Lena asked me to write about my journey to feminism. Lena asks, I do. So here it is.
For starters, I was slow getting here.
In 1970, when I was 33, I learned that 5,000 women in New York City were demonstrating for legalized abortion. I wrote in my journal:
"Don't understand the Women's Liberation Movement. There are more important things to have a movement for, it seems to me. To focus on women's issues is diversionary when so much wrong is being done in the world. Each woman should take it upon herself to be liberated and show a man what that means."
Yeah, sure. I'm glad I kept that journal as a reminder of how far I've come. I had been married and living in France for eight years and had just come home to become an anti-war activist. It was a very different country from the America I'd left, so I decided to spend two months, that spring of 1970, driving cross-country to New York, where I was to start filming Klute. I needed to get to know the USA again.
Two weeks into my trip, Nixon invaded Cambodia; four students were killed at Kent State, two at Jackson State; 35,000 National Guard troops were called out in 16 states; a third of the nation's colleges closed down; and before I arrived in New York, I'd been arrested five times for distributing copies of the Uniform Code of Military Justice outside military bases.
Yet what I remember most vividly was none of that. It was a woman I met. Terry was her name. She ran a G.I. coffeehouse in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood. These coffeehouses — springing up outside major military bases around the country — were meeting places for active-duty soldiers who were questioning the war. I had just become involved as a civilian supporter of the G.I. Movement and was spending as much time at as many such coffeehouses as I could.
The moment I was in Terry's presence, I felt something shift. Not something I had been missing or was looking for, because I hadn't known it existed. But I felt different in her presence. I watched the way she dealt with the soldiers. She didn't judge the young men who were on their way to Vietnam. She knew most of them were from working-class or poor, rural, and inner-city environments with few alternatives or fancy lawyers to get them deferments. I watched as she engaged them in what I now call "heartful" listening — listening not just with her ears, but with her heart.
It wasn't until much later, when I read Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice, that I discovered the early 1970s were when new feminist psychologists were bringing empathic, relational listening — the opposite of the Freudian approach — into their therapeutic professions, with revolutionary results. It turned out that heartful listening can initiate a healing process for people who've been violated physically or psychically. I doubt that Terry knew this. I think she was simply modeling in her everyday life the sort of democratic society she was fighting for, where everyone deserved respect and compassion. She manifested this with the soldiers and with me.
Terry seemed to see me. Not the "movie star" me, but a whole me that I myself didn't even know yet. I don't think I'd ever felt seen before. She was interested in why I had become an activist and how I had gotten involved in the movement.
While we planned an upcoming rally, she asked my opinion and included me in all decisions. This was new for me. When the male staffers printed flyers for the rally without consulting the women, Terry called them on it. It was my first time experiencing what I later realized was feminist leadership and sisterhood, and it was powerful, palpable.