Saturday, April 10, 2010

60s and 70s News Events

      When I entered college at age 25 as a single mom, I wasn't sure about what kind of future I would have; I just knew that I wasn't crazy about the path I was on. Having grown up in the 60s and early 70s in a small town in Appalachia meant that I had never seen the women around me, the mothers of my friends, work at careers. The majority of women had jobs at home as wives and mothers, so consequently I never heard the women around me talk much about anything other than their children, their husbands, housecleaning, cooking, gardening, sewing, shopping, decorating, or what was going on in the community or at church. Of course because of the political times we were living in, conversations at home every now and then would be dotted with comments about what was happening around the world as it had been seen on the local or national news. It was the time of the British invasion, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon; and it was also the time of Golda Meir, the 4th Prime Minister of Israel, and the first woman I had ever heard of  who had any substantial voice on the political world stage (besides Queen Elizabeth II who acted more as a figure head). Golda Meir entered the living rooms of almost every American on a nightly basis, as she was of great interest to the United States, endeavoring to cement relations with our country and obtain economic aid for Israel. I was young, but I knew that a lot of people in the United States were pro-Israeli, and thus were watching and waiting to see what might happen with this fairly new country that had been formed out of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian territories. The Kingdom of Jordan had been created in 1947, after Britain gave up its mandate to rule Palestine after WWII, while Israel was created in 1948, after large numbers of Jews had fled from Europe to Palestine in order to escape the Nazis, eventually creating a conflict that resulted in the first Arab-Israeli war that began as soon as the last British troops pulled out (though they didn't leave Jordan until 1957). A decade and a half later, and with trouble and fighting continuing, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and its more militant cousin, the Palestinian National Liberation Movement (or, the Al-Fatah) both formed in 1964.  In 1967 Jordan experienced devastation after the Six-Day War between Israel and Arab armies, during which time thousands of Palestinian refugees flocked into Jordan, accepting King Hussein's offer of Jordanian citizenship. In 1969 Yasser Arafat got elected PLO chairman, and in 1974, after terrorist attacks on Israel by the PLO, and after King Hussein clamped down on their growing power, King Hussein finally recognized the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

Besides Vietnam, this region of the world took front and center on the evening news when I was in my formative years. Grownups I knew seemed to be much more compassionate towards the plight of the new Israelis, while they loathed Yasser Arafat, and felt thankful for King Hussein's peaceful inclinations. Something I wasn't aware of, but would learn about much later, was that during this time Jordanian women hadn't as yet been given the right to vote, while Golda Meir, an Israeli woman, was speaking for an entire nation, carrying on discussions with these strong male world leaders in a political climate that seemed as tempestuous and scary to my young mind as did the Vietnam War. Ironically, during this same time there was another woman on the political scene, Gloria Steinem (of German and Jewish descent), who talked about a Women's Liberation Movement. After graduating college with a degree in government, she established herself as a freelance writer, not wanting to follow the long established path of women--that of marriage and motherhood--and then joined other feminists speaking out about issues far too radical and close to home for comfort to most conservative,Christian, middle class Americans, and so who, unlike Golda Meir, was not supported in my parents' house, or by most people I knew. I overheard something about women burning their bras, and that was it. Thus it was that I remained fairly ignorant of the ever expanding choices becoming available to women in America, as the voice of Golda Meir quietly died out in 1974 when she was forced to step down from office to be replaced by a man.
     At home in WV, I was transitioning from my freshman year in high school to my sophomore year, and I cared more about dating boys and growing into larger sized bras than what was happening on any political front, whether it was at home or abroad. I was collecting teen idol magazines, dreaming about who I might marry someday, and reading fewer and fewer adventure stories. In fact, my reading eventually turned into more of an addiction to the Romance novel, preferring "adventures" where the female "heroine" finds herself (usually due to a flaw in her own character) overpowered by some strong, ravishingly handsome male abductor who steals her away from her normal yet "boring" life. Over time she begins to fall in love with him until she's finally willing to accept her fate and live alongside him a much less traditional life, if not in a less traditional role. The stories always ended with the heroine in the arms of her lover, and one had only to assume that they lived together "happily ever after" until they died.  Oh, how so very much I wanted that to happen to me! During the years I was hooked on reading these novels I hardly watched any television, let alone any world news, though I did set my alarm to get up early enough so that I could witness Diana marry Prince Charles in England. Thank goodness, by the time I was twenty-five (and after several broken hearts, a failed marriage, and one child), I got the opportunity to go to college, where I began a process of education (mostly under the tutelage of female professors) that would open my eyes to the history and plight of women in the United States, all the while discovering that women had indeed been participants on the world stage, actively defying convention both publically and privately! I also began seeing how they had been challenging the status quo all around the world using their voices and their pens! Now, in 1994, here I was walking the streets and countrysides of Jordan, learning to care about a place in the world that had seemed barren at best, and problematic and troublesome at worst, and I suddenly wanted to understand this nation's political history. I wanted to hear the Arab side of the story. Both the men's and the women's. Unfortunately, on this trip I would not hear from any women, although a seed had been planted in me that would, in another decade, find its way into the light.