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What My Mom Told Me About America Before Roe

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22.06.2022

Erica Jong celebrated women who wouldn’t settle for less than freedom and equality. Now those things I took for granted are on the line.

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.

My world has always been conditioned by an automatic assumption of reproductive rights that my mother, the writer Erica Jong, did not have when she came of age. I was born in 1978, five years after Roe v. Wade. Like most women under 50, under 60 even, I find it hard even to imagine what life was like for women in those pre-Roe years. Yet that is the world we’re going back to if Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is any guide to the Supreme Court’s final ruling, now due any day.

My mother would tell me stories when I was growing up about her life in that pre-Roe world. She described a place where a man could put his hand on your butt and you were expected to treat it as a hilarious joke, to be a good girl, to be nice, however put upon you were. She told me about how anxious she was eating alone in restaurants, because she’d been told that people might think she was a prostitute. About male teachers making sexual overtures, chasing her around a table, asking for oral sex.

Mom was an undergraduate at Columbia and Barnard in the early 1960s, and got her master’s at Columbia in 1965. My mom, I always figured, was a bit creative in her retellings, but clearly even the prestigious institutions she attended were at best sexist, at worst downright predatory.

In those days, young women were supposed to move seamlessly from their father’s house to their husband’s. Mom married the first person she had sex with, her college sweetheart, or so she told me. But then, not long after they wed, he had a psychotic episode and went back to live with his family in California. Divorced in her early 20s, Mom promptly........

© The Atlantic


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