Monday, September 8, 2008

Book Club Conversation

September 8, 2008
Last night had an exciting meeting with two book clubs in Marblehead who combined for this discussion. Marblehead is the next town to Swampscott, Massachusetts where I grew up. A mixed group of men and women, some of whom had seen me on C-Span's "Book TV" the previous weekend. They also had done a wonderful reading of the book that elicited a lot of terrific questions and reflections about their own experiences and the history they lived through. What seemed to be of most interest to the men was that they didn't know how unequal the world was for women (although one thought that women had done very well during the 1960s). Most interesting to the women was to see themselves as actors in a transformational historic period.

Some stories....

Middlebury graduate: Like me, the only employer who came to her campus her senior year was the telephone company. She DID take a job as a customer service representative. She had also took a typing test at Snelling & Snelling in Lynn, a few years later, when she was trying to find a job other than as a customer service rep. She eventually found a career and started her own business.

Teacher: When she was interviewed, the principal asked her, "Do you plan to get married? If so, I can't hire you." He did in fact hire her because he did believe in women's talent but he was unusual and stood out from the principals she had later.

Stanford doctor: She graduated from medical school in 1964 and was one of two women in her class. The other woman flunked out after being told she was "too pretty" to be a doctor. Said she didn't become interested in "women's lib" because in the medical field, women who thought like the doctors treated her as badly as men. But, she said, she was treated very meanly by men who didn't think women should be doctors.

Sex, the military and global power: One woman asked me about my description of going into the red light district of Istanbul in 1963 and seeing it completely populated by American military personnel, sailors, soldiers all in uniform. The question: Is this still going on? Does the presence of the American military mean a large population of young girls get entrapped in prostitution? Who writes about this? Is the question about the American military and the sex trade still relevant? (Partial answer: Yes, and Cynthia Enloe writes about this in her book Bananas,Beaches and Bases.)

Bonnie H: "This book has a great narrative of women's history in the 60s and 70s. It is the first really cogent account I have read of how complex and how many varied strands had to come together to create what we call the second wave of feminism."

Big question: How does this history get passed on and why has the women's movement been omitted from the collective memory of the 1960s?

Monday, August 11, 2008

From the August Mailbox

It's the truth--once I had got into the story, I was hooked--and I finished the book so admiring of you.

You had loads of what we English used to call gumption and where I just bowed my head and buckled and complained, you were brave and made your way and thereby cleared a path for others.

And weirdly, though I consider myself an old feminist, I needed the central messages--that change is brought about by the dedicated activism of a few, not through some kind of inexorable cultural tide--that the work and achevements of previous generations of women advocates are systematically erased from the cultural record so it's always three steps forward and then two back at best.

I am buying five more copies of your book to send to friends.

Love and Congrats G

From the August Mailbox

Dear Judy,

I just received your new book from my mama for my birthday and I dove into it this eve. I'm only 23 pages in but am totally IN. I really am drawn into your style and am piecing together bits of history that I vaguely remember learning--now made more clear with your insightful stories and juicy descriptions. I'm sure people will read this on a lot of levels, but for Christina and other women of our generation there is the definite learning in store to not take for granted what we can now do as women. I'm off to finish chapter 2 and onto the next...

Friday, August 1, 2008

From the August Mailbox

Judith--I am having a wonderful time with your book.

I ran the gauntlet about 5 years ahead of you and from an academic (Harvard) rather than a political (SAIS) base but there are still a lot of personal parallels but also of course deep engagement in the politics of the period--although for me at more of a remove than a staffer on Congressional committees!

I didn't know that you were going to tell the story so personally and it's obviously a brave decision but as I read I think there's no other way to convey the reality of your two main themes--the narrowness of the decision-makers' perception of the world in spite of their seeming worldiness--and the deep cultural roots under the daily reality of discrimination against women.

I haven't finished but I've done little else but read these last few days. Thank you for doing this.

Most sincerely,

Thursday, July 31, 2008

From the July Mailbox

Judith -

Came to your reading at Politics & Prose July 16 - "Bra-burner" is still an epithet that can brand a woman inescapably - how I enjoyed your recounting of the context, and what really happened and didn't happen.

Judith -

I finished THE GIRL I LEFT BEHIND last night -

Wow, what a story!

It's never too late to raise one's consciousness, I guess! The habits of
accommodating & being helpful are so ingrained, they become
indistinguishable from having no persona to assert.

But I came away with questions about Gloria Steinem.
It seems clear from your research that she was recruited by the CIA - has
she ever addressed this? Is she still working with them? How does she
reconcile that with her feminism?

NC Weil

Friday, July 25, 2008

From the July Mailbox

Hi Judith,

I have just finished your book - couldn't put it down! It's simply wonderful - so candid and personal (your intention) .

You captured all the drama of those Vietnam years but expose the "behind the scenes" and intricacies of government and old boy politics in a way that is so revealing. The way you allow the reader to walk with you on your journey is just great. I admire that graduate student of the 60's --the courage and risks you were willing to take--and your honesty about being able to learn from situations and mentors along the way. The title is so perfect to describe the woman you have become. You have my complete and bottomless admiration.

Happy Fourth and I look forward to seeing you in Chatham in August. Cheers and congratulations! Sue Pearse

Sunday, July 20, 2008

From the July Mailbox

Hi Judy

I have a strange feeling like I am speaking to an old friend that I have just met. Your new book is a very important story, beautifully written and a great read.

This winter I read with outrage The House of War and A Legacy of Ashes, historical accounts of two of our country's most virulent, critical cancers. The Girl I Left Behind gave me a personal, explicit view of the micro realities and deep grounding of how the male culture of the Pentagon and the CIA were recruited, trained, disciplined and sustained. Your personal account provides a whole new level of understanding. Thanks.

Don DeLay (Vermont)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Questions Ellen from Albuquerque

Dear judy,
> I loved your book. What an achievement!
> So many experiences of yours were shared by so many of us.
> I'm passing the book on to Chris Van Norman who is coming over for lunch today.
> We all, certainly Chris and me, wanted to go to work. I ran into the "must type 65 words per minute" barrier and didn't learn on purpose.
> Today we all are in a far better place but it would not have happened without all the hard work necessary to change the status quo.
> My hat is off to you for this lovely rendition of our experiences.
> Thank you for writing this reminder of all we have been through,
> Ellen from Albuquerque

Question: Has your ex been a presence for your daughter?
How is Clarissa doing? Have you heard from her lately?
Chris marched off with the book and we're going to discuss it when she finishes it.


Book Launch at Porter Square Books in Cambridge

Book launch was a great success. CSPAN's BookTV filmed the presentation and Q&A. Almost 100 people came and Porter Square Books ran out of books. Since then, I have been doing what I call "author housecalls," autographing books people bought later. Harvard Square Books named The Girl I Left Behind as one of its June picks. Upcoming events include readings at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC and closer to home, Chatham, MA (August 17) and Brookline, MA (August 20). A Brookline bookclub has chosen The Girl as their August read. I'm considering doing "author telephone visits" for book clubs. More on that later.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Responding to Email Feedback

An excerpt from the book was published recently in Tufts Magazine. The email feedback has been different from men and women.

A former classmate, who's become a federal judge in Wisconsin, said he thought it was valuable to recall how recent this history is. He remembered that in his law class at Columbia Law School in the late 60's, there were only 5 women.

Another classmate, a woman, told me she already bought the book, read half of it immediately in the bookstore over coffee, and found herself crying in the car on the drive home because she remembered all the same experiences: not being able to get a job, being humiliated because of the discrimination and sexism that resulted in such low expectations for women. And ultimately, she felt our generation was not able to reach our full potential.

Here's her email:


I bought your book today.

Read the first chapter while drinking coffee in Borders, and started checking off the same things I experienced either in or after grad school, looking for a job in DC, and all the same humiliating
experiences you had, I had.

Then when I got in my car to drive home, I found myself crying!

I guess because of reading about someone who experienced the same things I did, but also because of the acute regret that we had to go through all that humiliation. Some of it still dogs me, and maybe I should say "us", because I feel many women, like me, really haven't reached their full potential or dreams .

So congratulations!

Sally Willson J'62

What do you think?

After 10 years, Book Published!

I started this book in 1998 as an essay. This week Harper Collins published it as a book. I conceived it as part memoir and part history.

It's available in your local bookstore--please support your local bookstore!