I recently finished The First Ms. Reader, edited by Francine Klagsbrun. As far as I can tell, this collection of articles from the first few issues of Ms. Magazine is no longer in print, and I doubt that many contemporary young feminists have read it. I have read other older feminist books and I always find them to be an interesting mix of topics and commentary that are sometimes only enlightening from a historical perspective and sometimes distressingly relevant to today. These articles were no exception. Many of them had a tone of consciousness-raising that would seem a bit out of place today; for example, the article “Organizing From Within”, about women’s caucuses in the workplace, discusses the ways in which women took action in blatantly sexist environments. I would hope that workplaces today are not so blatantly sexist (that is not to say that they aren’t sexist; it is just more subtle now), and thus similar actions today might not be as necessary or appropriate (other actions, however, may still be necessary). On the other hand, the article “Welfare is a Women’s Issue” sounded as if it could have been written last week. It begins: “I’m a woman. I’m a black woman. I’m a poor woman. I’m a fat woman. I’m a middle-aged woman. And I’m on welfare. In this country, if you’re any one of those things, you count less as a person. If you’re all of those things, you just don’t count, except as a statistic.” Unfortunately, more than 30 years later, these statements still apply.
Some of the articles were timeless personal stories that made me think about things in a new way. For example, “Lesbian Love and Sexuality” made me aware of what it means to be a lesbian in a way I hadn’t thought about before. “The Single Father” was a touching article by a man who became a single father. He concludes: “Each day with my children, I am discovering things I didn’t know were there. I know now that this parenthood business – as I used to refer to it when I was married, with a mixture of ignorance, mystery, and contempt – is something very special and precious among persons, and much too important to be left either to fathers or mothers alone.” I only wish there were more parents today who took to heart the importance and significance of parenting.
I think I could probably write an entire blog post about almost every article in the book, as almost all of them were thought-provoking in some way. Overall, I found The First Ms. Reader to be a very interesting and unique collection of feminist writing, and I highly recommend picking it up if you see it at the library or a used book sale.
A final note: I found it quite neat that the copy of the book that I read was originally owned by my feminist, maternal grandmother, and in fact has her name stamped inside the cover.