Thursday, January 14, 2010

Nora Ephron and Gail Collins at the 92nd Street Y

Posted by: Michelle Haimoff

Cross posted on and 92Y Blog

It’s difficult to summarize Nora Ephron and Gail Collin’s talk at the 92nd Street Y on Tuesday night. Entitled “Women Come of Age,” the event aimed to cover “the cataclysmic changes that have overhauled American women’s lives during the past five decades.” But the conversation jumped from feminism (“The number of things where you just go, ‘Oh my god, that was in my adult life’”), to Eliot Spitzer (“When polls say that New Yorkers prefers Spitzer to Patterson, Spitzer mistakenly takes that to mean that they like him”), to stewardesses in the 1950’s (“It was like an invitation to spend your entire life being sexually harassed.”)

Gail Collins is so knowledgeable about the political evolution of women over the past 50 years, she could write a book (And if she did, she might call it, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present). And Nora Ephron is such a conversationally comfortable New Yorker, she makes you forget you’re part of an audience in a large auditorium and think you’re gossiping with her over eggs and onions at Barney Greengrass.

Collins and Ephron talked about the days when the norm in the workplace was for men to harass, exclude, ignore and discriminate against women. Collins spoke of the Hawaiian Room in the Capital that women weren’t allowed to enter, and the lack of a woman’s restroom. Ephron talked about starting at Newsweek and hearing that “women aren’t writers.” She also mentioned that the movie business is still “full of people who don’t want to make movies about women or for women.”

Interestingly, Ephron admitted that, years ago, she herself was not interested in writing about women and she viewed columns for women as a less important kind of journalism. “One of the reasons I wrote a column about women is because I thought, this is too important for me not to be forced to confront,” Ephron said. “But it changed me. And I was absolutely aware of how stupid I had been.”

Collins and Ephron also touched on the times in their lives when they learned to stand up for themselves. Ephron talked about giving a White House tour to her first fiancée while she was interning for Kennedy, only to have him say, “No wife of mine is gonna work in a place like this.” She concluded, “That I had the sense to know was not worth staying in.” And Collins spoke of the year she was chosen to edit the Marquette University school magazine with a male co-editor. When the faculty asked her which co-editor she’d rather have, she replied, “I’d rather just have it myself.” And they obliged.

Perhaps the most touching moment was when Collins spoke of the trailblazing women journalists who fought the feminist battles for her, and how she, not they, reaped the benefits. “I got all the stuff they were fighting for,” Collins said, “and the most amazing thing about these women… is that they’re happy for the women that come after them.”

None of us presume that we can match the strides of the women that came before us, but it is their faith in us that compels us to push forward. I was humbled by that faith when I read Collins’ inscription to me in her book:

“To Michelle, Who’s writing the next chapter.”

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