Woman; Nora Ephron on Everything
Good evening and welcome to woman my guest this evening is Nora Nora is a columnist and editor for Esquire magazine and she is the author of the bestselling book crazy salad. Nora welcome to women. You know you've been on the road a lot lately hustling the book where.
But that's exactly what it is and you get to go to a portal you think you're going to die of terminal narcissism because it is so you know it's eight or nine shows a day and you're really a little dippy. And tired of hearing yourself talk. The other thing that happens is that the I mean I was in Fort Worth West week and they took me to this show that was called Good morning so I thought it was your normal Good morning show that exists in 87 cities around the country. Well I got there and I watched it for about 10 minutes and I realized that the reason I was on this show was that they thought that crazy salad was a book about lettuce. It was a foreign news show and it was me and a cattle rancher and a catfish farmer and we were all supposed to make wonderful conversation together and it was just insane. And at that point I thought this is it you know.
Had it. You mean if you think about it it's not about this. Oh my goodness. Yeah you're one of the criticisms leveled at the women's movement. That I think is in part true maybe but you seem to be the only person to be doing something about it is that there's no humor in the women's movement.
Well I think you know I think it's an interesting criticism because I don't remember hearing anyone say that the civil rights movement and the peace movement had no sense of humor. And they really did not I mean that was not a barrel of laughs protesting the war in Vietnam. And so in some ways I think it's a very easy poke to take at the movement. And that's how it's often used you know is as one of one of the easy ways to get out of an argument. But but at the same time I think it's a shame that people have not seen a little bit more of the humor in it because I honestly believe that if you don't you would cry all the time. You know and I'm not I'm not so much dealing with with some of the very serious social problems that the movement has to deal with but with when you were trying to work the movement into your life and you find yourself having that terrible argument over someone's socks being on the floor and they are not yours. That's funny. And it's a lot easier to get through it if you see that and and kind of see that every so often you're you're playing a role in the in something that happens over and over and over again. And it's a shame there isn't just a little bit more of it I think.
Do you have a lot of trouble criticizing the women's movement in your writing. Why do you have. You have done that on occasion.
You know I think you have. I have as much trouble with myself as with anything because because I felt when I was you know in the period when I really was writing about women all the time. It's impossible to cover the women's movement and and tell the truth about it which is one's obligation as a journalist. Without I always felt in some small way seeming to hurt it. Which makes one feel terrible as a feminist and I gradually worked it out that you know if the women's movement could not survive a little description of what was going on it wasn't worth anything anyway. But I'm always surprised at the amount of sort of this movement line about not criticizing things.
And this is particularly true about women writers we're all supposed to be sisters to one another and we're not supposed to say anything bad about anything that's written. There's a piece in the book about Pat way out that I did and someone wrote in me is that I was not a good sister to her because I did not like her book and I was fascinated by that because I think that that is asking us to be as condescending to women as we are always accusing min of being it's really asking us to have different standards for books that are politically right but Miss artistically in some way. And I just I just won't do it. You know I don't think you can do it in and you know criticizing a book like that is not what keeps it from selling. You know I think we owe it to him.
That's interesting especially in the light that there's been many critical reviews of women's books in men's magazines.
Well I think that's more true lately than than it used to be and also I'm not saying this was the line of MS. although I think there is some of that over there I think there's a kind of misguided notion as to what sisterhood is. And I I don't think we do each other a favor by babying each other and pretending that we disagree. You know I'm not one of those people who believes that there's disagreement in the women's movement is bad per se because I think that the more women realize that there is room for all kinds of women the better off the movement's going to be. What I hate about the women's movement is that that the disagreement seems to be for the sake of disagreement rather than for anything else and that's what they seem to spend most of their time doing these days. I'm very depressed about it today.
We were having a conversation earlier which is that if a political party had either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party had some of the things going on within it that the women's movement does that you know would have been destroyed a long time ago.
Oh we would have a nine to six party system in America. That's that's what would happen. I'm very perplexed at it you know I'm perplexed that that that there's so much splintering off rather then. Taking a particular organization and working within it and it seems to me strongly counterproductive as a lot of what the movement seems to be up to is I've come I've changed my mind on it a lot in the last few months. It seems to have gotten worse to me than it was even a few years saying it was actually worse or that it's more public for the first time I mean no I think it's you know I think in 1972 when I went to the Democratic convention it was certainly public what was going on in terms of the infighting there. But it was all too too and and and soon things happened or some things didn't happen. Now it just seems to be a lot of fighting and that I find very inner baiting and there seems to be a really a childish quality about an awful lot of it. Oh you have this feeling that they're all sitting you know it's like a little group of girls and they say well if you don't want to play jump rope. I'm just going to go have to find someone who will play with me and you. It makes you crazy to feel that about it. You know that they just don't sit there and work this out in some way. You know on the other hand I'm so full of on the other hands I could kill myself but you know one also likes to think that if we really believe in liberation women who want to fight get to fight politically among themselves as much as men do. It's just that at a certain point I'm tired of it.
And I think a lot of women around the country are too which is what is the depressing part. I think you're right I think there is a certain depression at this point about the whole thing. Nor do you use about you know spread what it what a question What a terrible question no I do not. I do not and I don't think I ever would have anyway I think I was that intelligent but. But a few years ago when the product came out I was so flabbergasted by it that I thought it would be interesting to do a long article about it which is in the book and I hope that's why you ask that question exactly why.
But you know I started out on that article just you know I just said well the selling of the film in hygiene spray that's an interesting idea. And it took me over a year to finish it because it got more and more interesting. First of all the Hexa Corfield thing happened which which I had no idea of when I started the piece it had no idea that the products were actually physically dangerous as well as psychologically dangerous. And then when it started going around to see these manufacturers who really felt that they had you know they deserved a prize for introducing this product to the country that they had done a great public service.
And one of them told me that there was a tradition for this product in the Bible and I thought he was kidding. I mean I had not made the very obvious connection between this product and the purification rites that are common to all civilizations you know this this. And they're poor thing that is almost everywhere that women are in the natural state. Unclean.
And they are still primitive groups that believe this who you know bury young girls when they go through puberty and in Morocco when you have your period you are not allowed to look at Cal for fear that it will stop giving milk. The Orthodox Jews still have ritual baths for women after their menstrual periods.
So of course it took me weeks to read all of that I got really into that.
And then of course this thing happened that is sort of a writer's dream on a piece which is when you find out a piece of information that you absolutely know means that your piece is going to work even if it's the worst thing you've ever written in your life.
I was talking to one of the scientists at Alberto covert and we were having this sort of an interview sort of a talk sort of a fight. I don't know what it was. And he said to me Well we tested these products and we know that they're more effective. And I took about a seven second delay before it occurred to me to say how have you tested them. And that was when he told me about this research center they have in Pennsylvania where these housewives come for four days in a row and every four hours they take off their clothes for the first two days they just beg. The second two days they use the feminine hygiene space and a professional sniffer sniffs them and rates them on as on a scale of zero to eight. The housewives get something like a hundred sixty five dollars a week for this which I suppose is perfectly adequate pay the Sniffers who are also training to work in underarm odor I mean can you imagine this. Get something like six to seven hundred a week it's a specialized field. Well the minute you hear that you think will you couldn't make this up. I mean no no no. The list could have made up anything quite as bizarre and crazy as this kind of set up. This is a feeling I often have as a journalist you know thank God I don't write fiction because I could never make anything like that that I thought it really unbelievable bit someone would volunteer to go through this.
I know I now will I mean it's.
I guess it isn't like you know and find it incredible that first of all the products on the market.
Well there is one you know there is some good news about this product which is that it is not selling much at all when I did the piece it was selling I think 50 million dollars worth of spray a year which was extraordinary for a new product. Now I think it's down to about 10 million which is which is almost something we can take hope in. You know you do not see those peculiar ads that used to have on television that you know you barely knew what they were for they look like cigarette ads people were sort of walking dreamlike by the ocean and there was this odd little voiceover that seemed to refer to feeling good about yourself that you never knew.
I don't think it's true that people didn't know for a long time what they were exactly what you did with them.
I think maybe you've contributed to getting rid of the last owner so I hope so. What is the most difficult liberated thing that you had to learn to do or just to do.
Well I think you know I think the thing that's hardest for me to do I don't think I had too much trouble as a professional person partly because my mother had worked and that was a terrific leg up for me but I think I think working out the personal kinks were were the worst part. And and I see an awful lot of it still going on and it makes me it makes me very sad because I think that the one thing the women's movement has done is that we now understand a great deal of what has happened to us as women we have quote identified the sources of our oppression unquote. We know that this is the set up in certain ways that don't help women and that x and y are true and so on and so on. And. What seems to me to be going on is that there's a tremendous amount of being victims as a result of this.
Everyone is sort of wallowing in this. Look what they did to me and look what he did to me. I couldn't possibly do that because look at the way society is structured and I don't understand this. You know we now understand some things and it's time to get on with it it's time to stop blaming people for whatever unhappiness there is in our own lives and take some responsibility for it. And I don't see as much of that as I wish. I see a lot of people walking around saying oh God you know look what happened to me.
But there are people who say that nothing has changed essentially in spite of the women's movement. You know if you accept that. Do you think what you're saying is still true.
I don't accept that. I think a lot has changed. And and. You know starting with the fact that you can get an abortion in America and this is you know the change that this means for women is just enormous I think. I think Masters and Johnson have changed the sex lives of almost every woman I know. That's that's in only 10 years now obviously you can look around you can see lots of things that are yet to be done. I see women in jobs that women were not in 10 years ago.
I'm you know I'm more hopeful about women changing things than I am about the women's movement today. I think that a lot is going to happen simply years as a result of this. There are more options. It's going to be much harder to grow up in this country now. Then it was when we were kids and think that what a woman became when she grew up was a housewife. You know there are just too many role models sitting around for young girls to see. And so you know I have this kind of crazed optimism about all this.
I see men changing too you know just going after you that I really do. And one of one of the most interesting changes I see in older men men who whose wives have never worked and who never wanted their wives to work 50 60 you know I mean even 40 right now I don't even know if that's a much older right. But I do think of them as older men in terms of this movement.
And it's astonishing to me how you see these women going out to work and the men are so leaved. You know it is such a burden to be responsible for another human being's income expenditures excitement when his wife you know to have that thing where you come home to someone who to whom really very little has happened in the course of the day and you're the one who has to bring in the world. You know you and Walter Cronkite or something. I think this is you know it's incredible to see how relieved these men are as a result of this.
So. They're also clearing the table which is not nothing.
And doing the dishes in a little under now and then nor do you think to basically know that the relationship between the sexes have changed tremendously. I mean what do you observe that seems to be happening there.
Well I see a lot of challenges but I think I think that that you know there's something in in my book that always depresses me but I believe it very much that my ex-husband once said to me which was that Moses kept the slaves in the desert for 40 years not because it took 40 years to cross the Sinai but because he knew this slave generation could never found a free society. And I think that there's a very you know horrible but true application of that to the women's movement that that for a lot of women my age it's very difficult to shake what you grew up with. You can get to a certain point and you are still stuck with so many. Well Mantik and sexual fantasies that are so deeply ingrained that's very hard to get rid of them. And so you know I mean one of the things I wrote about in the book is something that I just hate about myself if I'm having dinner with someone and he has trouble ragging the waiter I just get furious I think why.
Can she do that why isn't he better at that. Why isn't he better than I and the flag.
Which is very hard because nobody's better than I am at flagging wages I will law I downed in a restaurant and trip them if I have to to get their attention.
But I find I'm stuck with this.
This kind of insane adolescent feeling about what men are supposed to do so I say to myself okay nor that it's absurd that is sexist that is a ridiculous expectation to make of a male human being.
But I still had that feeling of ridge and I think there's an awful lot of that that we have so many expectations about what men are supposed to be.
And it's very difficult and women are still quite willing to be subservient aren't they.
Oh I think so I think. I think you know the awful part about that is that you know if you want to be independent which we do write one that that is a goal. One of the difficult things is that any good excuse the expression relationship involves dependence. And so you're always pulled between those two two things and that's a problem for a lot of women I know. The unfortunate thing about this this seeming move toward subservience which is going on the total woman thing is that I don't I don't see anything you're getting back from their husbands beyond the fact that they're all dressed up in these cigarette girl and they're getting credit cards they're getting home. And as I was there there was you know I read one article about that whole thing and that was the only thing that made any sense to me about it which is in the Texas Monthly and the man who wrote this piece made a suggestion that I found very interesting which is that it was possible that one of the reasons they were doing this these are these women who've been married a long time dressing up in little you know hot fudge on their nipples right was because married women who have been you know long married have a tremendous amount of difficulty getting their husbands into bed. That was the first thing I read about that that made any real sense to me that it was about a kind of terrific sexual frustration that these were women who had probably only slept with one man. They read about the sexual revolution they don't know what it is but they know they're not having it in their house. And it may be some very pathetic effort to do that. I hope that's all it is because it's it's you know it's pretty awful one level below the Stepford Wives. Yes it is.
And that's you know why I think lots of people find it in a way insidious. Speaking of sexuality. Yes. Are you ready for this. One of the book reviewers in the New York Times when he reviewed your book said that he concluded that you treat your own sexuality like a Dutch treat. You are what is that all about.
I don't know I mean first of all I don't think he knows whereof he speaks. Let us get ahead. I don't know what that means. I found that review quite perplexing because it was full of things like that that I know were were meant to be complements.
He said you were. You also said you were the perfect woman.
Oh something like that but it was all very odd and it was it was a very odd experience because it was it was the kind of review that was so good that you felt terrible complaining about it and yet it was so odd. And I remember after it I thought of this joke that I knew when I was growing up about the Jewish grandmother who takes her grandson to the beach and she gets wrapped up in this Mahjong game and the kid drowns. Right this is a joke. And so she's very upset obviously about her grandson drowning and she starts screaming at God and she says God give me the kid back right this minute. I'll do anything for you if you give me this kid back but if you don't give me the kid back I'm going to scream at you forever and drive you crazy. So after about 10 minutes the kid reappears on the beach and she looks at the kid and she looks at the gun and she says listen he had a hat.
That was exactly you know I didn't mean to complain but you know.
OK you've cleared that up. Maybe you went through that. There are a lot of things that get blamed on the women's movement one is the high crime rate. Another is the divorce statistics. Let's talk about that for a little bit. I mean do you really believe that the women's liberation movement that is responsible for the high divorce statistics.
Oh I think I think the women's movement has something to do with it certainly and I don't think that's anything we should be ashamed of.
I really don't I think that that a lot of marriages are breaking up earlier than they normally would have and I think that's all to the good. You know I think a lot of women are walking out after six years on things that 25 years ago they would have stuck around for 30 years on and would have ended up miserably unhappy women with no wives at all. You know I think there's another thing that the women's room is effecting I hope which is that I hope that people are getting married with a little bit more thought than they used to. I certainly know that I am not getting married partly because of the women's movement you know that there's you know that I'm thinking about things now that I never thought about this for why did you get married when you did.
I don't know I mean I think I think I was in love with my husband but I also think that I was I was 25 years old and I thought I am the oldest person I know who is not married. I mean I was so relieved I got married when I was 25 years and 11 months and I thought Thank God I just made it before I was 26. That is insane. It's really insane but I was thinking about it. I think it was what I thought you did.
I think I did as much you know.
There was some little thing in the back of my head about showing my mother that I could get married because I don't think I would think she never believed I was going to you know she she really as much as she believed in me. I hope no really I remember once when I was in college and I was engaged I broke the engagement off she was desolated by it and I knew this because she thought it was the only person to ever ask me that I'd just let it go by.
But but I do think yes I think the women's movement has a lot to do with the divorce rate and the other thing I think it has to do with it which makes me worry a little bit about these women getting divorced is that I think a lot of them are getting divorced with odd expectations. I think that I think some of the part of these expectations are good they want to go out into the world they want to become something it seems a difficult thing to do given their situation they get divorced and it turns out that what they really wanted to be was stars.
They want to be how do you mean. I mean they want to be whatever it is they want to be.
Novelists television personalities.
Whatever it is they aren't thinking as hard about being good about is as much hard work as it takes to be that as they are just in this kind of idea that it's all going to work for them in some magical way. And so what you see happening what I see a lot of is it after about a year there's a tremendous licked him down because it's hard work to be good at something and that didn't cross their minds. It requires some talent that didn't cross their minds. I don't think that a lot of them are putting themselves in the places for which they are the most talented nor I'm sorry we're out of time.
Fun. Thank you for watching and good night.
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- Nora Ephron on Everything
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- This episode features a conversation with Nora Ephron. She is a columnist and editor for Esquire magazine and the author of the best-selling book Crazy Salad.
- Woman is a talk show featuring in-depth conversations exploring issues affecting the lives of women.
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Director: George, Will
Guest: Ephron, Nora
Host: Elkin, Sandra
Producer: Elkin, Sandra
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- Chicago: “Woman; Nora Ephron on Everything,” 1975-11-17, WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_81-988gttr0.
- MLA: “Woman; Nora Ephron on Everything.” 1975-11-17. WNED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 21, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_81-988gttr0>.
- APA: Woman; Nora Ephron on Everything. 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_81-988gttr0