In the years leading up to the birth of Ms., women had trouble getting a credit card without a man’s signature, had few legal rights when it came to divorce or reproduction, and were expected to aspire solely to marriage and motherhood. Job listings were segregated (“Help wanted, male”). There was no Title IX (banning sex discrimination in federally funded athletic programs); no battered-women’s shelters, rape-crisis centers, and no terms such as sexual harassment and domestic violence.
Few women ran magazines, even when the readership was entirely female, and they weren’t permitted to write the stories they felt were important; the focus had to be on fashion, recipes, cosmetics, or how to lure a man and keep him interested. “When I suggested political stories to The New York Times Sunday Magazine, my editor just said something like, ‘I don’t think of you that way,’ ” recalls Gloria Steinem. “It was all pale male faces in, on, and running media,” says Robin Morgan, who was Ms.’s editor in the late eighties and early nineties.
But in the mid-sixties, feminist organizations such as New York Radical Women,Redstockings, and NOW began to emerge. On March 18, 1970, about a hundred women stormed into the male editor’s office of Ladies’ Home Journal and staged a sit-in for eleven hours, demanding that the magazine hire a female editor-in-chief. Says feminist activist-writer Vivian Gornick, “It was a watershed moment. It showed us, the activists in the women’s movement, that we did, indeed, have a movement.”