Interviewee: Carol Greenspan
Interviewer: Sister Marie Heyda
Date: November 1977
Carol Greenspan was an Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Medicine at the University of Missouri, Kansas City campus. She was also the education coordinator for the Missouri Equal Rights Amendment Coalition in Kansas City and the newsletter editor of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus. Interview includes discussion of: Greenspan’s views of herself as a “pragmatic feminist,”; the conservative atmosphere in Missouri and Right to Life movement there; conservatives using interpretations of the Bible to limit women’s rights; and laws in the American South which favor men. Issues important to Greenspan included higher education for women; women’s struggles to gain tenure in academia; the issue of anti-ERA activists linking abortion questions together with the ERA; and moderates supporting the ERA.
Marie Heyda: Would you like to tell us something about yourself, Carol?
Carol Greenspan: My name is Carol Greenspan and I’m an assistant professor of chemistry and medicine at the University of Missouri, Kansas City campus. I’m also a member of the women’s movement. I am the education coordinator for the Missouri Equal Rights Amendment Coalition in Kansas City, and the newsletter editor of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus. In the past I’ve held other positions. I wrote with a group of people a law to have Oregon monitor its own affirmative action progress, which we lobbied and passed a number of years ago.
Why am I here? I’m here in Houston for a number of reasons. One of them is a very selfish reason. This is an historic conference, probably the only one of its kind ever to be held in America. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I really questioned when I came down whether I would be of any use to anybody except myself to come and see. Now I think my other reasons for coming down were probably quite valid and quite important, but my primary reason was really that this was the only conference of this sort in America.
MH: Do you see yourself as a middle-of-the-road, or to the left, to the conservative right or to the liberal left?
CG: I view myself as being a pragmatic feminist who is concerned with change. To some people I seem quite radical because I live in a very conservative town and teach in a very conservative university and I believe that women should not be bound by 1 Corinthians.
MH: An interesting way to put it.
CG: In the city in which I live, to many people this is considered very radical. I don’t really view myself as right, left or middle. I view myself as somebody concerned with pragmatic change. Many of the things that are viewed as conservative are those people who are dealing with specific of issues of feminism but not understanding all of feminism and are very frightened for their own self-image.
MH: Could be. What barriers do you think that –?
CG: A lot of what’s viewed as left are people who are not quite sure how to make the changes. Coming back to why I came here, I think it would be easier for me to explain this briefly if I told you what happened at the Missouri IWY conference. The Missouri IWY conference was not one of the better attended in America. The conference was held in one corner of the state, and the workshops for most of the women who had been fighting for women’s equality in Missouri sounded like conferences they had gone to for years and years, and they were tired. It was a beautiful sunny June weekend before Missouri’s hundred-degree weather hit. However, in most parts of the state the pro-ERA and the feminist women outnumbered the right-to-life and people we call the antis by approximately, anywhere up to four to one.
In St. Louis, however, the conference was held in the middle of a parish that is the stronghold of the right-to-life movement. The president of the Missouri Right to Life lives there. Buses of people were brought in solely to vote, so that the slate of thirty delegates that they nominated was elected. Since our people were unwilling to vote as a block, we were unable to elect anyone although we were within thirty-eight votes of doing so. The result of the Missouri meeting was that the feminist group passed every single resolution; in fact, we made the resolutions binding on our delegation. But we lost all the delegates because of this busing and because too many of our own people just didn’t think it was worth coming.
Since the convention in St. Louis, the ‘anti’s’ have been getting a great deal of publicity and they have been telling a lot of lies. I came here as an official observer, requested to come by the IWY State Commission chairperson, to make sure that I came back and brought accurate information into Missouri for the media. Also to make sure that what was being done here was in fact an accurate description of what happened in Missouri, a group of us was so designated to make sure that information transfer was accurate.
MH: You know it might console you to know that almost every state tried to play it down by some method or other. In Michigan for instance they simply ignored it. In Grand Rapids fortunately I heard about the lengths in Congress the first I heard about it from a woman, from Dr. Myers in South Carolina.
CG: No, we didn’t play it down.
MH: That’s the way they did it there and I heard other states did the same thing.
CG: No we didn’t play it down. The information got out late, and it got out with no urgency and very badly.
MH: What areas do you see that you would want Carter and Congress to know about – barriers to women’s equality and affirmative action?
CG: Affirmative action is not being implemented. It’s not being implemented at all.
MH: Any particular areas in mind, for instance higher education?
CG: Higher education is a real problem. The women are not making tenure. The handful who are getting hired are not making tenure. The reasons that they are not making tenure are that they’re being harassed on the job, so the work productivity decreases as well as very bad job assignments and misevaluation of what they have produced. One woman on our campus didn’t make tenure because she was shuffled from department to department, and no department would vote her tenure. Yet the entire university faculty in a faculty meeting would have voted her tenure including the departments that denied it in their own department. Union women are being harassed, there’s a silence in many cases of really serious problems, women truck drivers are getting raped at truck stops –
MH: They’re doing it almost purposely.
CG: They’re doing it purposely to force them out. The harassment is constant and it is massive. Any woman whom you get after a couple of drinks has horror stories to tell you, when she denies it when she’s sober. The barriers are very heavily – they’re economic, we have serious problems for housewives who have no economic security; we have dreadful problems for older women; we have very ugly problems in the income tax laws.
For inheritance laws for farm women who, although the self-employment tax is paid on the entire farm, cannot inherit their half of the farm because the self-employment tax is paid in their husband’s name. Farm women are now being urged to go out and get a job outside the farm, put the money into their checking account, and replace their own labor with hired help so that they can inherit their own farm. Now this is outrageous. This is the only way these women can inherit their own farm without paying the inheritance tax.
MH: This is a big problem in your state then. Is that a state law?
CG: No, it’s all over the country. In Missouri we have a number of economic problems.
MH: What particular law would that come under? I think that would be something –
CG: Inheritance taxes. We need to do something at both the state and federal level; it can be dealt with at the federal level with federal legislation. We have trouble with inheritance in all ways. We have trouble with community property states. In some cases the community property can be disposed of only by men, or men without their wives’ permission or knowledge, but it cannot be disposed of by women.
MH: As one goes West in the States, west of the Mississippi, that the laws are unfairly balanced in favor of men?
CG: Well, I think you also have a problem in the South. You have some very serious problems in Virginia and you have problems in most of the community property states. Community property is not really community property. It is only community property in some ways.
For President Carter, we need a human commitment to equality. We need to take the words women’s lib and take the laughter and the ridicule out of them. We need to respect the people who have the courage to stand up for women’s – the women who are concerned with their own rights, with their own quality of life, even within, well, let me explain.
Our medical students are afraid to band together to talk about the problems of women in medicine where everyone would know that they’d have problems because it’s been a male enclave. They are afraid because of ridicule to band together. We need to respect the people -both men and women – who are concerned with the equality of women. We need to make these be people who we heap respect upon. We need to vie for who is most in favor of women’s equality. We need to stop having people embarrassed by fighting for it, so that they no longer have to say well, I’m not a women’s libber I just want to be able to be a doctor; I’m not any different from the male doctors. Clearly they are different than the male doctors. They’re women and they have different problems as women than the men do.
MH: I think it’s necessary if everybody learned to distinguish, for instance, for women’s equality in all fields and for women’s rights, and still not necessarily be an extreme rightist or extreme leftist.
CG: Well most of the people who I know who are labeled extreme leftist are just feminists who are young and who dress in a style which is indigenous to them. I’m as radical as they are but I don’t look like them. I have a blue observer badge, but I’m also older and sane and I write a newsletter. So I’m useful.
But the other problem that we have that President Carter particularly can address is the problem of the Church. We need a massive education of Americans on the role of Jesus and women to make people come – we need leadership, from the top, to address the question of Jesus as a feminist, as the first person who treated women with respect in that society. We need to recognize that for the fundamentalists what Jesus said that is different from what is said in 1 Corinthians. We need to point out that this was societally bound. For those people who are not fundamentalist we need to show them an analysis of the texts –
MH: Now is it true, Carol, that many parts of Paul show the equality of women? And all they do is take something out of context, and maybe – maybe a poor translation too.
CG: Paul also. There are very poor translations and many translations take sexless words and turn them into male words. There are other problems in that some of the Bible was re-written later. Clearly the language shows that some of the Bible is not in the original form and much of the sexism in the Bible was put in later. We need to show that Jesus was a loving caring person, or God, if you’re Christian. And a major thing, we need separate the abortion and the ERA issue.
MH: I think so too. I’ve said that right along.
CG: There are many people who are against abortion, who we on the other side refer to as the ‘anti’s’, who are morally against abortion the same way as they would be morally against killing a human being. They believe differently than those of us who are in favor of the right to choose. But they are very much in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment. And we need to separate these issues.
MH: That’s what I said before, remember? There’s confusion there.
CG: We need to recognize that many of the state legislatures are out of tune with their own people. In Missouri way over 60 percent of the people are in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment. Why are not the legislators, because many of the money interests which own legislators and seats and clubs that own them.
MH: Is Missouri one of the states that hasn’t yet signed it?
CG: Missouri has not ratified the ERA. But yet our population is over 60 percent in favor of the ERA. And part of the reason for this is that the people who support the ERA tend to be labeled as left-wing and radical. Many of the sensible middle-of-the-roaders are afraid to support the ERA and they get money from the right-wing groups by not doing so.
End of Interview