ericajongFeminism Then & Now

Out of the countless interviews I listened to this summer as one of the Studs Terkel Radio Archive’s summer interns, one of the most memorable shows was Studs’ conversation with author Erica Jong. It became, in my mind, an example of the enduring power of Studs’ interview style. Their easy back and forth covers everything from Jong’s outrage at the Smithsonian to the symbolic meaning of menstruation with an immediacy that makes it easy to forget they spoke to each other forty years ago.

Studs caught Erica Jong at just the right moment. Right after publishing her famous novel Fear of Flying, Jong discusses the sensation aroused by the novel’s themes of female sexuality and agency. With Studs, she also reads sections of the book, as well as some of her feminist poetry, and shares her thoughts on being a female author writing about women. Ultimately they together outline the book’s relationship to second-wave feminism without the hindsight to recognize doing so.

Entranced by their conversation, I too lacked the distance necessary for such reflection. Despite the almost half-century remove, I felt that Studs Terkel and Erica Jong spoke purely for my own enjoyment. Their thoughtful and impassioned voices drove me to borrow a copy of the novel, which I read expecting to feel more of the same. But something was different, and it wasn’t just that the swears were removed in the sections Jong read on air. In the printed words, I saw a feminism older than the one I know today, one not more angry but somewhat less inclusive than its succeeding phase would learn to be. It was shocking to realize that the voice I thought was speaking only to me had in fact been part of a previous cultural moment. The book I borrowed had the same scandalous cover I heard Jong describe in the interview, but it was yellowed with age, about to fall off of its binding. Realizing that I had forgotten about the passing of time in such a literal way led me to truly appreciate the power and vitality of the human voice, and the incredible significance of Studs Terkel’s oral histories.

-Lizzie Friedman