Woman; 335; New Image for Black Women
If Eat Eat thing eat a thing eat eat eat eat eat woman and interrupt the exploration of the world of women to the sun. Good evening and welcome to woman Our topic tonight.
It's a new image for black women.
With me is Marcia Ann Gillespie. Marcia is editor in chief of Essence magazine and a board member of Essence Communications.
Essence is a magazine for black women.
Welcome Marcia. Thank you so much I want to hit you right away with a quote. You object you say when you hear other women say we are not all sisters. And we and we don't all suffer the same things.
Well I object when women say that we are all sisters and we all suffer the same things.
A Basically because you know we really haven't. I mean it's very simplistic. It tends to try it almost it if you want to use the term white wash the differences that do exist.
And I just don't mean between black women and white women between black women and other black women between white women and other white women. And it also tends to make one of us especially when we're dealing with white women who often will use that term. To me it usually tends to do something for black women and that is it makes us have to take a backseat you know because my life story has yet been you know to be told and I have to tell it and it is different.
When you first took over as it's now what year was that 1971 and you were very young.
Yeah. What with essence saying to black women at that point.
Well you know Essence came out in May of 1970 and I like many women who picked I was very excited because it was a beginning to talk about positive images. Absolutely. But unfortunately it began to look more and more like a fashion magazine which I did not feel and that the readership did not feel was necessarily the vehicle they wanted. So what I tried doing and I hope I've been successful in some part is to broaden the mix because for a long time the example that I use even with my editors so that when I used to look through women's magazines around the period of 1970 I used to try to break them into like three categories. There were women's magazines for the young mama housewife you know. And it gave her a bigger and better recipes and new ways to pretty of the kids. And then there was that kind of magazine that was really for the clothes horse a very high fashion. And then there was a third one which I was called How to get and keep.
And I want to refute things.
And quite frankly you know when you're talking to black women those each category is much too narrow. Because a black woman where we are interested in clothes or interested in children in our homes and we're interested in men but we are also interested in work because we do. And we're interested in politics and just the world in general. So I really wanted to make a healthier mix in the magazine which is what we've tried to do and so I call it a new kind of service magazine because normally when people used to say service they meant how to keep your pots shiny or something like cooking right.
Right. Even though will do 12 ways to cook an burger but it won't be the big story.
Are you trying in any way to make the essence reader a better consumer.
Yes I hope we are. We do column every month on consumer information past and beyond that I think that just in giving readers a great variety of information they are becoming more aware as I am when I read some of the stories that we read which that awareness then translates into how we do what we do.
Have you done any film reviews on the black exploitation films or if you made any comment through the magazine on those films.
We've done both. I've written I think at this point must be two maybe two editorials on the subject. The last one was this summer. I cry while there are some work or something. But basically you know my point of view which therefore is the magazines is that you know very. And used to be very angry I've ceased being angry I'm just annoyed and very disheartened by the films because on the whole it to me is just another stereotype in which black people and black women are locked in and nine times out of 10 we're either all suffering or we're hot mamas. And even though there are some black women who might fit in even one of those categories that's again not the totality of what we are. And so where we're being limited the television shows the movies. I see a limitation. You know right across the board. And I really do see just which I see an update of an old stereotype.
Was there an overwhelming response from the readership in one direction or another and they did. Most people who read your magazine dislike this kind of film.
See if I can use the letters as an indication.
Yes but at the same time I know those films do make money so someone out there is coming to see them. I'm hoping that it is really not our readership.
How does essence deal with the women's movement.
Well you know I always say to people we deal with it pragmatically. I take a Sojourner Truth. I kind of wrote with it net because I do think that there are some things in the women's movement that are very positive that all women can gain from. On the other hand I have felt for a long time that it basically is a white middle class movement.
There are many of the issues and concerns that is you know caused a great deal of fear are not the same issues and concerns that at the moment are a top priority for me. I've also had great problems because you know when I used to hear Fortunately you don't hear that as much. You know the kind of categorization of men is being you know male chauvinists and pigs and all of that which was of course the loud stage of the movement that really kind of turned me off because I can't turn to black men and start doing that because they haven't had a chance at the power. I'm not saying they might not turn out to be all of those things but they haven't had a chance at the power because I know that there's so much pressure being placed on black men in black women to push their support and I can't you know consciously help them you know. But I just hope that the women's movement will show I see broaden its scope really begin to not just sort of talk at problems that do affect women who happen not to be middle class in the traditional sense but we really become involved with the problems I always say you know its like when I heard women white women talking about the need to fulfill themselves in meaningful meaningful work you know getting out of the home. And I always say to them you know I just wish black women had the choice to stay home and raise children if we wanted to because thats something that has always eluded us we have been workers we are workers. Our problem is that we work in menial jobs so we don't have to get enough money for what we do. You know so there are differences that have to really be looked at and embraced.
You tell me when we spoke earlier that you were going to try to do an issue on how black women really feel about white women.
I think it's overdue. And I want to also include the reverse white women really do feel about black women. We have been looking at each other now first you know couple of centuries and with a great deal of hostility I think from most of that time. And I really do think that if the women's movement if any of the things that the women's movement is really going to you know have any meaning. The first thing that's going to happen I have to really happen is we're going to start being very honest about our feelings and perceptions of each other. You know pro and con.
What you project on and if you do this in any project and maybe tell me some of the things you think might be included in that issue.
I'd like to look at myths myths that. We meaning black women have fostered about white women missing white women who are forced to step down like the Smiths. My goodness you know it's like in many ways I would say some of them hit head on. When I grew up my images of white women were basically that you were very lazy in intellect.
I would say that for many white they grew up thinking you know what. Why did I think so because you know and I've been in the neighborhood that I lived in most of the black women went off to clean and take care of and raise white children while the and I couldn't understand you know what were these women doing you know go to work and do anything. We have to really look at for example the whole idea of the beauty myth.
You know what what post to say that you know do all white women even fit into the category of beauty i.e. you know she's usually tall she's usually blonde she's usually thin you know she usually has very Aqua lined features where does that leave a lot of white women. And also what are our feelings about that. Because more and more black women are competing with white women competing for jobs competing for the affection and love. Black men competing. You know right across the board. But if we're really still feeling in some way that we can't because we are inferior then we have to look at that in and explode that kind of you know feeling the women's movement didn't really open up a line of communication did it.
I mean it welcomed black women into the movement but it really didn't do the reverse I mean it really didn't make an attempt to. Say all right this is a conduit for us to exchange information. Not really.
I think that maybe you know. Stated there was never any attempts to do that.
I think there were attempts but I think it was like a lot of other rhetoric. I mean people were saying that that was to be the end result but in fact it doesn't. So I think that's true.
And also what happened is you know the women's movement came right on the heels of civil rights came right on the heels when we blacks are really pushing so hard to finally break down the barriers that have you know kept us from really you know growing in and enjoying America as we should. And there's you know there has been you know incredible suspicion which I have felt you know it's like a line from a poem that I use which was one of Langston Hughes response have taken my blues and gone so that the suspicion was also oh ok so they want to work whose jobs are they taking. I have to work. You know my man's just getting a chance to really stretch out in the in the field who knows who's going to make room for white women and us you know and I think that these sorts of discussions really do have to happen because we see a shrinking economy you know.
So I think most women who work now have to work. I think it's not a matter really anymore so much of choice as it used to be.
Yes but you know even in that there are degrees there are degrees. You know because of where one is going to have to work to maintain two cars and of great house in the suburbs and one can have to work because one's paycheck is absolutely necessary to keep food on the table.
So there are there to grease right there lots more women single women who are heads of households now as there are single men who have about souls and I think that that kind of makes it a new ballgame in the sense that because there are such a large number now being introduced into the economy that and also because you know we see it right now you know blacks have been and still are you know still the last tired in the first find so that when we look at what's happened with unemployment and the effect it's had on black families and single blacks it's really been very devastating in 67 and 68 during the beginning of the black is beautiful thing.
Where were you were you in college at that point you know I was working at Time Incorporated as a researcher for Time-Life.
Well how do you think that affected you and what effect you think that having to enter the whole Black is Beautiful thing.
I think the best way to describe it is it gave me a very special glow inside it. Through words that needed to be said again and again and again and it didn't make me feel very special I felt. It's very hard to describe what was happening at that time.
But one of the best ways was it was like a family pulling together. It was a great deal of love I mean there was a lot of anger and rage but there was a great deal of love that was we were expressing for each other and I was very positive very positive expression.
You mentioned you were working for Time magazine is that you know it wasn't the magazine it was the book station.
How did you find it necessary to leave. And I'm using your word the white publishing world.
Well that was a gradual process. I knew after I had been a Time Incorporated for about two years that it was not going to be a place that I was going to be able to make a home for any length of time. I was thinking oh several reasons one of which is you know I began to see who had the power. And you know power is important but added For me it was. Because I could see who could make the decisions and it was basically a white Anglo-Saxon and Protestant institution pushing a very limited. Even though they covered vast subjection areas and tried to do what I think fairly they were limited they were limited severely. And so I ran into problems on things as you know varied as whether to call Wounded Knee a battle or a massacre which of course now the Department of the Army thinks we should call a battle in which at that time one of my editors at Time Inc. Thought we should call a battle. By the time I did start working on a Black History series it was I mean it was just constant tension constant tension.
And I really came to the conclusion I'm sick to death of having everybody else tell me my wife well and I have to get out of here because I think my sanity was at stake. I don't think I would have gone raving mad. But I was turning into a very angry bitter person and I couldn't let job do that to me.
How did the people around you. Or didn't you tell them.
My feeling yeah. Well I think most people got a good sense of where I was coming from in the whole thing. And basically I think they felt Look we pay you a lot of money there's a great deal of supposed status and prestige working here. You know you're either going to be happy the way it is or maybe things will get better. Well that may be an if. You know you can spend your whole life for and I knew that I would not function very well there anymore. And plus I had outgrown the kind of job category that they were only willing to give me.
So there was there was you know have you found a way to cope with your anger that kind of anger.
I hope so yes. A great deal of it is because you know because my circumstances have changed in the sense that now I am getting the chance to talk about my life or our lives. I am in a position where you know I'm not having to wait for someone else to say yes you can do it so that you know since frustration is a form of anger that level of frustration has disappeared. The second part of course is that. I no longer am in a position or even try to place myself in the position of reacting to the larger society to what whites think feel and whatever and instead in the process of you know of evolving philosophies and ideas and information that are about blacks and for blacks and blacks which is a very much more positive trip so that that dispels it.
Now I still have angers which I hope I won't be able to work out but I feel a lot more in touch with the better part of me now where you have a lot of pressure on you.
Yeah yeah that's nice.
Does that scare you know you used to.
When I first became the editor I was 27 26 27 and it was like getting what you wanted. But you know how you say oh that's what I really want to do but you don't have any idea of all that it entails. So I'd say for the first two years I was terrified terrified of. Well yes I had to give up the idea that everybody was going to like me you know. I've never been a boss before. I never knew anybody who was a boss before getting adjusted to that which I'm still getting adjusted to. But I'd say today no I'm not terrified because I think I have people around me who are strong enough in themselves to make sure that I do not misuse the power.
You have a support system you know the reason why you're here but yet you have complete control and that's something that you insist on. Yes yes. And that is unusual because there aren't that many people in your position that I think have complete control.
That's probably true. I think that a great deal of that is really due to the you know the management because the publisher and the president really do understand. My philosophy and were willing to take a chance on an unknown entity which is exactly what I was when they hired me.
Are you concerned with sexism in schools as say the women's movement is that men do you feel that little black girls need to know things about sexism that they're not being told.
Well I think that you know black girls do need to know more about you know what's happening in terms of sexism. My level of concern is not nearly as great because you know I always have the feeling that you know it's like I was saying to you earlier black woman becomes one word for me. And my great concern is that black children in the school system are just being mowed down and blown away. And it's not about girls or boys but still for great numbers of young black kids going to school their horizons are limited because they think that our horizons are limited. So it's not about male or female. It's becomes we're just about people you don't.
Have anything in essence do for little girls.
No we don't. Even though I get letters every once in a while will say I'm 13 years old and I wish you'd do something for me in the magazine. But that becomes you know you can't mix things like that where a woman's magazine. And so hopefully we're giving information to women who are mothers of women who are around children that will help children because helping mothers and women cope with children and understand what your children are and all but nothing directly aimed at children where do you know black kids get those messages. Well for there is a very fine black children's magazine being published by Johnson Publications out of Chicago called Ebony Jr. so that there are you know ways of getting then of course to you know positive images if if essence helps a black woman feel better about herself.
We're helping black children write about everything it seems to have you know. Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems to me that success is highly emphasized in a way. You know is that a philosophy that you agree with.
Yes and No.
I think that for me it works and it works. And I always go back to this when I was a little girl growing up in a small town on Long Island which was predominately white Evony coming into our house every month showed me black people living lives that I could not dream up because I did not see them where I live. Just as I think that was true when I was growing up. I think there is also a need for perhaps today for people who don't see it in their ordinary lives.
Also because success is among blacks need to be applauded every step of the way because you know we're still at the stage where we're still talking about firsts the first black this and the first black that or maybe the second. And we have to applaud those successes until the numbers become like 30. You know the 30th or the 300. And we are still a long way from that. So I think that it all is part of giving people positive images you know. Now for Essence we do try to push success but perhaps not in the same sense of I'm not just interested in you know if they're living in a fifty or seventy five thousand dollar home and we never really talk about things like that. Well how many cars things you know the buying me stuff. But we are talking about people who have managed to make change in their lives and that's success.
What about the other women's magazines and I don't I'm not too interested in this naming names.
How do you feel about them.
Well I'm not a prince very knocked out by women's magazines.
I did used to read women's magazines before you began and frequently.
And frequently. I remember saying when you know when I was there when I was first you know applying for the job I said well you know I really don't know very much about women's books I never really liked them you know because I always think it's so narrow in one sense because we're people and you know I just didn't when I've always looked at women's books I was felt they were still dealing with women as if we were something different and strange and had to be either babied or a parent or two or whatever.
I was never tuned into because I never saw myself in any of those women's books I mean you know the time when it's just been in the last really five years or so that women's magazines are paid even the slightest bit and I'm talking about white women's magazines of attention to black women. You know when a black woman can even model in the pages of so that I was never even in it. You know from jump street past that I've always felt that if I were a white woman I would be enraged because they don't show you they don't give you the totality of you I mean I look at so many of the magazines today and they just look like upgraded you know movie magazines. There's Paul Newman still love Joanne Woodward. What is not said.
If you buy the ticket so you know so I can whack it they're successful they some of them you know have lots of readers. So somebody is frightening.
I just when they're successful but is in essence at the moment the fastest growing.
Yeah it's the fastest growing women's magazine in America which is a very nice you know.
I think a great deal of that is also due to the fact you know there aren't very many American Saint-Arthur for blacks but past and beyond that I would not be shy.
I think that we are giving black women a great deal of information that they really need and want. We are also talking to them as if they were adults. We don't mince our language. We don't wear white glove still know when we put the magazine together.
I see black women really don't ever call me you know or even use some of those quote unquote four letter words when I think they are appropriate and I think it's about talking to a family. It's always about to reinvest in ours. And.
The readers are responding to one of the criticism that's sort of general for all women's magazines that they don't really deal with the older woman is doing that at all.
We have done articles now and again we have not done any concentrated push for the older woman.
QUESTION One of the things that again intrigues me OK is that I use older women that I know as yardsticks I think they're interested in many of the same things that we're running which I say just are you interested I could call the columns that we're doing really don't have any necessary h to them because I know women who are 50 are going back to school. I know women you know the sexual health column doesn't cut off at 45 so I don't know really. You know I don't think I think again it almost becomes pandering when you say now we're going to do something for older women. We have talked about certain issues you know that it affect older women more.
But if you had to you know in just a few sentences describe what you think the new images of black women had to do that.
Well if I were going to describe the image that we're trying to portray of black women becomes of a whole whole human being not a woman who can be just looked at you know in very tight stereotypical terms. I see black women as being adventurous about their lives we are willing to accept challenges we're mountain climbers we've had to climb this mountain for god knows how many years where I have a three year cycle and ladies we are very positive that we can still make changes that will affect our lives and other people's lives.
I am always very hopeful when I'm in the company of black women because I still and I hope will die that way. Knocked out by the kind of life force that I feel coming from.
But when you do everything.
Yeah I agree. You have lots of covers essence covers that have both men and women. Is there a message there.
I'm constantly reinforcing the fact that we do love and cherish each other because you know sometimes if you read other things you would get the feeling that that does not happen. And even though I think that you know this country has created incredible schisms between black men and black women. I think that there are still many positive examples of people who have managed to cross the void. And I do think that that's one of the things oppression has done oppression has made it very difficult for us to wholeheartedly come together. You see because we have people like morning to hand-hold say that you know we're matriarchs and which is really not true. We have people who have been touting for years the fact that you know black men leave their their homes which is only become a recent phenomenon and really isn't based on economics and oppression. So I'm constantly trying to reinforce in our minds that we build strong family units. Because I came from one I know to many of the people who came from. And I think they have to be talked about. We also do covers which will show black men with children again to reinforce that image because too often it's being said the black men don't love to stay with and take care of their children. We have to keep you know sing a happy song.
Well thank you thank you. It's thank you for watching and good night.
Woman was produced by w n e d TV which is soley responsible for its content and was funded by a public television stations of the Ford Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- Episode Number
- New Image for Black Women
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- WNED (Buffalo, New York)
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- This episode features a conversation with Marcia Ann Gillespie. She is the editor-in-chief of Essence Magazine and a board member of Essence communications
- Woman is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations exploring issues affecting the lives of women.
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Director: George, Will
Guest: Gillespie, Marcia Ann
Host: Elkin, Sandra
Producer: Elkin, Sandra
Producing Organization: WNED
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Identifier: WNED 04384 (WNED-TV)
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- Chicago: “Woman; 335; New Image for Black Women,” 1976-01-16, WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 21, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_81-69z08t6x.
- MLA: “Woman; 335; New Image for Black Women.” 1976-01-16. WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 21, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_81-69z08t6x>.
- APA: Woman; 335; New Image for Black Women. Boston, MA: WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_81-69z08t6x