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Spring 2000

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Trauma behind the peace signs

     W ho could not notice the “Peace Now” protest picture in the last Scope?

     However exciting those activities may seem to some, there were other things going on during that period that nobody talks about. In 1964, we arrived at Skidmore in Peter Pan collars and Pappagallo shoes, having been raised on a wholesome diet of Doris Day, Nancy Drew, and Donna Reed. Although the Cold War made us a little anxious, we believed for the most part that the country we lived in was the best in the universe. But the innocence had already been shattered when our beloved, Hollywood-handsome president got his head blown off right before our eyes. Two more assassinations followed in rapid succession, Vietnam escalated, and violent protests ensued. My hometown was under martial law after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.

     At Skidmore, we abandoned Peter Pans for T-shirts and motorcycle jackets (I have a theory that we were identifying with the enemy, the patriarchy—wearing men’s clothing made us feel tough). Talk was of dropping out and hitchhiking to California for “Hashbury,” happenings, and hootenannies. The polarity of love-ins and sit-ins, of the Supremes and Jefferson Airplane, of preppy and Carnaby, was confusing, to say the least.

     Our parents believed that sending their daughters to a single-sex school would encourage studying instead of socializing. Here’s how our week went: Monday night, sleeping off the weekend at Dartmouth; Tuesday, maybe studying; Wednesday, hanging around the phone for an invitation for the weekend; Thursday, washing hair and packing; Friday, you’re outta there; Saturday and Sunday, trying to have a relationship with a boy whom you never ate lunch with, never studied with, never debated in class with. Not healthy.

     In 1964 we went out of our way to establish our virgin status; by 1968 we were known as a slut school. Talk about too much, too soon. And we had a well-entrenched double standard to contend with: the boys who “will be boys” from Dartmouth, Union, and RPI could behave like brutes with impunity, while if a girl got too drunk or slept with too many dates she was a “tramp” and treated as such. The girls had the impossible onus of governing their dates’ morals as well as their own. Self-esteem? Never heard of it. But thank God for the Pill. Before it came along, residents of North Hall would pass the hat to pay for abortions.

     My roommate was severely bulimic; another classmate was anorexic. We didn’t have names for these diseases and so were at a loss as to how to deal with them. Neither did we have a name for date rape. But they were all very much a reality. Not to mention that in those pre-lib, pre-PC days, we were often crueler to each other than anybody else. Did we get help? Counseling was not a household word then. Our parents hadn’t a clue as to what was going on or how to address it. There was no one to turn to. No one.

     And don’t forget that as we were trying to plan a future for ourselves in the middle of this mess, there were whispers that the wives, mothers, and homemakers we were raised to be were somehow no longer admirable occupations. In 1969 I couldn’t possess a credit card, buy my own home, or get a job—the implication was that because I was married to a medical student, I didn’t need to work because my husband would eventually be rich; if I did work, I was expected to quit if I got pregnant.

     In sum, the picture behind the placards was not a pretty one. Considering the instability of those four years, we were a pretty resilient group. But a bitter one today. That’s not to say we haven’t all carried on, achieved success, even worked hard to make it so our daughters would have different horrors to deal with. And a lot of us are wives and mothers and proud of it. But it would be a shame if the protest-placard photo were meant to represent the entire era.

Jane Grau ’68
Charlotte, N.C.

 


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