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My Mother Was Wrong

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03.05.2022

The feminists who fought for Roe wanted to believe that their victory was forever. Now their granddaughters are poised to have fewer rights than they did.

About the author: Molly Jong-Fast is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the author of its newsletter Wait, What? She is also the host of The New Abnormal and a columnist for Vogue.

Sign up for Molly’s newsletter, Wait, What?, here.

We may have made a lot of mistakes, but at least we gave you Roe. I can’t even count the number of times my mother said some version of this to me. It was her way of explaining an earlier generation’s approach to feminism, and what she would say to me when she was trying to make sense of her own legacy. Maybe it wasn’t a normal thing for a mother to say to a daughter, but my mother isn’t a normal mother. She is Erica Jong, a second-wave feminist, a famous novelist, and a woman who throughout her career constantly grappled with what she and her cohort had accomplished and what they hadn’t.

They hadn’t managed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. They had failed on fair pay. The too-long list of things that had once seemed possible would continue to sting for decades. During the Reagan and Bush eras, my mother felt complete despair at the way conservatism rebounded politically and culturally. She’d say she was a member of the whiplash generation, “raised to be Doris Day, yearning in our 20s to be Gloria Steinem, then doomed to raise our midlife daughters in the age of Nancy Reagan and Princess Di,” as she put it in her memoir, Fear of Fifty.

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