Interviewees: Judy Christianson
IWY TX 108
Interviewer: Mollie Camp Davis
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Judy Christianson worked on behalf of battered women and served as a substance abuse educator in San Jose, California. At the time of the conference, she was on the board of directors for the Solana Center for Battered Women and the chairperson for the Northern California Coalition of Women and Substance Abuse. Interview includes discussion of divisions among activist groups on the Left, Christianson’s experience working with Chicana women’s activists and NOW in San Jose, her work trying to provide non-sexist substance abuse programs for women, and Christianson’s experience with male bias against professional women in her career.
Mollie Camp Davis: Let’s see. It’s 3:00, November 19th. And I have with me Miss Judy Christianson. And I will let her talk about herself.
Judy Christianson: Ok, Judy Christianson. 14573 Branhan, B-R-A-N-H-A-N Lane, San Jose, California 95124. (401) 371-3128. And I’m presently on the board of directors for Solana Center for Battered Women, and the chairperson for the Northern California Coalition of Women and Substance Abuse, and, up until very recently, was the substance abuse educator for Solana County. And the reason that I’m here is because of my involvement with the coalition and with the center for battered women. And…
MD: Miss Christianson, the conference here is the first in history funded by the government. And I just wondered, I understand why you’re here – the battered women and all the other stations you represent and are interested in. But why do you think this conference will be important for women? Or why is the conference important?
JC: Why it’s important. Ok. Well, I think the conference is important because there have been kinds of meetings and different interests expressed by government agencies, or by different people. This is one time where they did put a considerable amount of money behind it. And, also, it does have national attention. It has a variety and diversity of women. And if it can come out with some resolutions that cut across race, and age, and economic backgrounds, then that would be pretty hard to ignore. Because, presently, although I’ve found everyone is for women, quite often, when it gets down to the specifics, they’ll say, for a particular issues, “Well, that is only of concern to a certain group of women,” or, “Most women really don’t want that.” And so things kind of just float away or “vague” away. And this is in one area where woman can be very specific and, particularly if they do represent the variety of women, it can be very hard to sounds like vague away.
MD: That’s a good comment. Another question we were considering important here in this interviewing process, is what results do you expect, perhaps, in a larger social context? And I think you have in a sense answered it, that it will call not only attention but it will be hard for people to say women don’t care about it that most women do. Do you feel that . . . to what degree is the conference meeting your expectations? Do you think that women are united, or feeling a sense of . . . . Do you think women really . . . Well, is it meeting what you thought it would meet? That’s what I’m really after I think, too.
JC: Yeah, well I think that one is that, at least in California, we were kind of prepared for the fact that there’s going be a lot of conflict, and had thought that it would be, like many of these conferences are, with black women in one room, or one area of the room, and Chicanas in another, and straights in one, and gays in another, all loudly claiming that they are the ones most in need of attention, being neglected, and that kind of thing. And I think that, within the morning session, that it was dealt with. At least, it was discussed and brought out into the open. And I think that kind of had an effect of bringing the women together, and also creating an arena where these things can be discussed, but without, hopefully, without some of the divisiveness that these conferences can lead to. Now, out in California, at least within the drug and alcohol field, we have very strong women who are representing specific target groups, and, up until fairly recently, many of the conferences only dealt with the conflict. It didn’t get into any kind of resolution, which was very de-energizing. And I think, perhaps now, women have grown to realizing it isn’t going to get anywhere, and are anxious to gather together for some common goals.
MD: What will you do when you go home? Do you think you’ll go home feeling renewed in spirit? Or with more energy rather than de-energized? Although, we’re all tired. What will you…
JC: I think it will depend on the outcome of the conference. I think, if there is some slight movement, it will be energizing. If nothing else, I’m meeting some women that I’ve met from other places, and even some women in California, that I haven’t had a chance to get in contact with. For me, the conference is nurturing because I’m here for positive reasons, and for getting together. And, so, I don’t expect that I’m going to go walk away, you know, more angry, more bitter, or less energized.
MD: And women have not had the opportunity to, perhaps, to meet each other in large crowds, and in large groups. This seems… a number of people seem to be greeting each other after many years, three years or two years. I saw that right as we were standing in the doorway there. And I do think that you aren’t alone in that.
What obstacles do you think that women have to overcome, maybe in their… not only in society, but in their personal lives, who really make . . .
JC: Well, I actually well, aside from the conference time, but I think one of the things that led down for us in California is the fact that I think we felt, if we could come together, or if we could sensitive males, that the problems would be over. But I know we have found most of our problems now are with the sensitive male, and that it’s easier to deal with the traditional male. Because men who feel they ought to be for women, ought to be for women’s rights, get very hurt, very rejected, very wounded personally if you indicate in any way that their behavior is not completely supportive. And they tend to kind of go underground, or, and sabotage it, because I can’t deal with it openly. Whereas traditional males you can just kind of confront what their behaviors. And, because they don’t feel that it’s wrong to be traditional or chauvinistic, they can much easier give up their behaviors. And, so, yeah. In effect, my own personal experience is that, while I work for a male, who felt himself to be in the vanguard and very progressive, and, in fact, pushed me onto the spotlight, where as I prefer to be a technician. Where in areas where his behavior . . . there were things that he could not face that he had to be blind to. Because, otherwise, it would upset his image of himself.
MD: His self-image as…
MD: . . . as a . . .
JC: Male. A feminist male. Yeah, exactly. And he ended up screwing the women of the county, not literally, but “finessing” the women in our county. I should tell you that most of my experience has been a community organization. And one of the things I did was to bring the drug and alcohol advisory board from an all-male to predominantly a female board. And, in the beginning, he was the one that was very supportive of my efforts, but, as the women made demands, and wanted to go in directions that he didn’t want to go into, he became very difficult to work with. And it was a very hurtful experience, because the women had received him as being supportive. And, so, it led to a lot of confusion in their heads. In the meantime, the men who were on the board to begin with, who were very chauvinistic, and almost verbally abusive, came to respect the women, and respect their fighting ability, to respect what they had to say, and now have become the most supportive. So, the lines have changed. The battle lines have just reversed themselves.
MD: That means they also find their self-images with you in a personal experience. It’s a difficult thing, this male ego, but this is what you feel the gentlemen we should be working on?
JC: Yeah, well, the traditional . . . in fact, at one time, the man, who was the chairperson was so abusive that I’d asked him, I’d told him that I felt abused, and asked him if he would cease and desist. And he came back with, “well, sticks and stones may break your bones, but name will never hurt you.” And he’s about seventy years old. And then he stopped, and he said, “Well, Judy, I didn’t really mean that. I really do care about your feelings.” But he has turned. I mean, he still has, calls us “girls,” and that kind of thing. He has the rhetoric. But before considering any decisions, he will ask for the girls’ opinions. And respect what we have to say, and go along with it. And be . . .
MD: This is most interesting.
JC: . . . really supportive.
MD: It’s the sensitive . . .
JC: And the sensitive male cannot, any time we disagree with him, then he gets very wounded, and withdrawn, and, when he’s confronted with chauvinist behavior, he declares that he’s being attacked unfairly. And he can’t see that behavior in his male staff, either. He claims that they’re very open, and very aware, even though he’s getting all kinds of feedback from women that they’re not . . .
MD: This is most interesting.
JC: But they’re strongly feminist. Yeah.
MD: I’m glad you told me that, because it’s something I hadn’t heard about. (Unintelligible at 11:32.)
JC: And, in fact, it’s something that, it’s kind of interesting, too. Because he’s living with a woman. And, again, she is feminist, but he’s guiding her career.
MD: Let me ask one more . . . let me ask this of you . . .
JC: There’s the rhetoric, and then there’s the behavior.
MD: The rhetoric and the behavior. This is worth pursuing, yes. It’s something to think about. One other thing. You said you have worked at community organizations.
MD: Evidentially, you’ve been a very active person in the community. But have you always been aware of women’s issues?
MD: Or did you have a personal . . .
JC: No, no, not really. I started out working to put my husband through school, which is very traditional, and had a traditional marriage, and got into community organization because I worked in low-income areas, and in which I did services. And the NOW organization in San Jose was basically professional women and college students. And they wanted to get community women involved. And, so, the president, asked a male friend of hers if she knew any community women, because he was working in that social agency, and so he asked me if I wanted to go down to the meeting, and then get community and minority women involved with NOW. And, so, that’s when I started to get involved with the women’s issues.
So, I went down and was impressed with the way, with that particular chapter, and with the women. And, so, I attempted to feed in some minority women that I work with. And it was very interesting, because there was not much interest at that time — that was in the early seventies — for minority women to this kind of organization, and they saw it as a white woman’s organization. There was a lot of negative feeling toward professional women, to begin with; a lot of feeling of not belonging. And so, that’s why, one of the reasons, I guess, why I’m optimistic, because if, to bring all that kind of women together, where they really felt bonds, and not just goal bonds, but really friendships came out of it.
Although, I remember one time, I went to one weekend conference, and it ended up I went out with four Chicanas: two who went because I was going and I convinced their husbands that they would be safe for the weekend. But when we walked in, the conference leaders wanted to know what our sleeping arrangements were going to be. And we said, well, we’ll all stay together, if we can. And that kind of brought about some flinched look.
(Recording cuts out at 14:37. Returns at 15:21.)
JC: . . . organized the conference were pro-feminist, and also all for racial equality. And, when we ate together, there were some surprised looks. And then, interestingly, through the weekend, when we would gather together, it was divided on very racial lines: all the blacks wanted to get together, and the Anglos all felt very hurt that the Chicanas wanted to get together, the blacks wanted to get together, and then there was me, rooming with the Chicanas. So, and then the, out of that conference, we met together weekly, about eight weeks. And very interesting experience.
MD: And then this led you, more or less, to activism?
JC: Activism with the . . .
MD: With the . . .
JC:. . . specifically with the . . .
MD: . . . women’s issues.
JC: And, then, within the drug and alcohol field, I’d done counseling, and done counseling within the drug and with women alcoholics. And the treatment services were non-existent. And those that did exist were, to put it very mildly, sexist. Not only did they promote the traditional values, but, in many sense, put women down very openly.
MD: They felt women alcoholics really had (unintelligible at 16:45).
JC: Yeah. And women drug . . . yeah, oh, yeah. They do. And women drug addicts even more so.
MD: Through counseling and . . .
JC: Oh, yeah. Well, in one residential program, for example, where sex between the clients was forbidden, the punishment was that the male would be dressed as a stud. It really just hurt his male ego. I mean, that’s just terrible for a man to be considered a stud. And the woman had to dress as a whore. Which is a put-down. So, in a sense, the man was given a lot of stroking and reinforcing, because I’ve never yet seen a man who’s attracted to being thought of as virile and a stud. But most women don’t want to be whores, or be considered whores. But that was the punishment. And so I think that is kind of an example that reflects . . .
MD: That’s a beautiful example.
MD: Do you – I just have a question for you…
MD: . . . in my mind. The opposite goes to what we want, I don’t remember. The opposite goes to what women, possibly, will see. This conference is supposed to direct all that . . .
MD: And we’re looking at them now. And it’s in the . . . many changes happen that have happened since the early seventies. Do you see some specific obstacles, other than . . . well, what? Be specific.
JC: Ok, well, I . . .
MD: . . . things like that.
JC: I just, within the conference . . .
MD: I mean, the immediate future. Where you want to go. And then maybe go beyond that.
JC: Yeah, ok. Well, one is that I think that, on several accounts, things are moving backward. Not only is there a backlash, which I think everyone expected, because that’s normal. Any two steps forward, three back. ‘Cause change is very threatening. So there’s that on the, you know, the philosophical level. But, also, monies are getting less. And there’s less and less money. And, consequently, as women are coming into their own, there’s less to spend. Unemployment is high, so that the opportunities for anybody is less than what it was before. And, therefore, women will be short-changed. And the same way with education: it’s, you know, very expensive, and, even so, there’s just generally less opportunity right now.
MD: Do you expect that, perhaps, from the conference that we might . . .
JC: Be able to hold. If not advance, at least to hold the line, right? ‘Til there’s another, ‘til we’re in another period. Of, instead of, outgoing. I think things go in cycles. There’s a period when there seems to be an abundance, and things move forward. And then, all at once, everything’s going backward on the political level, and economic level, and almost any level. Because, even since the sixties, in ’64, the Republican party was supposed to have been no more, then in the ’68, the Democrat party was, you know, totally wiped out. And so, I think, on all levels, we cycle. And the idea is to hold as much as you can until we’re into a new cycle, and start making advances again.
MD: So, this could be, the ten year recommendations, could be maybe by the (unintelligible at 20:24).
MD: I guess, before the end of the ten years, another cycle is . . .
JC: Oh, yeah, I think so.
MD: And maybe will . . .
JC: Oh, yes. Yeah, right. And I think that, that way, if we’re prepared, and can focus, I think the important thing is really to focus in. Because, like I said, the tactic that’s most successful is just to kind of “vague” away, is to have kind of abstracts, and not have anything too concrete, because then there’s nothing to really push for.
MD: About the concrete issue, I believe the rights and then the . . .
JC: Yeah, that’s something that can really be focused in on. And, if, then that may be really the best way to go, because that kind of heads across all the political and social differences.
MD: What do you see . . . I don’t want to ask you if you think it will pass or think it won’t pass. But, do you think . . .
(Tape cuts out at 21:21.)
JC: Go ahead.
MD: The Equal Rights Amendment, if it passes by March of ’79, will give us the… a push-up.
JC: A little edge, yeah.
MD: But should it fail, it will…what do you think?
JC: Well, I don’t think it’d be disastrous. I think either it will come about again in different form or that, having been united against the issues, a new strategy will be developed. But I don’t think that even the passage of the ERA . . . it’ll be nice, because it’s something that you can hold onto, but it’s just like with affirmative action or the civil rights laws: in practice, it gives tokens of chance, and some visibility. But it doesn’t really change the life of the non-bright, non-talented, non-beautiful people. If you’re bright, beautiful, and talented, it gives you a spotlight. But it’s a start. I think social change is just very slow. And…
MD: You are a realist.
JC: Yeah. Yes, I consider myself a realist.
MD: I’d like to know…you’re evidently educated well. You have a good background, you may have read widely. (Unintelligible at 22:49.)
JC: Yeah, just a college bachelors.
MD: What did you major in?
JC: Psychology. I started off as a Life Science major, and then switched over to education, and then to psychology.
MD: Now you’re in community work, and then minority work, and very (unintelligible at 23:03).
JC: Yep. All the fun growth things. (Laughs)
MD: Oh, good. You enjoying this convention, I hope?
MD: Well, I do hope you continue to.
JC: Ok, thank you.
MD: And I thank you so much.
JC: Ok, well, thank you.
End of Interview