by Len Lear
Following is part two of an interview with Mt. Airy resident Karen Bojar, former president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW) and author of “Feminism In Philadelphia: The Glory Years: Philadelphia NOW, 1968-1982”:
What do you think have been the most significant achievements of the feminist movement?
The feminist movement had an astonishing number of victories in the 1970s. It’s amazing what a small number of committed activists could do when the time was ripe for their message. The movement transformed our society as women made inroads into the major institutions of American life. In addition to the growing numbers of professional women, business women and elected officials, the service organizations founded on a shoestring and staffed solely by volunteers — the battered women’s shelters, the rape crisis centers — began to receive significant funding from government and from private foundations. NOW shared credit with many other feminist organizations (as well as a loose network of feminist bookstores, coffee houses and consciousness-raising groups) for the dramatic changes in hearts and minds, but NOW was the main engine behind the victories in state and national legislatures and in the courts.
What are the battles that still have not been won by the feminist movement?
When it was just a matter of ending discrimination, feminists won. When there was a price tag, when change would involve significant redistribution of resources, progress was much slower. High-quality childcare — along the lines of European models — is part of the great unfinished business of second wave feminism. The extraordinary successes of the feminist movement have not been shared equally. Women with economic/educational advantages have made enormous progress. Of course, there is still a glass ceiling, but as Hillary Clinton famously said, “There are now 18,000,000 cracks in the glass ceiling.” A revitalized feminist-led labor movement is essential to addressing the needs of women trapped in low-wage jobs, those women who have not been the major beneficiaries of the feminist movement.
Who or what is still standing in the way of those achievements?
Corporate interests, determined to erode the social safety net, dominate the political culture of the U.S. Unfortunately, young people are choosing not to participate in a political culture which many see as corrupt and ineffective, thus making it all the harder to protect and expand the social supports needed by women and families. We have made real progress in breaking down racial and gender barriers, while at the same time tolerating increasing economic inequality.
What has been the reaction to “Feminism in Philadelphia?”
Very positive reaction among older feminists. For many young feminists, this is ancient history. Books are not the most effective way to reach a younger audience. This is painful for someone like me whose life has been a largely a life among books.
Are you working on another book now?
I have spent the past year working on a book about the Philadelphia Democratic Party’s ward structure; unfortunately, there are only a handful of transparent, democratic wards like the 9th ward (in Chestnut Hill). I have not attempted to write a complete analysis of the ward structure. Rather, I explore how progressives have worked within a structure often not supportive of their efforts to foster democracy and transparency within the Democratic Party. I hope to have this book completed by the end of 2015 at the latest.
Are you an emeritus professor now at CCP?
I retired in May, 2009, somewhat earlier than I had planned. I was working then as a full-time Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the Community College of Philadelphia and serving as President of the Philadelphia Chapter of NOW. It soon became apparent that I could not hold two full-time jobs, one paid and the other volunteer, and write the history of second wave feminism in Philadelphia. I realized I would never get through the mountains of archival material the founding members of Philadelphia NOW entrusted to me unless I retired.
Was your husband also a professor? If so, where and what subject?
My husband, Rick Bojar, was a Professor of Mathematics at CCP and for many years Co-President of the Faculty Union. I have one son, Cristopher Aguilar, who lives in West Mt. Airy and currently works as a tax examiner for the IRS.
What is the book’s Chestnut Hill/ Northwest connection?
The first chapter is devoted to Chestnut Hill resident and founder of Philadelphia NOW, Ernesta Ballard. She was in some ways an atypical NOW member — wealthy, Republican, WASP elite background but a passionately committed feminist. She’s known for her Horticultural Society and Fairmount Park Commission work; her feminist work was generally behind the scenes. Ballard deserves a full-length biography. I hope my book inspires someone to write it…
An African-American NOW member, Jocelyn Morris, founded Germantown NOW in 1980 to combat both racism and sexism and to build support for the passage of the ERA among women of color. Despite her incredibly hard work, the chapter was short-lived and folded soon after Morris moved out of Philadelphia. The chapter is an important part of Germantown’s recent history, which had disappeared from the memory of local feminists until I did the research for “Feminism in Philadelphia.”
Karen can be contacted through her blog, www.shewrites.com/profile/KarenBojar.