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Title: Oral History Interview with Miriam Slifkin, March 24, 1995. Interview G-0175. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Slifkin, Miriam, interviewee
Interview conducted by Degitz, Lynne
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Steve Weiss Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2006
Size of electronic edition: 96 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2006-00-00, Celine Noel and Wanda Gunther revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-09-01, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of sound recording: Oral History Interview with Miriam Slifkin, March 24, 1995. Interview G-0175. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0175)
Author: Miriam Slifkin
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Miriam Slifkin, March 24, 1995. Interview G-0175. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series G. Southern Women. Southern Oral History Program Collection (G-0175)
Author: Miriam Slifkin
Description: 202 Mb
Description: 25 p.
Note: Interview conducted on March 24, 1995, by Lynne Degitz; recorded in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Unknown.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series A. Southern Politics, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Miriam Slifkin, March 24, 1995.
Interview G-0175. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Slifkin, Miriam, interviewee


Interview Participants

    MIRIAM SLIFKIN, interviewee
    LYNNE DEGITZ, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
LYNNE DEGITZ:
[text missing]
At the founding of the RCC, there was some division between NOW and RCC supporters. Could you talk about that?

Page 2
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Yeah, well, this is something I just wrote about. When the RCC came into being, I asked Poquita Jurgenson, who was with the (Chapel Hill) newspaper, to publicize the fact that we're in business. And she asked me to come and talk with her. So I brought a sheet describing everything, what we hoped to offer and everything. And she said this good, can I keep it." "Yeah," So then she says, "I'll be honest with you Miriam. I'd rather not mention NOW or your name." And I got so upset. I didn't say anything to her, but you know how it is, when you internalize it. I was really angry. I was thinking here I'd worked myself so hard and all the women on the task force. We'd given money, we'd given time, we gave up a lot of things we wanted to do, in order to do this. And she's saying don't mention the fact that you did it! [Laughter] But she convinced me that it would be best if we didn't use NOW. As a matter of fact, I've got the clipping if you want to see it. In the clipping, she used the handout I gave her, she mentioned me as a spokeswoman, never mentioning me by name. And she didn't mention NOW. It hurt. It hurt a lot (098). But we got people to call us, several people called us for information. Fortunately, just a few people called us for emergency situations. But the climate then was so anti-woman's movement (106). We were bra-burners, we did need all the support we could get, which was our favorite joke. And radical women, you know. It was just so difficult for me to understand people's mindsets. Here we were doing something that we felt good about. And yet people didn't want to know that we were the one's doing it.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
The work you were doing was acceptable, but you weren't?

Page 3
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Right, right. We went along. We got more and more rape crisis volunteers that were not NOW members and they wanted to split off from NOW because they were not feminists. I mean, they were against the crime (121). And they wanted to help victims, but they were not feminists. They were the one's who pushed for us to get the 501c (tax-exempt non-profit status). I was against it. And I'm glad they overruled me. And the reasons I was against it was that I was afraid that if you go to these agencies, if they gave us money, that they would dictate what we could do. Well, I got out-voted. And we got the status. They did not dictate. Everybody that we dealt with was so understanding about the problem. And Chapel Hill is really such an oasis. The county at that time, Hillsborough, forget it. But the Chapel Hill town council and Carrboro, especially Carrboro, were very good. And I told you about the police chief. Now they've named a building after him! [Laughter] Of course he was a good police chief! [Laughter]
LYNNE DEGITZ:
There's that real tension there, between work being done and the history of who's doing it.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Well that was when people would say, I'm not a feminist. And I would say I'm a feminist! [Laughter] But it was a great time, it was very stimulating. I think I need an adversary. [Laughter]
LYNNE DEGITZ:
Did this conflict have any long term effects on RCC policies or organization?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I don't know, I think the volunteers, at least the ones I came in contact with, didn't realize that they had a lot of feminist ideas. I mean, most of them felt that a woman had a right to refuse to be raped. And that women don't ask for it. There was one or two that believed the myths. She was volunteering because somebody in her family had been raped. But that was an exception, see. That most women who get raped "ask for it." I think overall, their attitude toward women who had been raped was very good. As for other things, I think a lot of them were not feminists. I don't know how they are today. I haven't had any dealings with them.

Page 4
LYNNE DEGITZ:
[What about the impact of "professionalization" on service agencies like the RCC? Is therapy becoming a bigger part of the RCC?]
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
From the very beginning we had counseling. We had group counseling, too. [Description of one group counseling leader.] I'll never forget that. One of the women said, I didn't fight back because I was afraid I'd kill him. I'll never forget that, you know, it sticks in my mind. And here he was doing this to her. God, how we're brain-washed.
[Description of Slifkin's and NOW's opposition to death penalty for rape.] Another thing is, back then you could get the death penalty for rape. We were against it. The reason to get the death penalty was not because our legislators thought it was such a heinous crime. It was because you were property. And this property was being devalued. And never, as far as I know, was a white man given the death penalty for raping a black woman. And I don't know that any white man was ever given it for raping any white woman. But black men who were accused of raping white women got it. And I'm not sure that they were always guilty. So we were very much against that.
I was going to tell you something else but I forgot. I'm getting old! [Laughter]
LYNNE DEGITZ:
It's interesting, too, to think about the current debate over one-strike type laws, like in California.[Laughter]
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Yeah, they're so short-sighted.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
Going back to NOW, it seems like at different points in time, NOW had regional and national issues which demanded more of its time and resources. How would you tell the history of different issues for NOW?

Page 5
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Well, rape was a national issue. As matter of fact, Poquita Jurgenson would gather things from UP and AP and frequently there would be articles, and at the time a number of articles were coming out about rap. And of course national NOW was pushing having RCCs. There were some bills in Congress. One was to set up a rape agency, I think I've got a copy of the bill on my desk, which would overlook grants to RCCs throughout the country. Back then there were very few. This was about 1973. Senator Mathias from MD. He was a good guy. So there was a lot of noise about it. But Chapel Hill was so isolated. We really were not part of the real world. If you had seen Chapel Hill in `73, you wouldn't recognize it. We came in `55 and it was really a village and by `73 it was getting bigger, it was becoming a town or city, but as far as the mind-set, it was still insulated. And that's why people here thought it wouldn't happen. It was a farce.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Focusing on local issues in NOW. "But as far as leading NOW locally to local issues or national issues, I personally tried to keep it on local issues. Mainly because, if I get upset about something, it drives me crazy unless I can do something about it. I mean that's just the way I am."
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I was interested in RCC because of the two women. I told her (Emily Adams) about that. That had called me. And then the three older women that got raped. Hey, it happens here. So, that's why I pushed for it even though the other members of NOW thought it wasn't really an issue. They knew we were getting a lot of stuff from National (NOW). I tell you, National could inundate you with paper. But you know, they knew we were getting it.

Page 6
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
We used to meet here (Slifkin's living room). It was a local problem. This is why I pushed the Morehead business (UNC Scholarship open only to men), I brought in people from EEOC because of the work situation here and the wage an hour, most of my focus was local. Now other leaders of NOW, Ruth Meyer, tried to get women more interested in credit and business. I think that was her, she was a graduate student I think in business, no it wouldn't be business because we got a letter somewhere in those files talking about how they could avoid having women graduate students and faculty. Oh they were terrible. You wouldn't believe the stuff that goes on. It's terrible! But anyway, she was interested in getting women locally aware of how to get credit. At that time credit cards were coming in and insurance. She was pushing more of that. And there were several members that were trying to push, well, this is all.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
You know, national is local. There was a lot of effort, but they sort of broke away from NOW for child care. There was a group of parents that were interested in child care outside of NOW, so the people from NOW that really wanted to concentrate on that went to the other. Which made good sense. It's really hard to separate the two.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
My feeling was, if it had to do with us locally, let's do it. And there was another reason for it. It helped our membership. Really. When the RCC was up and going, it helped our membership;.; When we got the Morehead capitulation, our membership soared! It just worked that way. I don't know. You have to look locally as well.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Now for the ERA, North Carolina was the worst, or almost the worst. I traveled all over the state, speaking. That was when I was state (NOW) president. Trying to get that ratified. But that's another story. But as far as the two, town and national, it's hard to separate them.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
This project is concerned with recognizing the different ways that women act as leaders. Did you notice a number of different ways that NOW and other feminists led? You mentioned in the earlier interview that NOW was very cooperative.

Page 7
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Actually I enjoyed working with NOW. I was president of the NC Civil Liberties Union. And it was so different. Of course, there you had lots of men. They were the majority by far. It was a different situation. The buddy system was alive and well, let's put it that way. And how they chose me to be the chair, I don't know. I wish I hadn't What we did was good, there were some thing I thought were not so good.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
It wasn't like NOW. NOW people were really dedicated. I think it was the saying, you know, "the personal is political", I think that helped. This idea that this may be politics but it's hitting me. I think that had a lot to do with it. Whereas the ACLU, they felt like we're helping this poor creature. You know, do you get the idea that the difference in attitudes towards what you were doing. I don't mean to belittle ACLU. I have the highest regard for them. But as far as enjoying working and working together, I'll take NOW anytime. We had some conflicts on a state level, but those things happen.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
You mentioned in the other interviews (with Emily Adams in Fall 1994) the variety of reasons women got involved in NOW. Why did you get involved?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Well, I never thought of it. You're angry. That gets you started. But once you're in it, you keep going.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
We had a funny system in the local chapter. We started off, I was treasurer. You know why I was treasurer? Because I could add and subtract. That's why I was treasurer. We had somebody else at first, before we were officially a chapter. She couldn't add worth a dime! And I got so disgusted, I said I'll take over. So somebody else had to be president. I don't know that they would have wanted me anyway. But that was sort of the informality of it all. And after I decided I didn't want to be president, I was, I think number three, I said, that's enough for one person.

Page 8
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
But there were projects I was interested in. So in order for my letters to different people to have some credibility, I would put down "Chair of the Education Committee" or "Chair of Compliance", so it sounds good. You know, I would bring it up to the chapter, "I'm interested in this. Do you mind?" "No, go ahead, do it!" That's the way it was. It worked fine. I don't know that anybody else pulled that sort of trick, but it worked fine. And I did that on the state level when Cynthia Drake, my predecessor, was president, I said I was, I don't remember, I said "Do you mind if I put myself down as Chair of the Task Force of whatever?" She said, "Go ahead!" [Laughter] Whatever. So what. But it was fun that way and it accomplished. That's the thing. Are you getting your goals. And it worked.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
And I remember once giving a speech to I think it was Seratoma. This is another ironic thing. When Poquita advised me not to have my name on that news release, I was being asked by men's civic clubs, as a member of NOW, to come and speak. I mean, listen, isn't there something wrong here, something strange? But that's the way it was. I think the first one I did was when I was treasurer. And I said in my correspondence, "Chair of Speakers' Bureau." So that made it legitimate.

Page 9
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
One time it was really funny. Seratoma were the one's that sponsored Father's Days. One thing they did for Father's Day was given I think it was three fathers a fishing trip. And they invited me to speak. They invited me for dinner and then to speak. Well, I thanked them and told them I'd come and speak but I didn't want to come for dinner. Because I'd rather have dinner with my family Which was true! [Laughter] So I come in time for them to finish and they ask me if I'd like dessert and coffee. I didn't want it because of a nervous stomach. So I got up there and said I don't understand you men. Here you are sponsoring Father's Day. Fathers are the parent that don't get to see their families very often So what do you do on Father's Day? You take them away from the family and take them on a fishing trip. On Mother's Day, you give her, I think they gave her a certificate for buying clothes and then a day with the family. Isn't there something wrong here? The funny thing was, the next year they switched it. It didn't work. It did not work. But it just didn't make sense to me. And it still doesn't make sense to me. Why take a father away? But it was funny, I got a standing ovation when I was finished. I talked about the women's movement, that's what they wanted to know about. And they were great.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
[One of the men's groups who sings", they start out their program with songs. Great! I like to sing. I was enjoying every minute of it. I don't remember what I said to them, where we're going, the things we're concerned about. They accepted it very well. But when it comes to putting it in the paper that it's NOW or Miriam, no. I think a lot of women were afraid of it. It was threatening. Very threatening. And it was hard to make the average woman understand why NOW is so necessary. But it was threatening. I was a pariah. C'est la vie.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
And now I'm a TA in a women's studies class with 300 students.

Page 10
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I sat in on that class a couple of years ago. I didn't say a word. Maybe I should have. I thought it was a well-taught class, but I didn't' like the students. They weren't that interested, I don't think. I know there was a boy that sat near me that was yawning all the time. I think a lot of them were fake yawns. It was so big.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
Some students seem pretty aware of feminism, but to many of them it's big news.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Are they really aware?
LYNNE DEGITZ:
It's hard to know sometimes. Some seem to be, but a lot are really seeing this as new ideas.
How did this compare to your experiences teaching women's studies back in 1973? What did you want to teach in your course?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I dealt with science. My orientation was to show the biases that were present in science. And also the differences between men and women. You may not be aware of it, but there have been a tremendous number of studies made to prove that women are inferior. Like the brain size. And there was one even made on the bust size. If you have a big bust, you're not as smart as if you have a little bust. At the time, I learned about this, I learned it from a very close friend who was a physicist. She had small breast, I have big ones. She came to me one day and said, "You know why I can study and do research in physics and you're stuck in biology, it's because you have bigger breasts!" I said "Come on Cecelia, knock it off! My brain's in my head!" And she said, "No I'm serious, there was a study that correlated the intelligence of women to their bust size." And I didn't believe her. She brought me an abstract. I mean they have done so much to try to prove that women are inferior. So I brought that up and pointed out that the female's brain mass is heavy as the male's, and when you consider the size, the proportion is about the same, and you know I brought in some of Margaret Mead's studies, which were very good.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
[Description of other teacher's subjects in women's studies, including the topics of unequal pay, feminization of work, and how scientific bias was often not dealt with.] It's not too far off what you get today, I think

Page 11
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Well, as it turns out, we called this conference and we got six responses from letters and newspaper clippings. But you know the K&W has this little side room. Well they let us use it, providing people got their lunch at K&W. We got six responses and we were afraid K&W is not going to like it. We didn't care, as far as setting up the organization. That room was packed. people just didn't bother responding. They just came. And before the day was out, we had declared that we were the North Carolina Rape Crisis Association. What was nice, was one of the things we did was help each other with problems that might come up And also to help set up rape crisis centers. Now a lot of that burden was on us and to a lesser extent Charlotte, because we were the best. And Charlotte was pretty good. But there were others, here today, gone tomorrow. And there were a lot of crisis lines, that dealt with drugs and suicide attempts. And they were interested in it. Because they had this problem that came up. Like Switchboard. People that got raped would call them, because they had no other place to go. And as a result it became a fairly good-sized organization, answering to needs.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
When Jim Hunt became governor, he set up a rape crisis program. And that's when we went out of business, because look if the state's going to do it, why should we bother? And I remember her name, Miriam, who was head of it. But Frances was very upset about her appointment. She wanted me to get it. I didn't even apply. Because I hadn't worked for Jim Hunt. And I know how those things are, if you get out and you're obviously working for a politician, he owes you. But I was working for him, I don't think I was precinct chair then, but I supported him. But not out front. He didn't see me at fund-raisers, he didn't see me at big gatherings. So he didn't know me from anybody.

Page 12
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
The sad thing I think, is that people called it a middle-class struggle. But so many things we were trying to do affected the lower classes. I remember when I brought the EEOC representative. I arranged for her to talk at Lincoln, which was then a black, well I guess it had been changed form a black high school to an administrative center, but there were a lot of black activities that took place there. And I intentionally arranged to have it there, against one of the churches here that serves middleclass white. So that black people would come. And there were a number of black people in the audience. But when it was time for question and answer, they left. Almost in mass. Which I was disappointed, I was very disappointed, because it had a lot to do with janitors, maids.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
You know when I first came here and I wanted to pay social security for my maid, the other people that had her were upset with me. Because she didn't want to take out of her salary to pay her part. Because her salary was small. You don't blame her. And they were upset because they would have to pay not only their part, but for her as well.
[Text Missing] [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I wasn't on that close of terms with any blacks, except the one in NOW. There were very few blacks involved.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
Was ACLU also accused of being exclusive, of being for white, middle-class people to run?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I don't think people pointed fingers at them. A lot of people were very upset with them. I don't think there was the same attitude toward them. you know with women, you can put them down publicly as well as privately. But ACLU is more male than female. So I don't think that got it at all.

Page 13
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I wasn't so obvious in the ACLU. My main function, well I gave a couple of talks but not many, but my main function was chairing the board. And that was about it. And trying to set a direction for the organization. We had some black members. They were men. I'm trying to think if there were any women blacks. I don't know. A large number of our clients were black. But that's understandable because they're the one's who get hurt the most. Their civil liberties are very tenuous. So they come to the ACLU for help. It's a quite different organization.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
We've been talking about your involvement in education and NOW. Presently, you're involved in education with Haddassah about domestic violence. What's happening with that?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Our task force is not moving very fast! This Sunday night we're giving a presentation to a group of Jewish kids, high school aged, that we're going to give this little play to. Let's see there are three women and three men in the play. And one of the men and myself are going to be like discussants. I'm chairing the thing. And the hope is that the play will cause the children to think about the problems and we will discuss them. I don't remember what I said to Emily about this.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
The play is supposed to have taken place in about 1000 AD. You there's something called the Talmud and there are a lot of stories in it. Well, one of our members writes stories and she wrote the story. And twisted it a bit for our purposes! [Laughter] In this story, the husband gets angry with his wife because she liked the rabbi's talk and was slow in getting dinner. Actually, that's a modern day problem, too. And the rabbi is sort of the authority. So the husband, to punish his wife, says you can't come to my house until you spit in the rabbi's face. Now that's the worst thing you could possibly do. So the rabbi learns this and he decides that the commandments says that above all you should have harmony in the home. And it's more important that there be harmony than his face. So he devises a scheme whereby she comes and spits in his face." o he devises a scheme whereby she comes and spits in his face."

Page 14
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Now what I'm going to do, I've thought about this a lot. I didn't chair the other one, but I am chairing this one. What I'm going to do is ask when the play is over, Was the rabbi wise in what he did? Does this help bring about peace in the family? The whole idea being that the rabbi, being an authority figure, is very much like authority figures today. You don't have the rabbi as an authority figure, you have Congress, the General Assembly, but they show it in the laws they make, while the rabbi shows it in his pronouncements. And by letting her do to him what her husband commanded her to do, is he really bringing peace in the family? And that's where I hope to get them to talk. It will be interesting to see.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Next fall we have a woman rabbi, I'm not sure where she's from, Cincinnati, I think. She's going to come. This is her specialty. She's going to talk about this particular rabbi who historically is supposed to have been one of the wisest. And other rabbis' interpretations of how you deal with violence in the home. And then we hope to have a workshop where we bring in people like Jane Cousins and an attorney and counseling type people to discuss various facets of violence in the home. And it's geared toward people like counselors and doctors and other socalled helping groups, and the Jewish population in general. Hopefully this will get a lot of awareness raised, especially among counselors.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Because so often they way, judges have done this, "I want you two to go for counseling." But what happens is you have a very uneven situation. Because the husband can come there and be counseled but then as soon as he gets out, kill her because he's angry that she put him through that. Instead our society, that's like the rabbi see, instead of our society staying stop. This is not the proper thing to do. They spank them on the wrist.

Page 15
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
This is what happened with the case in Hillsborough a couple of years ago. The guy was sent to counseling, to a psychiatrist. He went one time. And then he came back and shot into the women's office and destroyed on of their computers. And then they bring him to jail again or well to court. And then he gets out with a tap on the hand, Don't do that again, stay away from her. And then he comes and kills her in front of his daughter. I mean, that's the way society's been handling it.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
So the hope is people like doctors and social workers and counselors will see that this is not working. It's not reducing violence. But is more or less saying, Don't do it anymore. So we'll see what happens. We had a meeting just the other night. In this room. [Laughter] This is such a meet room! [Laughter] It's a good location. Most of the NOW members were students and they had tiny little places. So this afforded space.
Oh you should have been here when we had our rape talk. That was some mob scene. This room, the dining room, the hallway, and even into the hall, full of people, we opened the porch door, people were out there. It was incredible. I couldn't believe, I felt we weren't going to have many because the NOW people weren't enthusiastic, but people were interested.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
This was after the rape of the older woman?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Yeah, I think that was what did it. After those three rapes. Because it just killed all the myths. There was no way you could explain that by these myths.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
You seem critical of counseling and how it doesn't get at the problem. What do you think of RCC's commitment to counseling?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
But it's counseling the client not the rapist. That's the difference. You're not saying to the rapist, you sit here and you sit here and let's talk about it. That would be ridiculous. . . . How can you settle that type dispute? He was violent. He was getting more and more violent. Are you going to say, Let's talk it out? It just doesn't work. We'll see how our little experiment works. I'm real curious about the high school kids. I've got to see if my tape recorder works. I want to take it to see what their questions are.

Page 16
LYNNE DEGITZ:
Since I'm in medical anthropology, a lot of my teaching deals with talking about science and gender bias, and how social change has been made or could be made. I often feel like I'm teaching a kind of activism, like that's really the subject. Do you see education as a part of activism?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
[You're interested in science? I bet you have some good things to read. There's so much good stuff out there now.}
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
One of the problems men have is that women live longer. And they don't like the idea, because they're superior in everything else, in their minds. And here women live longer. There's something wrong somewhere! And that really bugs them. I see that even in my husband, and he's as nice as you can get. I mean, he's almost a feminist. He thinks he is. You know, we'll get into an argument about something and he'll say "But you're going to live longer!" And where did that come from! But who knows. But that really bothers him.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
Teaching often seems to involve teaching activism, teaching about alternatives. Have you had that experience in your speaking and teaching?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
My talks were geared towards activism. A lot of them. I think I gave sixty-seven different talks around the state on the ERA. Everyone of them was geared toward activism. I gave a number of talks about rape. And that was sort of geared towards activism. Mostly it was on the myths that exist and things you could do to help prevent getting into trouble. But it was a bit toward activism.

Page 17
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Now I have talked to a number of classes. I don't know if I mentioned this to Emily. I was talking to a, I think it was, psychology class at UNC about rape. And some way we got to talking about war and how there's a lot of rape during war. Now one of the guys there got very upset. He said, If I have to go out and fight, I should be able to rape. And this just floored me. And I said, If you were in a small town fighting, building to building, and there was an old man wandering around in a daze, would you kill him? Of course not. But supposed there was a young woman wandering around in a daze. Would you rape her? Well I might. And, I'm telling you, I didn't have to say another word. The whole class jumped on him. En masse. The whole female part of the class. But the idea that it is my right as a soldier to rape. And I got to thinking about it. And I did make the rest of the talk activist, because this showed that women are considered a spoil of war, as against another person. You're not a person, you're spoils. They link rape and pilfer together. You know, we're going to take this town, we'll rape and pilfer. It's commonly said among soldiers. I've heard my husband talking among soldiers. I've never heard Larry say he would do that. I've heard this expression used a lot. And what it tells me, and what I tried to impart to the class was, women are not considered human. They're a spoil of war, in a war situation. And this can be carried onto the streets in peacetime.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I do try when I give talks to raise awareness of this and to get people to say, well what can I do about it? That's my aim, is for people to say what can I do about it. You don't get many but you get some.

Page 18
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I gave a talk in Spring Valley, what is that county, it may have been a community college, a Lumbee area, I was asking people, what do you hope to be when you finish? Straight down the line, the guys have all sorts of great plans, the girls all have homemaker, teacher, nurse, you know. It was terrible. And one of the guys said he's going to join the marines. I asked him why he was joining the marines. At first he says because his girlfriend wants him to. Then he goes on to say he feels that he can contribute because he's strong, all these marvelous things that marines are. Then he comes back to the fact that his girlfriend wants him to.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I asked him, are you sure it's your girlfriend and not you? Because everything else he said was him. And he started talking about how she wants him to because he'll go to war, he'll do this, he'll do that. And I could feel the unease of the women in the class. Sometimes it's palpable. And that lead to a discussion. And one of the women asked me, what can I do? And I said there's a good NOW chapter in Fayetteville! [Laughter] But that does happen
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Well, I haven't done this in years, but when I did give talks, I used to give quite a few around schools, I tried to make them want to be activists. It's not history, it's now. I mean, now is history, sure, but it's happening to you.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
All I have to say is, think of your name. Are you married? Do you have your birth name? What does that tell you? Think of your husband's name? Does he have his birth name? That gets it going. It's hard. You have your set talk, but you can't have a set response. So much depends on where the kids are. Or adults for that matter.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I used to like that. I enjoyed teaching. I didn't get to do very much. I did much more teaching as a feminist than as a scientist. That's weird, isn't it. I enjoyed it very much.

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MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I even enjoyed the debates with the antis (anti-feminists). I remember once we had a debate in Charlotte in one of the shopping malls. Did I tell Emily this? You're bringing up all these memories! This will help me. The second in command to Phyllis Schaflay came down for this. I'm telling you, she was plastic. . . . Well, she was going on about us horrible feminists. And the host, who was a man, started making statements that he would never make to a couple of men who were debating. So I pointed this out. And she joined me. And I felt, hey I've done it! [Laughter] She may not have been converted, but she's listening He was such a chauvinist pig. It was just natural for him to sort of put us down. You women, getting into a cat fight or something like that. It was disgusting. But, I have seen debates where the antis go "teeheeheeee." And you know what Phyllis Schaflay said about getting rape, "Virtuous women don't get raped." It's that same attitude.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
But that was fun. And I think I did tell Emily about the one at Bennett College. Where Dorothy Slade, I remember a name, for goodness sakes! She and I had debated several times. Ben Pollit and I were on the pro-ERA side and one of our state senators, I think it was Soules and Dorothy were on the anti-. The funniest thing happened. These people have a group that comes with them. They were at that talk, at the one at Bennett college. There was a former Russian woman there. She stands up (Miriam stands in imitation). And I'm telling you she had breasts like you wouldn't believe. Way out. And she turns so the people in front of her can see her from the side. And she says Do I look like a man. And then she goes on about how in Russia, women sweep sidewalks. And that's the sort of thing they would do. Just crazy, off the wall. It took all the power I had not to laugh [Laughter], then Pollit (in UNC Law School) would say "How about that Miriam!" So anyway, I said, "of course you're a woman, it's obvious you're a woman, but this is not the issue. . . ." and I don't remember what all we were talking about. But I had some funny experiences. It was wild. And these anti's, you wouldn't believe.

Page 20
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
And I've been called every name in the book. I just thought of one thing. I'm waiting for someone to call me a bitch. You know what I'll say? You betcha! [Laughter] When they called Hillary Clinton one . . . I thought there must be a comeback for that. Well, if somebody calls me that I'll either say You Betcha or You're Might Right or something like. I'll just be curious to see how they respond. But nobody's called me one since then. They've called me that. I've been called a bitch, I've been called a witch, I've been called a lot of other things. I'm an anti-Semite, even though I'm Jewish, and I've been called anti-children, anti-men, you name it, I've been called it. It's just hilarious. That's just because they don't have a better argument. It's easy to call people name. But I'm just dying for it. [Laughter] But I haven't gotten into trouble in a long time!
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I almost got in trouble the other day. I go to this group called Shared Learning. And there's one class on the origin of words. And this guy was talking about how language evolves. And then he says in the last ten or twenty years, there's been a lot of sex-neutral terms come up. And he gave as an example instead of a mailman, a mail carrier. And he was attributing this to the nature of the times. Well, I knew better than that! I fought for changes and a hundred thousands like me fought for changes. It's like somebody saying we gave women the vote. And so I said now wait a minute. But I was very nice about it, so he couldn't call me bitch for that. I said, it was because of the women's movement that these changes were made. He accepted it. I was trying to be called a bitch, but it didn't work. I'm just waiting. Trouble is I don't have the exposure to people who would do that. Most people are very nice. I'm telling you, oh I'd love it, oh I would love it! [Laughter] But it wouldn't work with you!
LYNNE DEGITZ:
I wouldn't wind you up in the right way!
LYNNE DEGITZ:
For Shared Learning, aren't you planning a class on "Girls of the 40s, Women of the 90s?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
[Description of current class obligations for a mythology class. Plans to arrange a comparative class on women for next winter.]

Page 21
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
One thing I was writing about was the change in the sexual assault laws. Weird things happen to me. I got a call from, I think her name was Jean Wilson, this was in I think '75. The RCC was well established. She called me and said there was a group of people at the institute of government who are interested in changing the rape laws. This was about the death penalty. She asked me if I would be interested in helping them. And I said I'd be very interested and I asked If I could bring some members of the RCC with me. So I brought Francis Johnson, Sherry Graham and Louann Robinson. They didn't expect me to bring four. Anyway, they said that instead of drawing up a law, they were going to draw up a bill to set up a study commission to study the sexual assault laws, well they called them rape laws back then. What they wanted to do was if this works out, was to figure out what are the things we need to change, to use it as a guideline and to set up the composition of the commission. And that the composition would be in the bill to go to the general assembly. And the desires of what we think which way they should go would be presented to the commission.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Well, in the composition of the commission that the general assembly would appoint, they had two people from the senate, two people from the house, and I think it was two judges, and they wanted I think two police officers or something. But every single one of them at that day in time would have been male. [Text Missing] This bothered me. I said, how about adding two representatives from the North Carolina Rape Crisis Association. Well, my three friends gave me away (gasp). So the guy that was chairing the session said, Is there such a thing? I said no, but there's going to be. He laughed and said, we'll put that in. But you make sure that there is one. We came home, and in this living room [Laughter], the four of us sat down and planned a conference.
And that's when we had this woman who was active in women's prison speak.

Page 22
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
She [One women's studies teacher] didn't know for example, that because the male chromosome is so tiny that the male is subject to a lot more disease than female. You know things like this, they're just covered up. And they are just now beginning to talk about male menopause and the fact that the prostate gives out. It's just coming to light. They've know it for years. Unlike menopause where they've been, you know, laughing about menopause and women and all that for as long as I can remember, but they never talked about men. Men, you know, are always virile. Always able. And now they're beginning to show their vulnerabilities biologically speaking. There's a lot to be done But there's so much good stuff coming out.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
[Story about one women studies teacher friend, a historian.] "She used to think that I looked down on historians which is so funny, because I was one of those that pushed to get a women's studies program here. I did a lot of it through my husband who was on the faculty council. I'd feed him statistics. And I was all for it. I mean, history is important! It's one of the most important disciplines. It's funny, she and one other woman historians, I must not say things right or something. But they seemed to think I was looking down on them. And I'd do anything to help them. I guess, you know, sometimes you don't communicate well. But I think it's great, you know, the studies now. They're terrific.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
There's a certain history of the feminist movement taught in women's studies, you know, first, second, and third wave feminism. The time you were real active in now is called second wave feminism. How fair is the common characterization of 2nd wave feminism as an elite white women's movement, in your experiences?

Page 23
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
But the thing I'm getting to is almost everything was closed to women at that time. There were very few lawyers, very few judges, very few members of the general assembly, no police officers that were women. As it turned out, they struck out members of the Rape Crisis Association because it wasn't an official body. But that's okay because we testified. Well, I didn't because I was in France during most of their hearings. Frances, Louann and Sherry were there almost every day. Sherry had a full-time job and she took off her vacation time for Rape Crisis. That's dedication.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Anyway, it came out they did set up the study commission, they did come up with a good bill, except they struck the part about you couldn't rape your wife [This was in 1978.]. And that came about what two years ago.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
You know, so many things were closed to women back then. When I was in graduate school, I think I was the only woman who was aiming for a Ph.D. I know when women came in as Master's candidates, it was with the hope of going on, but they were discouraged. And the only reason they couldn't discourage me was that I would tune them out. I'm that way. If I don't like what I'm hearing, I'm not listening. It didn't work with me. But there were so few things that women were really a part in.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
Making practical, action-oriented, formal-sounding groups seems like a strategy in a lot of your activism, "The Speaker's Bureau", the Rape Crisis Association.

Page 24
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
So, frankly, I didn't want to be bound. That was one advantage of being kicked out of science. I wasn't answering to anybody. If I felt like I want to do this thing. I could do it. And Larry saw what I went through. Every time he would complain about the fact that I was out every night of the week, I'd say look, I'd love to trade places with you. But I wasn't given the choice. Then he shuts up for and he won't say anything for the next two weeks. So you know, I enjoyed that freedom in a way it wasn't so free, but in another way it was very free. I enjoyed that freedom. To have a job in Raleigh and to worry about the politics of the situation, which you'd have to, that's not for me.
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
They asked me to run for county commissioners once. I talked to Shirley Marshall about it and I talked to a couple of other people. How much time do you spend and all that. That's not for me. I don't want it. So, there's something to be said for having a husband support you instead of you supporting yourself. But I would have traded places with him if I could have. To be very honest, I would love to have been at the university, doing research, teaching. I love to teach. And I loved research. I always got very excited about it. I would hold my breath, you know, waiting to see these spores burst out. It's really exciting. But it's not to be."
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Did I tell you how NOW got started?
LYNNE DEGITZ:
You had requested an article by Heide and she urged you to start a chapter?
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
I was in a CR group. And CBS had sent a recruiter here. And he wouldn't talk to her. That was my youngest daughter, Naomi and I. That was fun. We went to the drugstore to check on addresses of all the ads and the manager or somebody started following us around [Laughter]. That was fun. We made it a full fledged project. The first time that there was a woman commentator, you should have heard the screams. We just belted it out. There are some nice memories associated with this.
LYNNE DEGITZ:
Are your daughters active in feminist organizations?

Page 25
MIRIAM SLIFKIN:
Not active, they're all members of NARAL, I think.
END OF INTERVIEW