Memorializing Feminist Mentors

The wisdom of Nora Ephron (1941–2012)

“Don’t delude yourself that the powerful cultural values that wrecked the lives of so many of my classmates have vanished from the earth… Don’t underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don’t take it personally, but listen hard to what’s going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally.”

“Failure is overrated. Everybody always says, ‘I learned so much from my
mistakes.’ Rubbish. What I learned is I don’t like failing. I guess I did learn that if you can survive three days everybody else has forgotten about your failure.”

“My mother,” she once said, “gave me this kind of terrific ability, not to avoid pain but to turn it over and recycle it as soon as possible.” “Take notes,” Nora Ephron’s mother advised her as a child. “Everything is copy.” and

Of the philandering husband in her 1983 novel Heartburn — modeled on her marriage to former Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein — Ms. Ephron wrote he was ‘‘capable of having sex with a Venetian blind.’’

Erica Jong on being mentored by Helen Gurley Brown (1922–2012)

“She had been very trashed when Sex and the Single Girl came out. All women who do provocative things are trashed. Always. So she made a special effort when she saw me getting the same treatment for Fear of Flying to be nurturing. She identified with me, and I was moved by that. I didn’t have many women mentors. Mostly my mentors were men like Henry Miller and John Updike.
“Many women were threatened by my work, which she was not, which is why I think she taught me that mentoring was feminist. She really understood that mentoring younger writers was feminism.”

Adrienne Rich (1929–2012)

“Triply marginalized — as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined.
“For Ms. Rich, the personal, the political and the poetical were indissolubly linked; her body of work can be read as a series of urgent dispatches from the front. While some critics called her poetry polemical, she remained celebrated for the unflagging intensity of her vision, and for the constant formal reinvention that kept her verse — often jagged and colloquial, sometimes purposefully shocking, always controlled in tone, diction and pacing — sounding like that of few other poets.”
Margalit Fox in The New York Times

Joyce Antler remembers Shulamith Firestone (1945–2012)

“Firestone would publish one of radical feminism’s most influential treatises, The Dialectic of Sex (1970), which shocked many in her community, and certainly her observant parents, with its call to free women from the “tyranny of their biology,” allowing childbearing to be replaced by technology and the nuclear family by nontraditional, and in her view, more humane households. In the decades since The Dialectic of Sex, several of Firestone’s suggestions for transforming women’s place in society have come to pass, but at the time, Firestone was considered by many to be an outrageous provocateur, a destroyer of the family. Firestone, in fact, was a key theorist of the women’s liberation movement, imagining the ways that technology could be a handmaiden for a profound social transformation that would lead to greater gender equality.”