30 Years Ago, L.A.'s Girls of the Reagan Era Weighed in on "Feminist Jerks"

YES, RONNIE, WE LOVE YOU TELL US ANOTHER.
YES, RONNIE, WE LOVE YOU TELL US ANOTHER.
Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock.com

Thirty years ago, for the July 11–July 17, 1986, issue of L.A. Weekly, writer Terry Novak penned a cover story called “Girls of the Reagan Era.”

In the same issue, Torene Svitil wrote a feature on Betty Friedan and feminism called “Liberating Age,” Carolyn Reuben wrote on the cutting-edge science of treating AIDS with Vitamin C, and talk of divesting UCLA from apartheid-connected entities was abundant. But this cover story — Novak, a high school teacher asking the 12th-grade girls of 1986 about Geraldine Ferraro, female priests, politics and boys — is oddly prescient and a reminder of a few things: Reagan really fucked up everything; 18-year-olds say bananas things sometimes; Los Angeles kids may have started eating sushi before everyone else but were still Brat Pack conservative; and after 30 years, no matter how many goddamned progressive essays and think pieces and articles we write about it, we’re still trying to debunk the same shit about feminism.

Here are a few gems from the piece, but you can read it in its entirety from the scanned page below.

On feminism:

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“Feminists sometimes go too far. They’re sometimes bitter, narrow-minded or cold.”
“During the ’60s, women got a deep passion for demonstrating their equality. I believe women should be equal to men, but some feminists get a bit carried away.”
“Feminism means caring about looks, dress, hair, crossing your legs, being polite to older folks, having a boyfriend and getting your own car.”
“Feminism means being ladylike, like they were in the 19th century.”

On Geraldine Ferraro being the first female vice presidential candidate representing a major party (Sarah Palin is still the only other women with the honor):

“It was pretty silly. She didn’t have a chance.”
“It was good for her, but personally I think she’s a feminist jerk and I would never vote for her. I’m thrilled that she lost!”
“I think it was a joke. I’m for women’s lib, but not so much! When we’re ready, we’ll have a woman vice president.”
“I wasn’t too happy about it, but at least she didn’t run for president.”

On politics:

“Voting is no big deal. I’d probably be a liberal.”
“Personally, I could care less about politics.”
“I’d probably vote conservatively because it’s safer — the U.S. has lasted so long on tradition — and one little liberal mistake could wreck the entire traditional U.S. system.”

On the women’s lib movement of the ’60s, Vietnam and Kent State:

“We girls aren’t treated any differently than we want to be.”
“If we just follow the way everything has always been, then everything will be fine.”
“Wasn’t that when they burned bras?”
“The Vietnam conflict was in the ’60s. How did that start, anyway?”
“Why would the police shoot innocent students? The kids must have been doing something wrong.”

On women priests:

“We all know Jesus was a man, not a woman. Peter was the first leader of our church. He was a man, not a woman. It’s important to keep with tradition.”
“Jesus didn’t tell women we could be priests.”
“I think women want to become priests just for pride and reputation.”
“Even though this is the ’80s, I still like men to be the head sometimes.”

Novak paints a bleak — and funny — portrait of these material girls of middle-class Los Angeles, but she also exposes the complacency of a generation that forgot how hard their mothers fought for what they now (or then?) get to take for granted. If she’s still in Los Angeles, Novak would be very happy to see badass ladies like our very own Ovarian Psycos ruling the streets or the Women’s Center for Creative Work bonding over the intersections of work and feminism. Terry Novak, wherever you are, we just want you to know that kids today still have no idea how the Vietnam War started.


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