The Women’s Movement was on fire. Real change was happening! Female stereotypes– and their underlying assumptions — were crushed. A new magazine, MS, written by and for women, celebrated women’s independence. No recipes or tips on being a good wife in this magazine! Women’s lives were theirs to create. Freedom was sweet, but answering the question “What do I really want?” required introspection. Luckily, self-help books and encounter groups guided the path to self-awareness.  Marriage ceased to be the ultimate dream. And unsatisfying marriages could be ended — now that we earned our own money! The women of the 1970s were assertive, bold and unstoppable!

You’ve Come a Long Way Baby!

All discrimination on the basis of gender was prohibited by the 1960’s Civil Rights legislation. The laws enacted in the 1970s targeted specific areas — just in case people didn’t understand “all!” — like education, consumer credit and pregnant women in the work place. Other critical issues – like rape and domestic violence – were tackled. Marital rape was made illegal (though not in all states until 1993!). And a woman successfully used self-defense for the first time in a murder/rape case. Battered women found protection in shelters. And Roe v Wade confirmed a woman’s right to control her own body. The ultimate prize — women could keep their name. It was no longer mandatory to take their husband’s!  When Time Magazine selected “American Women” as the “Person of the Year” in 1975, feminism had “arrived.” But its detractors — like Phyllis Schafly who favored a return to traditional roles — started to gain traction, aided by the media who portrayed “libbers” as “radical, man-hating bra-burners.” Both men and women drifted away from the Women’s Movement. Fortunately, feminism had reached a tipping point and would forge ahead!

What About My Needs?

Pre-marital sex and living together may have been revolutionary a decade earlier in the ‘60s, but it became mainstream in the 1970s. The number of couples “co-habitating” doubled. They represented less than 1% of all American households, but reflected a trend. Divorce rates rose — one in two marriages ended in divorce. No-fault divorce laws, working women’s financial independence, and the desire for personal fulfillment fueled a “divorce revolution.”  “For better or for worse” no longer applied. Kids could easily adjust to divorce — according to the research — which meant parents could put their own needs first without remorse. Some married couples — groovy ones- – chose to “swing,” and swap partners. Hollywood couldn’t resist this phenomenon. Check out Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. A keen interest in sex — and satisfaction — kept these books on the bestseller list: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid To Ask) was light-hearted, while The Joy of Sex shocked with graphic illustrations. With so much sexual activity — and partners — herpes became a major health threat!

I’m Okay, You’re Okay

Weary of fixing society’s ills, people turned inward to fix — and to find — themselves. They sought comfort and enlightenment through self-help books, therapy, and encounter groups like EST, Primal Scream, Scientology. Healthy living became a trend. Natural foods became available and everyone was jogging! Self-improvement reigned. People coming of age in the ‘70s became known as the “Me Generation.” Considered self-absorbed and indulgent, they showed little concern for society’s ills. The truth — times had changed. Boomers, many of whom were college student in the ‘60s, were now working and settling down with families. When the Vietnam War ended in 1975, the protests stopped. A severe economic recession and government corruption led to malaise. People were searching for solace.  And self-help would become a major industry for many decades to come!

Thank Goodness for White-Out!

More women than ever were in the labor force. Marriage and motherhood still affected a woman’s decision to work. Many women temporarily left the workforce during the child-rearing ages of 35-45 and then returned. Even so, almost 50% of married women with kids 6-17 worked outside the home.  Most were employed in tradition female jobs – retail clerks, teachers, waitresses, hair dresses, nurses, and office workers. Office life in the 1970s was similar to what it is today, with the exception of smoking, rolodexes, desk top calculators and electric typewriters! Carbon paper made copies, and mistakes were corrected with “correction tape,” aka White-Out. The seeds were planted, however, for women to move beyond traditional jobs. By 1979 more women than men attended college and pursued degrees in business and management, as opposed to education. And many women were going on to graduate and professional schools — medicine, law, dentistry and business.  This next generation of women would have no need for white-out!

Rocking It in Polyester

Fashion offered women unlimited choices. Minis, maxis, polyester pantsuits with flares or bell-bottoms (pants were accepted everywhere), classic a-line dresses, ethnic-inspired or androgynous clothing a la Annie Hall gave women the opportunity to express their individuality. Nightlife meant discos and hot pants (which could be shorter than a mini and still be decent!) donned with “boob tubes” or sexy halter- neck tops, and chunky platform shoes. Casual, free-flowing hair was popular — think Farrah Fawcett. This meant squeaky clean hair and daily washing. Shampoo replaced hair spray! There was a product for any hair ailment — oily, dry, frizzies and the dreaded split ends. Heated rollers and blow dryers helped achieve the “natural” look. Men abandoned traditional clothing for the Saturday Night Fever look. Double-knit polyester leisure suits, worn with an open-necked, wide-collared poly shirt, could be worn virtually anywhere. Many mocked the look as ridiculous. It turned out to be a fad, but “dressing down” would endure.

That’s Far Out!

One-story ranch style homes continued their popularity in the 1970s. The average home had 3 bedrooms and 2 baths with a two-car garage. Most homes included family rooms, breakfast nooks, walk-in closets and master suites. Inside, all kinds of groovy furnishings were found — lava lamps, waterbeds, psychedelic posters, beads hanging in doorways, bean bag chairs, macramé plant holders, and shag carpeting. Orange, yellow, avocado, gold and brown were the on-trend colors. Kitchens were appointed with Cuisinart food processors, microwave ovens, electric knives, fridges with water and ice through the door, as well as crock pots and wood salad bowls. Meals were aided with Hamburger Helper and coveted snacks were Jiffy Pop popcorn, Hostess Twinkies and Ding Dongs. No party was complete without a Polaroid instant camera to capture the moment — now we have our iPhones. Ford Pintos and VW Beetles were fuel-efficient and welcomed in the midst of gas rationing — thanks to an oil embargo by Opec. Volkswagon vans – aka hippie buses — were updated with shag carpet, curtains and sound systems. Perfect for cross-country trips!

Something for Everyone

What were once taboo subjects — bigotry, sex, violence — found its way into television and film. All in the Family lampooned the most out-spoken racist, sexist pig and actually made him likeable! The breakdown of family life was on display in the first reality TV show — An American Famil: The Louds, which followed a divorce in the making and a son’s homosexuality. Shocking at the time. HBO arrived on the scene and capitalized on its freedom to push the envelope regarding language and sex. A new wave of cinema was hard-hitting and provocative — Taxi Driver, Apocalypse Now, Network. The “summer blockbuster” was born with Jaws and Star Wars. Music offered something for everyone’s taste — Motown, easy listening, classic rock and punk.  The club scene pulsated with disco music. Donna Summer, the “Queen of Disco” rocked the charts with “Love To Love You Baby.” The Carpenters, the brother and sister act, won over audiences with their sweet, innocent lyrics. Jackson 5, Marvin Gay and the Bee Gees were all popular. The Rolling Stones and The Who entertained fans in large-venue concerts.

The Decade of Disillusionment

Confidence in America– its values, its dreams, its government — eroded. Not only did government not have the answers to problems (as we believed in the 1960s), it was the problem! In the midst of fighting the Vietnam War, the Pentagon Papers — excerpts from a government study on the war — proved the government had lied about its actions and policies. One year later, Republican operatives broke into Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.This became the Watergate scandal, which played out onTV with endless hours of congressional hearings. Eventually, President Nixon would resign under threat of impeachment for his involvement. By 1974, we were in the worst economic decline since the depression — gas shortages, 11% inflation, 8.5% unemployment. Foreign competition intensified, and the stock market sagged. Real wages decreased. The American dream of upward mobility was slipping out of reach. When Americans were taken as hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Tehranin 1979, it seemed that Americahad truly lost its way. The glimmers of hope lay in the progress made by the Civil Rights and Women’s movements, as well as the new environmental mandates.  The country would be ripe for the Reagan Revolution arriving in 1980!

I Am Woman. I Am Strong, I Am Invincible.

Women were as close as they’d ever been to equality. We took pride in each other’s success. We rejoiced when Billie Jean King trounced her male opponent (Bobby Riggs) on the tennis court in the “Battleof the Sexes,” and applauded Shirley Chisolm when she ran to be the Democratic Presidential nominee in 1972. Laws protected women as they moved about their lives in the outside world. But the most profound effect of the women’s movement was in their heart. Women felt differently about themselves. And no one would ever be able to take that away from them!