Interviewee: Nancy Sterling
IWY TX 486
Interviewer: Constance Kite
Date: November 19, 1977
Nancy Sterling, of Houston, Texas, attended the National Women’s Conference because she was interested in the workshops and exhibits. She identified as a “closet feminist,” and a moderate feminist. Interview includes discussion of Sterling’s personal views on feminism and her hope to get more involved in organizing around rape and sexual assault. Interview includes discussion of her positive review of the exhibit spaces at the conference and the attitudes of Houstonians towards the conference and the women’s movement.
Constance Kite: This is Connie Kite at the National Women’s Conference in Houston, November 19, 1977. I’m interviewing Nancy Sterling. Where you from, Nancy?
Nancy Sterling: Houston, Texas.
CK: Oh, you’re from Houston?
CK: Can you tell me whether people in Houston knew about the convention—were excited about it?
CK: There was a lot of expectation?
NS: Yes. And I think they were prepared, certainly—both factions: pro- and anti-ERA.
CK: What brings you personally to the convention? Are you part of a group?
NS: No. I’m not part of an organization at all. I’m just here—. I was sitting in on one of the workshops, and I was here earlier going through the exhibits with some friends. I really just backed into this. I have been a closet feminist, I suppose—or a moderate feminist—for several years. Prior to my remarriage, I think I was more of a radical feminist than I am now, but certainly never as involved as some women are. I always was a little embarrassed by that; perhaps I thought I should have been more concerned and a little more involved than I was, but I was dealing with my own problems at the time. But it’s still very exciting to be with women. It really is.
CK: What do you think…Are you going to have any changes come to you because you’ve been here? Is this going to change you in any way?
NS: Well, I don’t think that the convention itself—. Well, maybe it will. My attending today will probably not personally affect me that much, but I’m sure what comes out of the conference will affect everyone.
CK: What would that be? What might that be?
NS: Well, depending on the resolutions that are passed that the conference is trying to vote on and to recommend to Congress. And the women’s attitude—the consciousness-raising among Houstonians, primarily, and everyone—various issues—.
CK: Can you hold that up a little closer?
NS: Hold it up? Okay. I’m sorry.
CK: That’s better. The Houstonians are getting their consciousness raised do you think?
NS: I certainly think so, and I hope some of the men are. (Laughs) The women too.
CK: You have been here just for today?
CK: And what have you seen or done that has made the largest impact?
NS: Okay. Two of the largest impacts: One, first of all, was the first-rate exhibits. I was so totally impressed. I’ve been to conventions before—nothing that I can remember off hand other than a boat show or something—but the exhibits were just fantastic. And even though they were probably mostly volunteer-manned, they were really impressive and things were done first-class. That was my first impression; I didn’t expect anything of that grade.
The second thing, again as I told you earlier, was the first time I’ve been in this large group of women and I wasn’t embarrassed by their mannerisms. Usually, you get into a group of five or six women and there’s a lot of giggling and silliness going on, and that always turns me off with women. I haven’t seen any of that here. I don’t know to what I can attribute that. Maybe just because it is women’s activities and these women are serious about what they’re pursuing.
CK: That might be it?
NS: I guess. I’ve been sitting here trying to determine what it was.
CK: Do you have any negative comments about things?
NS: One negative thing that I’ve come against—. Well, the abortion thing, I don’t know how I stand on that. I think some of the heated conversations I’ve witnessed, I guess they’re necessary to air your views and to try to say what you think.
The other thing that I have had a hard time justifying in my mind is the stand of the female, oh I don’t know, organization for organizing prostitution, which in my mind is a true exploitation of women. And I don’t understand…I can sympathize with women who have no other way of making a living or apparently have gotten themselves into a situation they don’t know how to handle or get out of, but I don’t see the sense in promoting something that’s going to exploit women further. And, you know, men are snickering, “Aha, look at them; they’re going to get their little group together.” That has bothered me, but that’s about it.
CK: You’ve heard people talking about that here?
NS: No, I really haven’t. I’ve just seen their booth, and I saw a lot of people wearing the tee shirts and things like that. Again, it’s something I don’t know that much about, but it’s just my gut feeling and my attitude about that group.
CK: Do you think you would come back and try to get a ticket for the plenary session over at the coliseum?
NS: I think I’d like to, but whether or not I’m going to be able to, I’m not sure.
NS: I’d like to come back even tomorrow and see some of the other workshops and some of the other things that are going on. I’d planned to be out of town this weekend, and things changed at the last minute. I guess that’s why I was sort of ambivalent about coming: I hadn’t gotten myself all worked up to it, but I’ve ended up spending the whole day here. (Laughs)
CK: You might find the activities over in the convention floor very exciting.
NS: I am sure. I’ve seen some of the broadcasts on the closed-circuit televisions and had to drag myself away. I would have enjoyed listening to some things. I was lucky enough earlier in the week to be able to attend the luncheon. The press forum—Houston Press Club Forum, or however you say the organization’s name—had a luncheon at which Gloria Steinem was speaking downtown at the hotel. And I was so impressed with her. I have been a subscriber to her magazine for about four or five years now. I’ve never even heard her speak; I’ve just heard her quoted, and she’s a most impressive person.
CK: You described yourself earlier as a “closet feminist” so to speak. Subscribing to her magazine doesn’t sound like it to me. (Laughs)
NS: Well, you know you can receive something in mail and read it in the privacy of your home. You don’t go out and say, “Look what I’ve got, and look what I think.” I have my views and I speak them when I’m in a position, but I don’t go around rattling everybody’s cage trying to push an issue.
I’m recently becoming involved in—. My consciousness has been raised seriously, and I’m trying to become involved in rape crisis prevention and intervention. That was the workshop I was attending, so that’s something I’m strong on and I’ve been speaking out about. But other issues that haven’t applied to me—and rape hasn’t applied to me personally, but I’ve recently been exposed to people who have been affected by it—. Anyway, I’m coming out of the closet a little bit.
CK: I’m curious: how would you describe yourself in relation to the general population in Houston? See, I’m from a totally different part of the country. So would you say that you were about average in the way that you—?
NS: No, I wouldn’t. I would think that the average woman in Houston is probably not as feminist as…Well, I don’t know. I don’t know that much about Houston. I understand it’s a singles group—a swinging singles type—. I’ve never been exposed to that kind of a lifestyle; I’ve been married most of my adult life, and I never was the kind that had to seek outside entertainment or activities. I just don’t know that much about Houston. I work. The people I’m exposed to are not the kind of people who have different values than I have.
CK: Women that you work with are different?
NS: Right. Well, some of them are very traditional. They’re working to help put their kids through school, or they’re working for a new car or something, and their keeping their old, traditional values. There are some career women, but I don’t have that much exposure to them; I don’t really know how they feel. I think they’re probably mostly pretty pro-feminist or they wouldn’t have careers and they wouldn’t be pursuing the lifestyles that they do. But I guess I’m pretty average; I like to think I am. (Laughs) I don’t think I’m radical in feminism.
CK: I don’t have any other questions for you. Is there something you’d like to put on tape for posterity?
NS: I’m just glad it happened; I’m glad I came, and I think it’s been terrific. I think it’s much better than the conference they had in Mexico. (Laughs) All the bad press that they got and all the problems. I don’t think it’s going to happen here. I think we’ve grown up a little bit since then. The world kind of laughed at us—the women trying to speak for themselves—and they got out of hand. But that’s about it.
CK: Well, thank you very much.
NS: Thank you. Enjoy…
End of Interview