I said that I didn’t like it. This really wasn’t what Loretta was about. It’s OK for her to go through it and discover that it’s not what she’s about, that’s interesting; but I didn’t like her staying in this phase too long. It’s just yek. I found it depressing; I’d rather do a whole character that’s the “total woman” than have Loretta change.
VC: You see, a production is really an interesting dynamic amongst the people involved in it. In the old days, and even today to a disconcerting extent, a production is the result of the efforts of some very well-intentioned guys who write it, produce it, associate produce it, executive produce it, create it, own the company, and act two-thirds or more of the parts. Now these are well-intentioned, honest guys reflecting the world they live in. “Mary Hartman” is a most unique production; reasonable numbers of women—meaning half or more—have been involved in it since its inception. For the first two years or so we had a woman—Viva Knight—producing it. We’ve had women directors; form the very beginning Joan Darling directed; we’ve had Kim Friedman and now we have Nessa Hyams. It’s not that any single one of them uniquely influenced the show, it’s just that when Mary Kay, for example, has a reaction to Loretta, many of the people who are listening are women and they’re hearing her from a female perspective, which makes the whole dynamic very much better.
RI: So there is a whole lot of input that goes into the show from everybody involved in it?
MKP: Yes, everyone; it’s very much a collaborative effort.
VC: It’s the style of Norman’s shows. There are no strict rules that say secretaries cannot comment, only actors and producers can comment. Our couriers, our secretaries, and our entire staff, given that they are interested, can have their shot, and to the extent that they can persuade anyone they have their way.
RI: What kind of structure exists for that? Are there meetings, does it happen in the hallways or on the set? How do writers get feedback?
VC: Everything ranging from pleas to cries of protest, to a meeting in the washroom, and of course the regular story meetings.
MKP: Having been a secretary here, I can attest to one really bizarre method. Barbara Gallagher, who is now vice-president of ABC, was a production assistant on “Maude” during its first season when I was a writer’s secretary. We’d sit in the rewrite nights and have all the changes from the run-through and all the notes, and everybody would sit at the table, and the writers who were all men would throw out these lines. I don’t take shorthand so Barbara and I would just quickly write the lines down, but there were so many people throwing these ideas out that sometimes we didn’t have it down verbatim. They may have said it ten different ways and it was never clear which specific way was best. After everyone else had gone home Barbara and I would be sitting late at night working on putting together the final script. We would alter the sentence structure, interchange words or improve the rhythm of the line. No one ever noticed these changes because all they knew was that the idea they had intended in the rewrite was there. We were so thrilled with ourselves, and that was literally how we learned to write. Both of us became writers after that.
VC: It’s worth saying that these tiny changes can often have a major impact. I’ve found it very remarkable that when some attitude bothers me and I suggest to someone that it be changed, sometimes the correction can be effected with just the tiniest little change in words.
RI: How long ago was it that you were a secretary?
MKP: It was about four or five years ago.
VC: When “Mary Hartman” started, one of its biggest stars had been a secretary here and it’s producer also had started as a secretary here; we’re terribly proud of it. It’s their brains and guts that got them to be where they are but this company’s ability to break across those stereotypical lines makes us really different.
RI: How did it happen that you ended up as a major actress
on the “Mary Hartman” show after having started out as a secretary?
MKP: Well, I quit as a secretary. The truth of the matter is that I don’t type that well. However, I really felt that I had been to graduate school here. I chose to go to all the note sessions and get involved in every conceivable way. The job was very demanding. I learned the importance of a good secretary when I had one this year who was like me—her head was not into filing, she just couldn’t get into it. So, I was learning the business and I did an efficient job as a secretary, although I was not the primo secretary of the year with her pencils sharpened—not what you would call a great, proficient, all-consuming secretary. So I knew it wouldn’t be fair to the people I worked with to continue as a secretary. I quit. Then I went out and wrote a TV script with a friend. We took it to agents and they loved it—we happened to luck right into the time when the “Mary Tyler Moore” show and all those shows were starting and suddenly they wanted women writers. We were very lucky to come at the right time. Other women like Silverman and Susan Harris had paved the way so that women writers were in vogue. Plus we had a really funny script.
VC: They’re damn good.
MKP: And we got jobs everywhere. I mean suddenly we were writing. And it just so happened that we were doing a pilot here at T.A.T. when they were casting “Mary Hartman.” And I had started doing acting on the side because writing is so hard, so isolating, and I like to act because acting makes writing more palatable. Also I always wanted to act but I didn’t pursue it because I liked eating.
RI: You’re writing a major script now?
MKP: Yes, I hope it’s a major script. I personally feel it’s a major script. It’s been going on for years.
JP: For television?
MKP: No, it’s a film. It’s about coming of age from a female point of view, experiencing sex, dealing with the double standard.
JP: It’s amazing that you find time to do your music, writing, acting…
MKP: I have no time.
JP: And also pursue activities like campaigning for the ERA.
MKP: I don’t pursue that many. I went to Florida because Virginia asked me to do it; she explained the importance of it. I must tell you that after doing it I realize that it’s not something I want to be doing a lot. It’s not my way. I met this woman who was working on the ERA campaign there and she had such a passion about it. She’s the one that called me and told me we lost, and it was like she had had a daughter who had just been killed or her parents had died. I mean I was upset, but she was so emotionally involved; her whole life was involved. She’s literally devoted two years to living in Florida, even though she hates the place, for the sole reason of working on the Equal Rights Amendment. I was really impressed and I admire that kind of commitment, but it’s not my way. I would be lying to act like I’m going to be real politically involved in the movement. My way is to write a screenplay about women where this girl says, “Wait a minute, this is really screwy. The guy is out playing football, her best friend is just sent off to Alabama to a home because she’s pregnant, she’s had her pictures jerked out of the yearbook and he’s out there, got the football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, doing great. There is something screwy here. What’s going on?” That’s my way of dealing with feminism and bringing to light the change in people’s consciousness. Am I too selfish? I don’t know. I just couldn’t do it the other way, though I really admire people who do.
RI (to VC): Are you still involved with feminist activities other than what you do for your job here?
VC: No, this job is too consuming. I do some speaking occasionally.
MKP: This was something I felt guilty about at first, and then I said, “Why should you feel guilty? You’re not a political person in that sense.” There are people who do that and that’s important; and then there are people like Virginia—she is very important to this company, and the company is as advanced as it is because she is part of it. To me that’s every bit as important because her work has been the practical everyday application of the women’s movement, and if there’s nobody in this industry to do that, then the movement is not worth as much.
RI: There has been a good deal of feminist writing, publishing, a lot of visual art too, but there hasn’t yet been much feminist film and television. The “Mary Hartman” show and now “All That Glitters” and to some extent shows like “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Rhoda,” “Phyllis,” and “Maude” are really the only shows that come to mind as having any feminist content. At this point the obvious way to have an impact in the mass media is to do what you’ve done.
VC: I joined the movement as a very naïve political person. I dreamed that achievements could be accomplished. I happened to be on the West Coast where the whole thrust of the movement was more internally directed than on the East Coast, and I learned a lot within the movement. Yet in the normal course of growing up as a political human being, I reached the point where I just absolutely had to have a result for my efforts. I searched my soul, I raised my consciousness, I raised the consciousness of my sisters, I searched their souls; but after two years of soul-searching, Christ, you want to see something change. And when you went home at night, the same shit was coming down—down the tube, as well as down the interpersonal relationships. So when I found an opportunity here to begin to have a pragmatic impact which ranges from the content of our productions to the way we search for new employees, I felt the position was very important. These things are pragmatic. Tomorrow I will see a situation in this country that is slightly better than today. A week from today I will see something slightly better on the tube than I saw today. And I am getting such feminist satisfaction out of that, that I can’t redirect my energies now into the kinds of internal machinations that the movement is still in. I admire people that are doing that because I think it does help to develop the theory and t search the soul, but I’ve been there. Somebody has to be doing the work that takes you out of the edge of what’s theoretically possible, but that’s not what I’m about.
JP: Actually though, the movement contains both sorts of activities. There are women and groups who primarily emphasize studying theoretical questions, and then there are women who are into creating feminist institutions that do reach out and have an impact on the culture—like the Woman’s Building here in Los Angeles, or the various health centers and feminist publishing companies.
MKP: I wanted to mention more about my experiences of sexism in the television industry. I wrote on a show called “The Shape of Things” which was totally sexist. It was practically Linda’s [her writing partner] and my first assignment, and it was the closest I’ve come to being completely depressed. I’m not a depressed person, I never get depressed, but this was the worst experience of my life. I sat in the room going—“Credit, OK, I’ll write a sketch about credit.” Nothing was funny. I couldn’t write a funny sketch that I thought wasn’t anti-feminist and stated the problems of what it was all about. The other writers would come in an they’d go these types of jokes—“Oh yes, you’re the president of the airlines,” “Yes, but I’m not married.” That was one of the jokes that came out, and I said, “This is a sexist joke, you can’t have this sexist sketch on credit.” I was so humiliated I thought people would say, “How can you be a woman and have your name on a show that’s really sexist?” And then I realized that those sexist sketches weren’t funny. Next I went through a phase where if I made up a character like a majorette who said, “I don’t know what those women libbers are talking about.” I’d think, “No, that’s a tacky girl, it’s not a positive image. Finally after all these traumas that I had about my writing, I realized that I was really overreacting to the whole thing Linda said to me, “What are you, crazy? Everybody can’t be this totally raised-consciousness, terrific person. You’ve got to depict people as people.” So suddenly I realized, OK I can write these total-woman-type characters, but I just have to make them so hilarious in a real sympathetic way that people can see themselves and say, “That’s stupid, why am I doing that?” And when I realized that, I felt like this great albatross was off my neck.
So it takes a while to know what you are dealing with. People come to this company with glowing resumes—like I did when I went to CBS the first time, thinking I would get some kind of wonderful job—and they are told, “Well, we have a receptionist job,” and they get so annoyed and say, “Why did I go to college?” The truth is, when people come to this company out of college, being a secretary is a fabulous job. You don’t know what this business is about out of college. You may know for Albuquerque, New Mexico; but you’re applying on a network level. When I was working as a secretary I observed everything. I thought for a while that I might be a production assistant, but then I saw what a production assistant did and I said, “No, I don’t want to be timing it, I want to be writing it or saying it.” How else could you get that close to this work? Every person who wants to work in this field needs an experience like that.
VC: What we owe the public in this respect is that we hire male secretaries, as well as female secretaries, and we hire women as couriers, as well as men as couriers. So we’re hiring across those lines, but we’re not demanding less of the staff by any means.
JP: The reaction Mary Kay described is also similar to women who come to work in the women’s movement, often expecting that all they will do is creative, exciting work. But that is not the case either. You really have to learn a whole operation and learn a whole operation and learn about the context you are working in before you are the best person to do the jobs that are considered more glamorous or creative.
VC: I have discovered as an executive in this company that talent is extremely scarce. I didn’t know that until I got in this position. When someone comes through that door who is obviously much brighter than average, much more capable and organized than average, if there’s any way we can find to hire that person, we do. But that doesn’t mean that the next seventeen people or seven hundred people that come in to apply are going to get a job, because talent by definition is very scarce, and we identify it very seldom.
RI: Do you find that the relationships between women in the television industry are a new kind of supportive relationship as a result of the women’s movement? And how have relationships between men and women changed?
VC: There is a growing sense of the fact that we as women have to provide each other with a mutual support network. I know that even though I’ve only been in this industry a while, I have quite a developed network of individual women that I trust to be part of a supportive sisterhood. I don’t mean any more by that than that we’ve achieved the kind of trading relationship in business that men have had all along. I can call up and trade favors and information in a moral and constructive business sense with other women. I can ask Mary Kay as a friend and part of my network to do certain things and she can ask me as well, because we know we’re going to be in this industry a long time and we’re going to trade between each other, and I am proud of the fact that we are cooperating in this way. It isn’t to the exclusion of having men in one’s network but rather, for the first time women across the country are breaking down their little islands and cooperating with each other in a mutual support system instead of as enemies. It definitely is happening in this industry, although we’re not there yet—we have the beginnings.
As for men, I think they’ve changed a great deal since the advent of the movement. I sense that when guys come in now and realize that I’m in the room, they’re much more used to dealing with women in executive positions and they’re likely to try and say things that reflect changing attitudes in order to make friends with me, and I appreciate that. That’s an attractive trend. I’m likely to be more friendly to men who I think are sensitive to and respectful of my needs as a woman.
MKP: It’s interesting because I have friends now who are getting better and better jobs. I love it that we are all now coming into these things, and are in communication with each other, and helping each other.
The other night a woman who is a reader for Ray Stark and a developer of films told me how much competition and jealousy there is among women in the film business. I thought that was very interesting because I’ve never seen that in television. We all know each other and try to help each other in this industry.
VC: But that satisfies my theory that resistance to feminism moves in inverse proportion to the rewards of the business. Television is a very rewarding business, but the feature film business is much more rewarding.
JP: How so?
VC: Dollars. If you want to be a physicist you will find resistance, if you want to be the president of a television company your will find resistance, and if you want to produce a feature film that makes 60 million dollars you will find resistance. It is in inverse proportion to the dollars you earn in those functions. So I would expect the feature film business to be the last of the media departments to really open up to women.
MKP: I wanted to go back to that question about how men react to you in this business. In story conferences, Linda and I would play back tapes and people would say, “He said, ‘Fuck it, man, I’m not going to go there’ and then she goes, ‘OK, fuck you too’ and then they split.” And we laughed and said, “What would our mothers think if they heard us all talking amongst each other like this?” I said that my mother wouldn’t care, but I think it’s great because nobody thinks anything about it. The men weren’t going “Excuse us, girls, pardon us.” This was as “M*A*S*H.” But then on the other hand, Linda and I would go to meetings where it was just the opposite. The old Hollywood is highly sexist. I remember one meeting where this well-known writer was saying, “Well, we’re going to have this feature, this Telly Savalas thing and the babes, you know, the broads will be on his arm, we’ll have a winter, summer, spring, fall broad. We’ll have them dress like the seasons. They’ll come in and then they’ll sing a song about spring and one about winter…”
VC: And guess what happens when she sings the song about autumn? Everything falls off.
MKP: And Linda and I were going, “Not only is that the worst, oldest idea we’ve ever heard…” And then the Writers Guild of America had a show this year which I was in and a man sang from the song “Tits and Ass” from Chorus Line. It’s a fabulous song, not a sexist song, but he made it about all the secretaries he’s had—it was the most sexist worst song you’ve ever heard in your life, and I was just going out of my mind.
VC: Did anyone laugh?
MKP: No, people were hissing. Then this man—who’s a very high official on the board of directors of the Writers Guild, who is in fact a charming, hilarious older man, but an Old School person, in his sixties, from the old Hollywood—introduced Kathleen Nolan and said, “Now, for you women libbers…” The audience hissed him so loud and it wasn’t just a few, it was screams and hisses, which was amazing because for one thing, women are not the majority of members in the Writer’s Guild.
VC: Did he get it?
MKP: He didn’t hear it at the time, but he came back on and said, “I understand that I was hissed, I do apologize, I’m an old guy.” The truth of the matter is, he’s totally charming. He probably means well. His attitude is, “Listen, I’ve lived too many years, I don’t have time to deal with this.” It’s like your grandmother doesn’t understand homosexuality. She’s too old already. She’s religious. She doesn’t get it. You sit down and explain it and it makes sense to her, but probably with her friends she’ll go back to the old thing.
VC: I’ve got to tell you, Mary Kay, that I think that lets older people off the hook much too easily. Let’s not let them off because they’re old, because I think many of them are perfectly able to change those goddamn views.
MKP: That’s true, and I sat down and explained it to my grandmother—I mean she’s not violent about homosexuality, she’s not Anita Bryant.
VC: You explained homosexuality to your grandmother? You have more guts than I do.
MKP: Yes, I explained it to her, but it’s not worth it really. I can sit down and devote six months to a discussion of homosexuality and she would remember it, but she lives in Texas so I can’t do that. I don’t mean to let her off the hook, but it’s not in her daily living and she does not comprehend or retain that kind of learning without tremendous effort.
RI: Does she watch you on the “Mary Hartman” show?
MKP: Oh yes, she loves it. She thinks it’s hilarious.
VC: I got into the question of not letting them off so easily because it’s one thing to discuss your grandmother in Texas and another to discuss the leaders of this industry who happen to be in their sixties and happen to be male.
MKP: But I think he learned something from that night. I’m not letting him off.
VC: I’m saying “Let’s not.” If he wanted to go home and take care of cooking the pancakes in the morning and live in Texas, that’d be one thing. But if he’s leading an industry that is influencing the major thought of America, then I’m not going to let him off the hook, not that much.
MKP: But neither did the audience. It was great because there was such a reaction. It wasn’t just like a few dissenters, it was almost the entire audience.
VC: There is a growing awareness. But when push comes to shove in spite of that greater awareness, there’s very little change in effect so far in this industry. If you look at the change, say, in the numbers of roles for women, or in the numbers of women writing for this industry, or in the additional number of women directors or producers in this industry in the last five years, you’ll find a change all right, but it’s a miniscule change, and it isn’t enough for anyone to sit back on their laurels. Mary Kay is here and I am here and there are some others, but let’s not back of from the fact that 80 percent of what needs to happen hasn’t happened. You have to become president of one of the networks and I have to become president of the other, and between the two of us we have to bury the third.
MKP: I am convinced though that from this stage on—I’m not saying prior to this stage—if you are smart and if you tend to business it is now possible to do whatever you want to do in the TV industry. If you learn the ropes, if you pay attention, if you really work hard, you can do it. But the problem is that there are many, many people in this town—and unfortunately many of them are women—who haven’t done all their homework, who really don’t know what they’re talking about. They feel that they can’t do this because so-and-so won’t give them a chance or that person is against them; but the reason is that it’s real hard, and they’re not together yet. People must know the difference. I just told you about my two friends who were secretaries for years, now they’re producing shows at Universal. And it’s true that this hasn’t happened in giant numbers, but I think it will happen more and more, and people that deserve it are going to get the chance.
RI: I feel that women need more chances and more support than men do at this point in history, because we’ve been so conditioned not to achieve that with the slightest kind of rejection we may tend to recoil—though I agree with you that we all need to do our homework, push, and work hard
MKP: Let me tell you something. When I worked as a secretary in this industry—why do you think I started writing? No one gave me any support, no one encouraged me to write. All I had to do was read what was coming in, that’s all, I said, “I can do that.”
VC: There’s no question that truly talented women can now get ahead in this industry. Charlotte Wittman, who was the mayor of Ottawa for years, said that in order to be considered half as good, women have to be twice as good; therefore in order to be considered good, they have to be four times as good. Look at this woman, that’s Mary Kay Place, and she is a brilliant woman in many facets of abilities that are required in this industry. I am also damn sharp. We’re both also quite tough.
MKP: I don’t even think I’m brilliant.
VC: You’re a hell of a good actress, you’re a terribly good writer, and you’re a self-starter. The combination of your virtues is really very remarkable. Now, people like you and people like me are beginning to be able to get ahead in this industry. The point is that the movement requires much more than that. The movement requires a world in which mediocre women can get as far ahead as mediocre men. The world is composed in large part of mediocre people. Now if I am left in the position of advocating that mediocre women get ahead, it’s a hell of a position to be in, because you know I don’t want to be saying to the world that this movement is about mediocrity. But when you finally get down to the nitty-gritty, if the average IQ is 100, I want women with IQ’s of 100 to be as self-fulfilled, as satisfied, as well paid, as secure, as confident, as healthy, as cared for, and as able to love as men with IQ’s of 100, and we’re a long way from that.
MKP: You’re right. But what I was talking about was my experience in this business. The support that you’re talking about I understand, but in this industry, the groundwork is now laid. If women want to, if they try hard enough in this business, they can accomplish what they want to accomplish. But you are right in general. Other industries aren’t as liberal as the entertainment industry. They never have been. The insurance business is not.
JP: It’s one job of the movement to lay the groundwork everywhere, but your point is important in the sense that one of the greatest blocks in being able to accomplish anything you want to accomplish is the idea hat other people out there are preventing you from doing it, instead of looking in at yourself and saying, “Maybe I’m not really working for it.” I really think that keeps women down, and other minorities too. We often say, “They’re not going to let us, so why try?”
MKP: The movement has been very convenient for women with that attitude. And it’s a very dangerous thing, and I really get annoyed because I’ve been around so many radical women’s movement people who have merely attached themselves to the movement because it’s become their excuse.
JP: For not moving.
MKP: Exactly. And I think it’s crucial that these thoughts be in the media so that people maybe one day will go, “Hey, that’s me.” And also, that attitude is a detriment to the whole movement because a lot of people see that personality type and that attitude as what “those women libbers are about.” And that’s a problem. That’s hwy my father, who is an art professor, is annoyed with the movement. He has women coming in to the university who “don’t get up off their ass,” as he puts it. And I have to say, “Daddy, that’s unfortunate that they use that excuse, but that’s not what the movement is about.”
RI: When you were talking, I was thinking about the Feminist Studio Workshop, which is a college-level school for women in the arts and humanities at which I teach. Our techniques boil down to the combination of support without making high demands and not just making demands without the support, but really integrating the two. Our attitude is to acknowledge and analyze women’s oppression, but not to wallow in it. Like, OK, you’ve had your two months of crying about oppression, and now it’s time to move on and do your work.
VC: I love that—we assign two month to cry about our oppression. If women begin to listen to you, we will take over.
RI: I have a great feeling we are taking over. When I saw “All That Glitters” yesterday, I just couldn’t believe my eyes to see that on television. And then the reaction to it—the crowd was not getting angry or defensive but actually loving it to one degree or another—it just blew my mind. I’d love to know what’s happening with that.
VC: What’s happening is a grand experiment. The show is not about role reversal; it is done in role reversal—but it is about the lives, the love affairs, heart attacks, and tensions of the members of the board of Globatron, a giant conglomerate that runs shipbuilding yards and iron ore smelters. There are all the tensions of those kinds of lives, and it happens to be done in role reversal.
A friend of mine whom I admire very much, Kate Stimpson, the editor of Signs, commented on the program. Kate is an early mover and thinker in the movement, and I was anxious to hear her opinion of the show. She said that she considered it the most daring thing ever to be put on television. I was really proud to tell Norman and the other people involved in the show what Kat had said, because it was a great compliment.