Have you ever wondered how a woman can raise her voice for advocacy, while being soft-spoken? Today we sit down with feminist icon, Letty Cottin Pogrebin. From being a founding editor of the revolutionary Ms. Magazine, a renowned author, to a fervent social activist, this is an intimate interview. Her recount of her public speaking experiences, in the face of complex and controversial topics, is a masterclass in itself!
Are you curious about what it was like to be Betty Friedan's writer for the National Women's Political Caucus in Washington? Letty's retelling is filled with adventures, book tours, and interactions with legendary authors. Her unique perspective on the evolution of feminist literature is both insightful and captivating.
Letty also takes us on a tour of her personal life, highlighting her feminism, self-love, and how she nurtured a healthy, enduring marriage. She spills the beans on how she and her feminist colleagues debunked myths and educated women about the importance of body positivity. She also sheds light on navigating a loving and equal relationship amidst life's challenges. Whether you've been an admirer of Letty or are just getting to know her now, this episode promises to illuminate, engage, and inspire. Buckle up for an enlightening conversation with a woman who truly shaped the feminist movement.
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Produced by Jamie Yuenger and Piet Hurkmans.
Our show’s musical intro and outro is taken from the track “Thursday” by the independent artist Nick Takénobu Ogawa.
You can listen and support his music on bandcamp here.
Jamie: Hi, I'm Jamie Yuenger, and this is If You Knew Me, a podcast about the inner lives of women. Today, I'm thrilled to introduce you to an absolute trailblazer, someone whose name is synonymous with the feminist movement, Letty Cottin Pogrebin. Letty's influence has spanned decades. In 1972, she became a founding editor of Ms. Magazine, the first feminist magazine in the United States. Lettie's Over her long career, she has published 12 books, most recently Shanda, A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy. Other well known titles include the novels Three Daughters, Single Jewish Male Seeking Soulmate, and the feminist classic Deborah, Golda and Me, Being Female and Jewish in America.
She's also a renowned lecturer and social activist. She was a consulting editor on Free to Be You and Me, Marlo Thomas groundbreaking children's book, record, and television special. For which she earned an Emmy. I should note that I did this interview with Letty before the armed conflict began between Hamas and the Israeli military.
Today's episode is an intimate interview. We talk about how Leti originally met Gloria Steinem and joined the small group of women who founded Ms. Magazine and also about her days taking part in consciousness raising groups. I asked her about being soft spoken, literally having a soft voice when her politics caused her to roar like a lion.
Near the end of our conversation, Letty reveals how she's managed to build a truly meaningful and happy marriage with a man and what that's given her life. Whether you've been a long time admirer of Letty Cottin Pogrebin, or you're just getting to know her for the first time, I promise you that you're in for a treat.
Here's my interview with Letty.
I want to start off, you have had this, um, remarkable Life and career as, an author, as an activist, one of the founding editors of Ms. Magazine. but in our early conversations together, you shared with me some moreinner world stuff that I wanted to start off with.
because people are used to seeing these very impressive types out in the world, and then that's the thing that sticks. And I actually wanted to start off with something that you shared, which is that you, are pretty soft spoken. Physically and also, were, and still are a pretty slender woman, which is sometimes hailed as a good thing.
And, you know, in our society. And I was wondering if you could, talk about how those two things have. Sometimes held you back or influenced who you were and how you were able to get along in the world.
Letty: yeah, I wrote about this in my book because it's something I had never expressed before, and my book was about shame and secrecy. It's called Shanda, which in Yiddish means shame. And I hadn't realized until I sort of opened a vein and decided to be entirely honest in this book because I'm 84 years old, if not.
Now, when I realized how much having this little voice had been burdensome to me. I used to be a kid who answered the phone for my, you know, family. I was taught to say, you know, this is Bunny. I was Bunny until I was nine. This is Bunny. How can I help you? You know, um, but after a while I answered the phone like a regular person.
And people would still say, is your mother home? Because the sound of my voice was so childlike. So I could be 17, 18, 19, 30 years old. And people would still say, may I speak with your mother? and to be a public speaker and to have opinions about. Subjects that are, complex and deep and political and controversial.
it's very hard to talk like Minnie Mouse. people are used to hearing if they don't hear it, you know, Henry Kissinger in a very Germanic authoritative voice. They're used to hearing a male voice or a very trained woman's. authoritative voice. So it's always been a problem for me. I stand up before, you know, 500 people and I sound like this and I'm going to talk to them about feminism and patriarchy and I'm going to talk to them about the Middle East, which has been an obsession of mine, a peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
It's one of my areas of deep concern and a lot of activism over the years. And I used to try to fake it.
Jamie: Oh, how so? What would you do?
Letty: I would start out by leaving, getting myself as deep as I could. Good afternoon, this is Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and before you know it, up the trail it went. And I gave up because it took too much thought and it took me away from my beliefs and my passion and my capacity to express myself, so I kind of let it go.
But I remember I was at a meeting with a black feminist a while late. uh, eccentric black feminist named Flo Kennedy. I don't know if you've ever heard of her. She was a lawyer. She was a loud lesbian, and I was at a meeting with her and we were listening to the speaker. And I asked a question from the audience, and I guess it was a Complicated and smart question.
And she said from the back of the room in her, you know, biggest African American accent, Hey, who's the mouse that roared, who's the mouse that roared, speaking of me and my question. Um, and I said to myself, you know, maybe it's helps to be sound like a mouse and roar. And that sort of was a big turning point for me.
It's like after a while, they're there, they're sitting there. They gotta listen to me. or I'm on the air, they're listening to me. Eventually, they're going to get used to this little voice and they're going to hear what I'm saying. Eventually, it's going to all blur into meaning. And that's how I kind of let it go.
But it took a lot of years.
Jamie: and what about being slim because so many women strive to be slim but maybe you're talking about something else
Letty: my body type was really, uh, again, another source of great inferiority when I was a kid because I was so skinny and because I was a child during the Second World War. And I was a child in a Jewish immigrant family. It was shameful to be skinny because after all, we're here, we're in the great United States of America, what's called the golden land, right?
In Yiddish, the golden medina. And here we are, and why can't you, meaning my parents, feed your, your daughter? What's wrong? Do you not cook right? Can't you fatten her up? We're in the land of plenty, and you look like you're still in the old country. So I was made to feel kind of ashamed of being thin.
And food was always being stuffed at me, you know. And I was kept at the table until I cleaned my plate, and I hated most food. I didn't like food. I've made up for it since, believe me. but it's so weird how in some families I would have been, you know, adored for being thin. But in a Jewish immigrant family where you come from hunger and where everybody's skin and bones and you've just come out of the holocaust, you know, you see pictures of these.
You know, terrible cadaverous people and I was a little skinny girl, so I, I didn't grow up feeling good about being skinny and I'm always zeroed in on my bony knees and my bony ankles and, you know, my collarbones, which I now wish were sticking out because collarbones, I don't know if you realize it make women look young.
Because the flesh, it fills up over the years, and I became so picky about the things that were wrong with my body. You know, that I would cover up my legs with thick woolen athletic socks, you know, so that my little skinny ankles wouldn't show. Now, you cannot get sympathy from your friends from being skinny.
and when I, finally at age 53, my metabolism changed completely, and I could no longer have a brownie and a glass of milk every afternoon, the way I had been doing my entire life,
Jamie: Oh, darn.
Letty: So, so I had to do something that no one had any sympathy for and that is I had to learn carbs, carbohydrates, what they are, calories, what they are, where you find the information, you know, not to eat bread and dessert. I didn't ever know that. You know, I mean, I knew other people were struggling with it, but it was never on the front of my mind.
So when I went into the business world, um, I was a, book publishing executive for 10 years from 1960 to 1970, when my first book was published. And I ended up being vice president of my company at the age of. 29. So, I mean, I'd been working there since practically when I got out of college.
I got out of college at 19. Whole other story why I did that. But I had to, , represent my company and I had to negotiate. I was the person who sold the rights to the books that my publisher published in foreign markets. To movie producers, to paperback houses, to um, you know, any audio books.
I sold those rights and it was a negotiation. And you are negotiating with mini mouse. You know, you're negotiating with this little, little person. You're sitting across a lunch table with a martini with some big shot from Hollywood and you know, you, I'm five foot three and I'm. This big and this voice and I'm saying, no, I'm sorry.
That's not enough money for this deal.
Jamie: so how did you push forth? Because I assume people tried to squash you based on those characteristics,
Letty: they did, but I, I just, I knew my stuff when you have impediments of any kind, you, you, um, compensate, you know, we always know about people who compensate for hearing loss by reading lips and people compensate for blindness by being very tuned into smells and all of that. Well. Whatever these little impediments were, I compensated by just knowing more than other people did about everything
Jamie: getting smart.
Letty: Getting smart. knowing the answers to all the questions they might ask. Having already an answer to the pushback I might get. Having comparisons, you know, will so and so pay such and such for this and such, you know, and that. They, they got away with a murder and I'm not letting that happen to my author.
You know, that kind of thing. You just, you do your homework. Um, and in the women's movement, same thing. You can just imagine once I got involved in the women's movement, which was 1971. I mean, the pushback you get from men is not pleasant. It's not pleasant, um, and you have to develop, we used to, at Ms.
Magazine, as you mentioned, I was a co founder of Ms., we had an actual handout within the magazine that you could tear out called, How to Argue, and that meant how to argue with your husband when he said, I bring in the money, why shouldn't you do the dishes and the kids and the laundry, you know, that's your job, and the point is, you do all that so he can go out.
And make the money because otherwise he'd be home doing it. You know, if you walked out the door, that, that would be his problem. So, uh, you need to have understanding when he comes home that you're not starting a second whole job when he comes home doing everything also that you didn't beyond what you did all day long.
I mean, you have to make a clear case when you're doing a revolution, you know, when you're charting change of that magnitude. Just the argument about using your own name or using Ms. instead of Miss or Mrs. Why in the world do we have to advertise whether we're married or not in the business context?
Dear Miss such and such, Dear Mrs. What does that got to do with anything? When we say dear mister in a letter, it doesn't tell me you're married or you're not married. So why is that central to my identity, my marital status? It's irrelevant. You need those arguments. You need to clarify. You can't just say, we don't want to be called Mr.
and Mrs. anymore. Boom. So it's the ability to back up what you believe, no matter what you sound like, no matter how, but the timber of your voice. Um, I am 84. I don't look 84. You can imagine what I looked like when I was in my twenties. I really looked like 16. Until I was about 36, I had those genes. It's nothing I ever did.
I just, I was carded, you know,
Jamie: Yeah. Yeah. I still, we still use that word. Yeah, of course.
Letty: I was carded when I was 42. I was out to dinner with my own children and I
Jamie: And you said, these are my kids.
Letty: I had teenage kids at that point. And they said, I'm sorry, we've heard that scam
Jamie: so letty, let's jump back. so you were working in a publishing house, um, working on these deals and these negotiations for licensing. from basically 1960 to 1970, 71, tell me the story of, how you came to co found Ms. Magazine, which was the first feminist magazine in the United States.
Huge, huge moment. Did it feel like a huge moment?
Letty: it felt like a huge moment that might be a fizzle. Um, we had very big plans. Well, first I'll lead up to it personally. I mean, how I got involved, but I should also say that, yesterday, and I don't know when this will air or post. Um, yesterday, the front page of the New York Times book review is a review of 50 years of Ms.
which is a new book. I'm not there anymore. We sold out, uh, the magazine to, um, the Feminist Majority Foundation, which is in California, but I still love it. I still read it. I believe in it. It's, evolved into a different kind of magazine, but going way back.
Um, so after my 10 years in publishing and I wasn't just, uh, the director of subsidiary rights, which I just described to you. I was also the director of promotion, publicity and advertising. So I had done four departments. I had knowledge of four different departments. Um, and that gave me an opportunity all during those 10 years to travel with my authors, to spend time with my authors, go taking them to the Tonight Show and the Today Show and the Merv Griffin Show and All the afternoon shows that used to be on TV that aren't anymore and all the radio talk shows that aren't on anymore But in those days, it was a very lively media market because there was no internet That was the entertainment and I had authors who were extremely famous And fun Helen Gurley Brown author of 'Sex and the single girl' I mean, that was a blast, because we were going around the country in 1962, I think her book was published, when sex and single did not occur in the same sentence.
So you would have, you know, people blushing and, you know, fumphing and squirming. Giggling when we talked open when Helen talked openly and I about sex and single life and I had rehearsed her for this because she believe it or not, people may not remember her now, but she was quite a mousy. She called herself a mouse burger.
So if I had a mini mouse voice, she was that personality. She was very kind of closed and shy and gave her media training. So we got very close and That kind of a friendship really fueled me that somebody who was, who became a mega bestseller and they made a movie about 'Sex and the single girl' and she was, she founded the current version of Cosmopolitan magazine with all the sexy women on the cover.
That someone like Helen was, it was a good friend. And then I had, um, Groucho Marx and Harpo Marx from the Marx brothers as my authors. And then I had president Harry Truman and King Hussein of Jordan and Art Linkletter, who did a wonderful TV show called Kids Say the Darnedest Things and was kind of like, you know, the Phil Donahue of the era.
Having these authors made, a man who publishes books, the publisher of Bantam Books, take me to lunch and say, we want you to write a book. I said,
Letty: Yeah, me. I always wanted to write, be a writer, but I had to support myself.
Nobody was supporting me. And, I had to work for a living and he said, well, we'll give you so and so thousands of dollars. Here's the contract. The book is going to be called How to Make it in a Man's World and it's going to be all about your career and all the famous people that you've shepherded around that have become your friends and that you help them build their best sellers.
And so I sat down. I didn't laugh. They say, you know, they laugh when you sat down to play the piano or they laughed. I didn't laugh. I said, this can get me out of nine to five work. I want to be a writer. So I wrote the book. I wrote all about my adventures with my authors and I toured the country
Jamie: how did that feel? How did that feel to finally be
Letty: It felt, like the best possible flip of fate in the world because I had been, you know, coddling and arranging other people's lives. And now someone was helping me become, an established author. And I was published in hardcover by Doubleday and in paperback by this Bantam Books, the people who asked me in the first place.
It's, it's called a reverse. Contract because I was under contract to the paperback publisher, but they went to contract with the hardcover publisher, So I had two rounds, one year of 22 cities, and the next year, the same thing all over again. And I learned to talk about books instead of tell my authors, how to talk about their book.
I learned how to, you know, relate to booksellers. Stop in at a bookstore and say, I'm Letty Cottin Pogrebin and my new book is so and so. And I wonder if you wouldn't mind putting it in the window, you know, and at that point, maybe being little and having a small voice didn't hurt,
Jamie: Yeah. Maybe that
so the whole thing is leading up to how did Miz start? Okay, so when, after my book, how to make it in a man's world was published. and that was in 1970.
I get a phone call from Betty Friedan, who was, you know, the so called founder of the women's movement. She was actually the founder of the middle class women's movement, not the whole rest of women, because she was only looking at women who had college degrees and were staying home and not using any of their skills or talent.
Jamie: and and I guess mostly white women is that
Letty: Yeah, totally. She was really only white, married women. Yeah, she called it the problem. They have no name. It was a problem that with no name for white middle class, mostly suburban women who it's true were in the domestic, in the feminine mystique.
That was the name of her book. Anyway, Betty calls me, which let me say didn't happen to me every day. You know, she was a mega celebrity. And I was just, I was like a baby feminist. I hardly knew what was going on in the women's movement. It was nascent. It was, everything was just happening.
And she said, We're going to start something. We're going to Washington. We, she always spoke in the we, but it was about I, well, we're going to Washington to start something called the National Women's Political Caucus. And I would like you to come down and be my writer. I didn't know what it means to be her writer, but she had seen the New York Times gave me a rave for my first book, how to make it a man's world.
And she had seen it and she said. I want you to be my writer. Turns out she wanted me to just follow her around to all the sessions, the plenary sessions, the workshop sessions, take notes and write it all up. So she could say what she wanted about it. And that's what I did.
Oh, um, I had just been asked to, I forgot that part. I had just been asked by the editor of the Ladies Home Journal, who also saw the review in the Times, to write a column for the Ladies Home Journal called The Working Woman. And I had written my first Working Woman column, and that's what, that's another reason Betty called.
That column, reached nine million women every month. those used to be the, statistics on circulation for major women's magazines, Family Circle, Red Book, Women's Day, Ladies Home Journal.
I don't even know if they're around anymore. I don't see them. But to be in that magazine, you knew you had nine million readers and they were really religious readers of that. magazine
and if you were home with a lot of kids, you needed advice and that's where you got it. So, anyway, that's why Betty Friedan called me. Long story short. at this conference, which is held at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.
C., I think July 12th to 14th, 1971.
Jamie: Good memory.
Letty: I went into one of those little side workshop rooms. If you've been to a conference, you know, they use hotel little workshop rooms and the place, you know, was always covered with had tables of round tables with green felt covers on them for people to do what the keynote speaker said.
You should go do go make a an agenda for. You know, how to deal with abortion rights, go make an agenda for how to get women on the ballot, go make an agenda, all
Jamie: sessions, essentially.
Letty: exactly. That's the word. Good. so I take my little legal pad, which I have been writing my notes for Betty and I, she said, go write up all of today's work.
It was Saturday. And she's gonna do the big presentation the next day. I open the door, and who is sitting at one of those tables by herself? Gloria Steinem. So, you know, Gloria Steinem was my, like, Idol in 1971.
I had read everything she wrote for New York magazine. She had already donean expose of the bunny club, you know, Hugh Hefner's
Bunny Club Playboy Club. she was just the smartest, most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I said, This is my model for the future. I just want to be Gloria.
Jamie: And there she is.
Letty: yes, and there she is. And I said, Oh, excuse me. You know, Baby feminists backing out the door she's
Jamie: With your mousy voice. Yeah. Okay.
Letty: She says, no, no, no. come right in. I'm Gloria.
Jamie: Oh, yeah, really?
Thanks for letting me know.
Letty: uh, I said, well, I'm Betty's, you know, no take a writer. And, and, uh, she asked me to write up all my notes about. Today, she said, well, I'm, I'm doing that myself, too.
It would be helpful if we could work together now.
And, I come in, I sit down next to her and we work together. This is Gloria in a nutshell. She's such a, she's never an egomaniac. She never thinks she's the only one who matters. She always spreads the credit and We worked together until three o'clock in the morning
and we became very good, good friends after hours and hours of working together. And at the end of that, she said, you know, a small group of us are starting a magazine when we get back to the city.
Would you like to join us? That's how I got to Ms. It was like a fairytale. next thing you know I'm a co founder of Ms. Magazine.
Jamie: But you had done your work. You had done so much work before that, if you give yourself credit, right?
Letty: If I look at it, I came to the table with a lot. I came with a 13 years of publishing experience. Books and magazines are not exactly the same, but they all work on deadlines and they were on paper and all of that.
And they involve personalities and they involve writers. So I knew that, but I also knew enough about feminism at that point, because I was writing this column and I had to write about Women who worked, which who weren't necessarily Betty Friedan's women, they weren't because they, women had not gone into the workforce in the 1960s.
So by the time I'm writing this column, I'm writing about, you know, working class women who had always been in the workforce. And I'm opening people's eyes to, you know, all these occupations that women didn't even know existed. So I did come to the table with that. And one more thing. I, at that point, I had three children.
And a marriage,
Jamie: In 1971 when I met Gloria, my daughters were six and my son was three. and my husband, we'll get into my husband later, but my husband became a feminist when I did, which was then, right then. And that's because when I had to start writing this column and I had to speak about my book, my book was not a feminist book.
Letty: It was here's what I did in my career. And I did not say this is not something that happens to most women. You don't work with the Marx Brothers if you're on the Ford Assembly line. You don't work with the Marx Brothers if you're cleaning toilets as a janitor in a school or you're doing daycare. For other people's children.
That's not my career. I never dealt with that. I was simply blinded. My assignment was right about how to make it a man's world meeting you, me. So I got attacked. My editor warned me. my book editor at Doubleday said, you know, there is this thing called women's lib. I said, yeah, I'm sort of, I don't really know much about it.
And she said, well, I suggest that you read a lot about it because you're going to be attacked for it because we've been attacked for publishing you because your book is, you know, completely ignorant of what the movement is
working for, which
this movement that's happening is not trying to free women to be It's just trying to get us equal pay, for God's sakes, or working conditions, or to be able to work when we're pregnant.
And here you're talking about how, Oh, one of the things I did say in my book was speaking of my weaknesses and smallness, I said, it was not a small accident that I worked till my ninth month and I got my best deals done when I was pregnant,
Jamie: Why was that?
Letty: because you know, in the book publishing business. Men could not say no to a pregnant woman.
You know, I took, And I took up a lot of space at these martini lunches. You know, I was pregnant with twins. I was like up to here and out to there. And I'm still the same person's talking and knowing the same stuff, but I'm sitting there with this belly. Women, pregnant women, were not even supposed to be walking around in public in the 1960s.
In 1965, there was no such thing as a pregnant dress that clung to your belly. God, no. That would have been, as we say, a shanda.
Letty: scandal. That's
Jamie: Yeah. I
Letty: You wore a tent. I looked like if you ever saw the Little King cartoon where his body starts under his chin and go straight out and you got a crown on his head.
That's how I looked. I had this long blonde hair and my pregnancy dress started high neck straight out. I was like a lampshade walking.
Jamie: love the image, Leti. So, so how did you flip from being kind of You know, really not in the know and not particularly caring.
to getting, up to speed, let's say, I mean, did Gloria decide that, you know, you were a good match if you weren't, were you halfway there by the time you guys met
Letty: I was a quarter of the way there because I had to do research for the column. Doing the research for the column just woke me right up. I mean, when they say woke, they mean you suddenly notice the rest of the world. They, you suddenly notice you are not the center of the universe. That's what woke means.
That's why the right wing is hitting us so heavily because they don't want everybody woke. So they ridicule it. But once I woke up and my editor at the same time, don't forget I'm still touring for my own book. when I meet Gloria, going around the country. I still have, you know, uh, lectures in which I have to say to people and I, I was reading so much about feminism at that point.
I was reading the basic stuff that was published in people's garages on a mimeograph machine where you had to turn it like that and your fingers got purple. Uh, and you printed, you know, 12 at a time. And you'd stapled them and you handed them out in the neighborhood, you left them in piles in the supermarket, you know, wherever women were, you put these, um, they were called position papers, they were really explication of feminist theory, for example, the politics of, uh, housework.
Jamie: which we're still dealing with, right?
Letty: yeah, which we're still dealing with. Exactly. the myth of the vaginal orgasm. That was a biggie, as you might imagine. I mean, here, here, feminists are telling women, you don't have to fake it. There's such a thing as a clitoris. And if your husband or partner is not paying attention to that little tiny button, and you feel, what's all the fuss about?
I better fake it. You do it like they do it in the movies. You don't have to do that anymore because we who are writing the myth of the vaginal orgasm are going to tell you how to do it. And then Betty Dodson, who was the guru of masturbation, meanwhile was running things called body shops, you know, like auto body shops.
These were women's body shops where she would teach women how to masturbate. Women who had never, women were 60 years old showing up and say, I never had an orgasm. I faked them all. And she would put them down on a nice soft bed of pillows and guide them and give them a, um, vibrator and sex toys and teach women how to
Jamie: Give themselves
Letty: so give themselves pleasure because so many women weren't getting it. Their husbands might have been willing, but they didn't know how to guide them even. and it was at that point that the second, Masters and Johnson report came out. That really quantified how few women were having orgasms, because physiologically it's hard to have a vaginal orgasm unless you've built a certain way, and a minority of women can.
And since I was in a consciousness raising group for seven years,
small groups gathering. We gathered every Tuesday night for seven years, except in the summertime, when people were off in different directions in each other's houses. And we had a topic for the evening.
And it was completely private, protected space. Nobody was ever going to tell what happened in that group. That was it. That was the quid pro quo. And you shared your, deepest, darkest, most wonderful, or most horrible experiences. You might have one session on, how I feel about. my boss or how I feel about, um, I'm a shopaholic.
I had a few people feel about shopping. Is anyone else a shopaholic? You know, or how I feel about my body. We had a nude session. We all got naked and we all Talked about what was wrong with our bodies and then told each other how beautiful we were. in one of those sessions, God, I'll never forget it.
this was a session in someone's back garden, which was completely protected. And we're all standing naked. And I think there were twelve of us. And each of us, you know, goes through the litany of, you know, I do my skinny ankles. And I think my nose is too long, and someone else does, her hips are too wide.
Someone else says she, her legs look like piano legs. Everyone goes around, and then we get to this one woman, who was a TV producer, and she looked like probably everyone in Denmark. Blonde, blue eyed, beautiful skin, tall. Perfect proportion. She looked Danish.
She's gorgeous, beautiful in every possible way. And we said to ourselves, we said out loud, okay, her name was Anna, you're going to make a fool of yourself if you say there's anything wrong with you.
There's nothing wrong with you. We're all saying to her, you know, it's her turn. And she said, oh no. And we said, what's wrong with your body? And she said, my nares. We said, what the fuck are nares? And it turns out that they are these, your nasal openings. And she goes like this to us and says, look how huge they are.
You can look up my nose. If you notice, I always talk like this. And indeed we did notice then,
Jamie: she always bent forward.
Letty: or she would talk like this.
Jamie: Covering herself.
Letty: And suddenly we noticed that was her, exactly. We've known her for years and we never noticed that. this magnificent goddess, is carrying around a secret self loathing that nobody in the world is noticing. But she thinks everyone will look at her and they'll see up her nasal cavity.
Believe me, you couldn't, you'd have to be lying down under her.
Jamie: But that didn't matter. It mattered what she thought of herself.
Letty: Yeah, that taught us all so much. Imagine what that taught us.
Jamie: did it change the way you felt about your own body?
Letty: Definitely. Totally. You know, I stopped, I still see my nose as long, but I make up my eyes now. I did so that you look more at my eyes. 'cause I have green eyes. They're pretty nice eyes. I focus on that and I don't imagine people are staring at my nose, which, you know, who cares? Who's really looking at me and saying, oh my God, her nose is long.
I, I doubt it. You know, so why waste the energy? there's a great little girl on, um, Instagram Look her up, little girl Explorer, messy hair. You just will love her. She says to her, mom, I don't care if I have messy hair.
You know, what I care about is love, and, and who's suffering, and how to make the world better, or something like that. She's like five years old, and she sticks her hat on, and it's explorer hat, and her mom says, I see, you're saying that hair is not important because you're an explorer. She says, yes, and I've got to go now, I have things to do.
This five year old, and I say, I do a newsletter, and I say in my newsletter, this is our future unless the right wing wins in 2024. This girl is the woman we need in the world, but she may be squashed if Trump, the Trumpeteers win.
I don't know if you're going to cut that out,
Jamie: I don't think I'm going to cut it out.
I want to, I want to turn our, our attention to something that is, I think a lot of people have a lot of interest in, at least I do, which is, You have been able to create and maintain a loving and strong relationship with your partner. Soyou have a husband and you're married and you have three children and six grandchildren and you're about to celebrate 60 years of marriage soon.
Talk to me about how you created what you called, in your words, a blissful marriage.
Letty: You know, it's always very hard for me to talk about this marriage. First of all, I cry about it because my husband is ill, has Parkinson's. and so I've become very weepy about my marriage. I always say he was the wind beneath my wings. flew very high in this life in terms of what I wanted. I did exactly what I wanted, but
My wings would have collapsed if I didn't have the incredible security of this love.
Jamie: Yeah. Paint us a picture.
Letty: I'll paint you a picture. Um, my success is his success. My happiness is his. He never had a moment of competition. And I'm the public person. My husband was a very successful labor and employment. relations lawyer. he had interesting cases. He had big cases. He had cases that were in the newspaper. He represented the New York City school system, which is one million students.
And I don't know how many teachers in the negotiations that always ended up on the front page of the New York Times when their deals were settled. So he wasn't a You know, shy violet at all, but he never felt that the way he puts it is, you know, I never felt I was on a seesaw where when you're up them, I'm down, you know, when you're up, it brings me up We're a team.
We're a unit. Your happiness is always going to kind of reflect on me And I mean affect me because a happy woman is a great partner, you know an angry woman a frustrated woman becomes a bitch How can you help it? How can you help it? And then whoever it is you're with comes home, and the first thing that they say that sets you off, you're immediately in the doldrums, and then as it were.
So there was never that. There was never, I would emasculate him. People used to say, how does it feel to be the husband of a woman? Letty, you know,
Jamie: This big feminist, but,
Letty: this, does she, you know, cut your balls off to be a little bit graphic about it? No, it's actually, I, I really love listening to her.
She's very interesting. And, you know, she keeps things. kind of hopping, you know, and she brings interesting people into the house. And she goes places and comes back and tells me fun stories. What's not to like here? Well, what about dinner? He said, well, she used to serve me dinner, but that was before we became feminists. And now she cooks, I clean. It's so simple. Everything is simple once you really say it isn't fair for one person to shoulder all of this kind of stuff and that kind of stuff. You know, same thing like if the car has to be taken in for servicing, it's not always he, the guy takes the car in for servicing and talks with the mechanic about, you know, the carburetor.
I take the car in if he's busy. And I sit and listen to what's wrong with the carburetor. And then I come back and explain why it's going to cost us 600 or something. What is the big deal? Why is masculinity so dependent on inferiority of the other? Why does there always have to be a hierarchy? I mean, there may be a hierarchy.
For example, I love to make the house beautiful. My husband could not do a flower arrangement. I know the vase that should be with it, and I know the colors that go together. But he'll come in and say, what a beautiful, beautiful flower arrangement, you know? I mean, that's enough for me.
I'm not going to sit around and say, why do I have to do all the flower arranging? You know, the same with like making the bed. We had a rule, the last one out of the bed makes it. Okay. That means I have to put up with a lumpy bed. When I look at the way it's made, I have to put up with a lumpy bed because he had to make hospital corners when he was in the army, but he does not remember the lesson.
So, the bed ends up with one pillow under the whole thing that's sticking out of the bedspread, you know, the quilt. It may be laughable, but it's his, he did it. And I have to accept imperfection because I want equality. I have to accept that when he, thinks the sink is clean, it's got a piece of carrot in the, in the drain.
And in my way, I say, honey, you left a piece of carrot. But the third time, I don't. You know? Because it's not worth it. I just dumped a piece of carrot. Because he's done the job. He did it. I don't have to use the comet and do the sponge. He did it as best he could. And I'm not going to keep pointing out that there's a piece of celery or a piece of carrot in the little drain basket.
Who cares? And I think basically you know, it's a business about people arguing about which way to put the toilet paper. bottom down or top down. Or, you know, did you leave the cap off the toothpaste? You pick what matters to you.
Jamie: but these are the small things. What about the big things? Did you ever have major, I don't know,
things that came up
Letty: no, no.
That's the good luck part. That's the part I say I can't be helpful because I, I just got a guy who I agree with politically. We both came from left wing households. We both have this exact same politics. We react the same way to what's happening in the world. And we have since.
you know, whoever it was in 1963, I'm not even remembering. Kennedy. We lived through the Kennedy assassination together. That was couple of weeks before our wedding. It was really horrible, but we, we only knew each other. Three months when we got engaged and six months, three more months, we got married.
We knew each other for six months. So how can I give anyone advice on really get to know your guy, make sure you agree on this, that, and the other thing? It, we didn't because I had a gut reaction. Well, let me start with the fact that I wasn't gonna get married. I really didn't. I was 24 years old on June 9th.
1963. I had just come back from a three week trip to Europe for my job. I had been to Rome, Paris, London, all over the place in Europe to sell the foreign rights to the books I represented. And I had eaten in the best places, met wonderful people, you know, been squired around. I came home, I went out to a jazz concert with my roommate at the time, and I said, you know, who needs to get married?
I'm making a lot of money now. I just came back from a fabulous trip. I had a motor scooter. I had a dog. I had a duck and a rabbit at one point.
and I travel around on my motor scooter in a dress and high heels Because that's what you were to work them. And I said to my roommate, why would I have to get married? I probably would have to give up the job and give up everything I am having so much fun at and the next day I met my husband.
And the minute I met my husband across a volleyball net, we were all playing volleyball. He was tall.
He was thin. He was funny. He had me laughing so hard. I really thought I would have to go into the ocean to pee. Because it was non stop. he made everybody laugh. He made everybody feel good. And afterwards I kind of sidled up to him. I really was the pursuer. And he called me four days later and we've been together since.
So I met him on my birthday. He was my birthday present, and I married him when I was 24 and a half. And it turned out that, again, same politics, same feelings about raising children, same feelings about money. We didn't have money when we were growing up. We were suddenly making money. We had to learn how to deal with money.
We weren't making a huge amount, but enough to live on. We had to make choices and uh, it just, he came that way. And I think a big mistake people make is they think they can change somebody. If you see a big thing about somebody you're with, that rubs you the wrong way, but you love everything else about him or her, don't go there.
Because that big thing that annoys you in the early stages is going to be humongous. It's going to be a great big blister on the face for the rest of your life. And it will make for tremendous conflict. If it's characterological. If it's a personality thing, you know, I had a lot of signs. I believe in signs.
I believe I'm so superstitious that when my husband turned out, he was a member of the same fraternity. My father was, my father was a lawyer. my husband is a lawyer. He smoked lucky strikes. My father smoked lucky strikes. These were all signs from God that I had to pay attention, even though I didn't want to get married.
Jamie: So I'm curious, in closing, if you could. Have you been shown any signs since your husband has been diagnosed with Parkinson's as to what's to come or how to deal with this moment?
Letty: I, because I'm so old. And everyone around me who is my age is having that problem or another problem or, and mostly it's the men. So if you're going to grow old together, You had better be deeply in love because, the women I know who resent what they have to do to help their husbands are women who never were really that happy with their husbands to begin with.
And now, you know, they, feel awful that they just are not going with it in a loving way. For me, Making my husband happy and finding things that we can still do together. And what makes the two of us happy together and, um, you know, the extent of his abilities and really running with it so that his life is full.
I mean, we, we have a place up in the Berkshires in Massachusetts and we went to every Tanglewood concert, even though, We had to have a wheelchair meet us at the car in the parking lot, but they provide that service. And I said, no matter what it takes, honey, don't be at all embarrassed about being in the wheelchair.
We're surrounded by old people. You know, up here, there's a lot of old people who love culture. So, they're on walkers and they're in wheelchairs and they're also young people, you know, with cut off jeans and, you know, smoking vapes and all that stuff. Um. he has a lot of dignity.
So once he was able to adjust to the indignity of disability in this culture, you know, uh, people make judgments about like the whole rest of you is also messed up because you're in a wheelchair. I don't have to tell most people that I think that, uh, the Americans for Disabilities Act has saved us.
Because there used to be curbstones, and there used to be, you know, things too high up to reach, and all of that. But we were able to go to the theater, and to concerts, and have dinner parties, and go to people's dinner parties. Um, and his, he still has a positive attitude. He's still optimistic about life.
And we're gonna take it as long as we can. As long as we've got, we're gonna live it fully.
Jamie: Leti, thank you for this beautiful, uplifting conversation.
Letty: I hope so. hate to end with illness, but
Jamie: Well, you ended with love, yeah, thank you.
Letty: Thank you,
Thanks so much for listening to this week's episode. Letty Cottin Pogrebin is an author, activist, and national public speaker. Her most recent book is Shanda, A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy. To learn more about Letty, look for links in the show notes. If you love this show, If You Knew Me, about women's inner lives, help us spread the word.
Jamie: The easiest thing to do is give a quick rating or review in your podcast app. Thanks so much. This episode and all our work is supported by our incredible patrons on Patreon and our League of Women. Our League members include Fredda Herz Brown, Carrie Ahern, Christine Shook, Sister Monica Clare, Dawn Roode, Elizabeth Doerr, Kara Pass, and Karen McNeill.
This podcast is produced by me, Jamie Yuenger, and my husband, Piet Hurkmans. Thanks so much for listening to If You Knew Me.