Part Six Maggie May's "Womankind"

The reality of social issues in the United States is sometimes difficult to grasp unless it hits home—literally. When an issue, such as Second Wave Feminism, seems to be another fad in American culture, it is not always seen as significant unless it is part of one’s daily life. This is why January 21, 1972 saw the first of Maggie May’s columns entitled “Womankind” in UNO’s Gateway Newspaper. In it, May introduces readers to the Women’s Liberation Movement with the intention of informing UNO about the issues of nation-wide feminists. She explains that her discussions will include the problems of women from a woman involved in the movement. The concept of men versus women is the oldest form of oppression, and the common societal characteristics of women are that they are weak, dainty, irrational, and emotional, and generally incompetent. Plus, women’s main purpose is to find a husband and produce children so as to avoid the threat of becoming an “Old Maid.” Some of the characteristics of men Maggie May includes are that they are strong, independent, unemotional, and powerful; she is careful, however, to remind the reader that these are all human traits—not gendered traits. The point of the Women’s Liberation Movement is to remove the gender role stereotypes from society.

The next “Womankind” article for the February 4 issue is entitled “The Working Woman” of 1972. At the time, women made up a third of the country’s workforce, with female clerical workers at 70 percent, women as private household workers at 99 percent, female service workers at 55 percent, and professional workers only at 14 percent of women. May found that race and social status also came into play, and women in full-time sales earned only 40.4 percent of salaries of men. She interviewed a secretary, Judith Ann, who described her own work from typing and filing to balancing the boss’s checkbook, making his coffee, and even washing the baseboards of the office. Judith Ann told May, “I finally realized, however, that it was probably not that the tasks themselves were so physically debilitating to my boss; the degrading division of labor was just the quickest way of enforcing the sexual hierarchy in employment” (“Womankind”). May leaves off here, but continues her discussion of women in the workplace in the February 11 article.

In 1972, according to Maggie May, the popular belief was that the 14 percent of women with professional jobs were considered special because they made it in a man’s world by thinking like a man. May interviewed two medical students, “Eileen” and “Lucy,” about this concept. “Eileen” was the only female doctor in her class with eight male doctors; she was thought of as “cute” by her colleagues and was referred to as “sugar” frequently. “Lucy” felt she was pat on the head by the male doctors while they explained something to her, as if it “helps our learning process” (“Womankind”). May explains here that professional women were treated as outcasts by other men in their fields, which isolated women from other women in the workplace because they were higher up on the proverbial career ladder. Still, women were considered smart, but never as smart as men. At one point in the article, “Lucy” says, “At present women seem to be venting their hostilities on each other, instead of on the cause, which is men. It is men who treat us unequally and do not recognize our accomplishments!” (“Womankind”). The outrage of these women is apparent in May’s article. Working women were treated unfairly, as if they were only allowed in the professional world if they stayed in the place in which the men put them. The professional world of 1972 seemed to simply be a boy’s club, only letting women in because the Women’s Liberation Movement was gaining notoriety and the demands of equality were becoming more of a social issue than a women’s issue.

The concept of the sexual revolution is the focus of the April 14 article, which is subsequently the last article published in the “Womankind” column of the Gateway Newspaper. Maggie May’s final article, entitled “We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby?: Some Thoughts About the Sexual Revolution,” begins with the idea that women have been liberated with recent approval of birth control and contraceptives in American society, causing a sexual revolution in the country. May theorizes that the sexual revolution actually benefits men more: “What the sexual revolution did was not free women so much as it created a new reservoir of available females to be exploited sexually by men” (“Womankind”). She says in her article that radical feminists believe this and that it actually hinders the Women’s Liberation Movement. This is an accurate theory as the sexual revolution itself had good intentions, but it did in fact put women in a new category of sexuality and play-things at the disposal of men. May goes on to say women do not have sexual freedom—if they wait, they are considered “a real drag” and not spoken to again by that man. A woman who does, however, take advantage of her sexual freedom is considered the ideal, but simultaneously poses the idea of the double standard. It becomes the Madonna/whore concept, where men strive for the perfect woman—a saint in the household and a whore in the bedroom. Maggie May says in the article, “The important thing the sexual revolution did for women was to make our exploitation so blatant that we could no longer ignore it” (“Womankind”). This idea becomes a premise to one of the main reasons the Second Wave Feminist Movement began, explaining that women can really begin a movement for liberation when they demand to be treated as humans instead of sexual objects.

Maggie May, whoever she may be, wrote her “Womankind” column with grace and purpose. She was careful to remain unbiased, but still included her voice beneath the surface of her articles; she stated facts and included interviews from other women, solidifying her credibility as a columnist. Equality in the workplace and the real ideas behind the sexual revolution were two of the most important concepts for Second Wave Movement. May covers these topics precisely for the readers of the Gateway Newspaper. She speaks directly to the faculty and students of 1972 U NO, zeroing in on topics that quite frankly still affect women today. I feel May’s intentions were not only to inform the public of one of the most important times of women’s liberation in the United States, but she wanted to shake up the Republican, closed-minded ideals of Nebraskans, whose “women in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant” views were quickly becoming outdated. She didn’t want this movement to get lost in the Midwest; instead, she wanted to make sure men and women alike could understand and possibly take action against the injustices women of her day were facing. May was bold and brave, and represents an excellent woman to include in the Women’s Archive Project of UNO. Personally, I feel privileged to have found these potentially lost articles and to have discovered a woman who, although still anonymous, continues to speak to men and women alike about the principle of equality for the sexes.