“In a room full of people, when I read my poem that’s called my Feminist Rant, I am confronting people to think about whether they are feminists basically and then I define what feminism means, what it’s about and then it’s really hard to deny that you’re a feminist if you understand a little bit about what feminism is. It’s just keep the government out of my body and I want equal pay and I want equal rights. I want laws to protect me.” -Merimee Moffitt
Merimee Moffit is an educator, an anti-war activist, an activist for women’s rights, a poet, a mother, a feminist- Bottom line, she’s a fierce woman. In this interview, I had the pleasure of sitting with Merimee on her couch in Albuquerque, New Mexico, listening to her life unfold and with it a herstory of feminism and a battle for justice and voice, which she continues today in her teaching, activism, and reading/performing of her poetry.
Since this was an interview on a couch, I encourage you to curl up on your own couch, if possible, and enjoy the interview. Today is part 1, Saturday will be part 2 and then Sunday part 3, so check back for the full story.
Liza Wolff-Francis: Can you talk about your history with the women’s liberation movement.
Merimee Moffitt: Well, I really didn’t know about women’s lib. in the early 70’s. When it was happening on the east coast, I didn’t really know about it and I didn’t know about it in the 60’s because the word wasn’t really formulated. If I had been a little better educated, I might have known about early feminism, Susan B Anthony and Alice Paul and the suffragettes because they were certainly feminists and part of feminist movements in the 19th century and the early 20th century, but I didn’t know much about that, it wasn’t really taught.
In the 60’s counterculture, civil rights became apparent to me. Civil rights regarding race, but still, it was a given that women were second-class citizens in the 60’s. There was no breakthrough in that, except personally. One by one, the women I knew- my closest friends, maybe one of my sisters, myself, we just broke the mold. There was no way in hell I was looking for a husband and a white picket fence and a job as a wifey-poo, like my mom. Although, in essence, I actually did that, but I did it counter-culture style, and didn’t get married and had sort of serial monogamous relationships that weren’t marriages and then eventually one of them became a marriage and eventually I did get married, but there was no real indication to me that anything made any sense about being a woman until I ran into my first Ms. Magazine, which was in Taos, the premier issue. I’ve researched it a little bit and have seen several dates on it. It is a fact that could be established exactly what week of what year that magazine was released (laughs) because the lore is that it sold out in 8 days, nationally. They did a trial run, the premier issue, which I think is 1971 and it had Judy Brady’s famous essay in it, “I Want A Wife.”
I just happened to be in downtown Taos with my baby on my back and I went into Gabe’s Mercantile on the plaza. That store had been that way since 1910, wooden floors and old wooden- glass cabinets. I still remember that day because I walked up and down the shelves. I had a little free time before I had to get in the truck and go home and cook and clean and wash dishes and dishpan and there was a Humpty Dumpty cookie jar that had been cracked and glued back together (laughs).
I asked Gabe how much he wanted for it since it was broken and glued and I think he sold it to me for three dollars. He said it had been sitting there for 25 years. So, it was the day of the cookie jar and I went up to pay for the cookie jar, and three dollars was a fairly big expenditure for me, the hippie without a job, but my boyfriend, my son’s father, had a job at that point, so there was a little cash.
He had a stack of magazines at the cash register and it was the premier issue of Ms. Magazine and I looked at it and it was a very special day. I picked it up and it was probably 75 cents or a dollar, which was again, a lot of money to spend for me.
It said something about women’s magazine, premier issue of national women’s magazine, women on women, I don’t remember what was on the cover, women empowering women, Pick this up and you’re going to read about women who are thinking about women and it was just like ‘Oh my God’ and I bought it and raced home and put the baby to bed and sat in a hard back chair with the sun coming down on my back and reading it cover to cover and thinking, ‘Holy shit, Okay, I’m not alone and I’m not crazy.’ We don’t have equal opportunities.
All the guys I knew could go pick up a job as a farmhand or a truck driver and I had thrown off my education, I didn’t like college either, and wound up with a baby and a fairly bad relationship, very counter-culture, he was a beatnik, heroin addict, not using at the time. But I did the dishes and cooked and he was the boss and I was supposed to be faithful and he cheated on me and he didn’t like to work all that much, so I realized Okay, I’ll get jobs, so I started getting jobs and we took it from there, but the Ms. Magazine, it changed my life. I’d like to see an edition of it and see what was in it. I know Judy Brady was in it- I still teach her in almost every class I teach and it’s a piece of satire about what it was like to be a woman and either be divorced- it was about marriage and divorce in 1970 or 1960. She wrote it probably in 1970.
Liza– How interesting. That is fascinating.
Merimee– So it turned out that the premier issue, however many they had produced on the east coast, cause it came from Gloria Steinem and a handful of intellectual women who didn’t drop out of college, most of them, and it sold out so fast that they just geared up and they’re still producing it. It’s still happening and they don’t advertise.
Liza– And now it’s on line.
Merimee– Yeah. I don’t read it as often as I used to but every time I do, I just appreciate the heck out of it, it’s very inspiring.
Liza-How have you seen feminism change over the years?
Merimee- Well, let’s see. As far as even using the idea of feminism and being a feminist, I immediately took up the title Ms. I was no longer Miss. I wasn’t married. I had already been married once and I kept my maiden name. I went back to my maiden name, used his name briefly, but it was a very brief marriage, it was just a bad experiment.
But I was adamant about not being called Miss or Mrs. I thought, this is a start and I’m going to stick to it because a man could go get a job and they wouldn’t be prejudiced against him for having children or being married. If his kids got sick, he might miss some time, it wasn’t in his interview really whether he had kids, but to say you were Mrs. Or Miss implied that it was their business whether you were married.
That prefix to your name really happened not too long after, like in the teaching world anyway, where a woman had to quit working if you got married. My grandmother was a teacher and she quit working. It was just a given. You turned in your notice if you were going to get married, because you couldn’t be both married and a teacher and you weren’t supposed to be pregnant and be a teacher.
So, there was a lot of discrimination against women in the 50’s and 60’s because obviously women were going to get married and going to be pregnant and how would that be on the job? In those days, people were starting to talk about, “Oh Ms. Magazine, Oh a woman’s going to be president, what would happen when she’s on her period? Ha ha ha,” as if women were really defective. And still in the charge of male bosses who wouldn’t hire them. So, Ms. Magazine meant, it’s not your business if I’m married or single. And eventually, it became part of the interview process that you didn’t have to tell.
Liza: Yeah, I can’t believe it wasn’t already part of the interview process.
Merimee: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Thank you for reading Matrifocal Point for Part 1 of the interview with Merimee Moffitt. Come back for parts 2 and 3, Saturday and Sunday. And follow us by clicking the Follow button.