NOT ONE OF THE BOYS: LIVING LIFE AS A FEMINIST by Brenda Feigen was published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 2022. In the years since, Ms. Feigen has been developing new material, including a run-down of all the activity and cases surrounding same-sex marriage. In 2022, the latest version of the book was published by Random House. It includes new material, new photos and new acknowledgments. Accompanying the publication of the 2022 version are glowing remarks about the book by the publisher.
The digital version may be purchased via Amazon Kindle, [Another way to phrase?] and
by Brenda Feigen (Author). Format: E-book and Audible Editions. Forward by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
From an outspoken feminist, a leader of the Women's Movement in the 1960s and '70s—a candid, wide-ranging and deeply personal memoir that is, as well, an illuminating historical document of a time and a fight for profound societal change.
Brenda Feigen has lived many lifetimes within one—lawyer, wife and mother, civil rights activist, politician, Hollywood movie producer—and in each she has faced down the specter of discrimination against women. She describes how at Harvard Law School she fought to change blatantly sexist practices such as Ladies' Days and quotas on women set by law-firm interviewers; how she waged battles for women as National Vice President of NOW; how, with Gloria Steinem, she founded Ms. and cofounded the National Women's Political Caucus in the early 1970s; how she became director with Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project in 1972, as well as its spinoff, the Reproductive Freedom Rights Project; and how, in Hollywood, she met obstacles at every turn while fighting for movies with strong, positive roles for women. She describes, as well, the struggles and triumphs of her private life: her marriage (she and her husband were once considered "the perfect feminist couple"); being a (feminist) mother; her relationships with women; her breast cancer. She chronicles recent advances and losses in the Women's Movement, making clear how far women have come (5.2 million people marched for their rights in 2017), and how far they have yet to go to overcome, for example, the Supreme Court’s now open hostility to abortion rights.
And, in a moving and stunning new chapter, Feigen writes of the fight for same-sex marriage that started with DOMA and ended in 2015 with the Supreme Court case that fully granted marriage rights to same-sex couples. She writes further, and in-depth, of her work and friendship with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Ginsburg’s prescient concerns about Roe v. Wade, as well as her recent contributions to the Court, including her many dissents of the past two decades, among them the voting rights case, the partial birth abortion case and the Hobby Lobby case that removed contraceptive rights for many working women. And finally, Feigen writes of her concerns that thegender self-identity movement has overwhelmed priorities of civil rights groups that recently won the fight for same-sex marriage and shows how that movement conflicts with the progress feminists must continue to make for women’s rights, particularly in sports. Despite a disturbing wave of rightwing attacks on reproductive rights from state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court, she signs off, optimistic about the resurgence of feminist consciousness displayed in on-going world-wide protests and marches.
The inspiration to write my new last chapter of Not One of the Boys: Living Life as a Feminist (Knopf 2000, 2022), entitled “Wheel of Feminism,” came with my being inspired by the worldwide Women’s March in January 2017. All the posters and banners, raising issues of importance to women world-wide were profoundly moving. And there were men there, too. I visualized a wheel with 12 spokes, representing issues, from women’s rights, to the climate crisis, to Black Lives Matter to LGBTQ rights, and drew a wheel with the help of Vassar friends that was colorfully improved by my great artist friend, Erika Rothenberg. Here’s that wheel:
My conclusion is that to call yourself a feminist you have to believe in the importance of all 12 issues, just as a wheel needs all its spokes. As we address these issues, our society comes closer to being one in which we should want to live. To elaborate on each spoke: Women’s Rights means equal rights. Reproductive Rights means the right to control our own bodies. LGBTQ+ Rights means just that. People must be free to express themselves and be free to love whomever they choose as long as others aren’t hurt in the process. Gender Violence asks for the elimination of domestic violence and sexual harassment. Family Rights notably includes a demand for 24- hour child care, paid by the government as public schools are now, only for younger children whose parents need or want to work outside the home. (I have hope because Vice President Kamala Harris prioritized this issue in her presidential campaign.) It also includes health care, the absence of which for many has been brought into full view by the pandemic. Gun Violence represents a determination to walk back the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment so we can be free of fear going about our daily lives, as well as in our homes. AntiSemitism, recently on the rise thanks largely to Trump and his coziness with former Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as domestic terrorists like the ones we saw on January 6th wearing “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirts, must be confronted with even harsher penalties. AntiRacism includes Black Lives Matter, as well as anti-Asian hate that again sprang up recently largely due to Trump’s “Kung-Flu” jokes and his desire to blame Asians for starting and spreading the pandemic. Immigrants’ Rights has been highlighted by the Muslim Ban that Trump embraced, as well as recent treatment of DACA recipients. Disability Discrimination continues shockingly allowing many businesses to deprive access to disabled people for whom necessary accommodations have not been made. I now broaden its traditional meaning to include ageism which leads seniors often not to aspire for more, knowing it’s usually pointless to apply for jobs or improve their looks because no one really cares. “They’ll be gone soon….” And finally, the Climate Crisis, affects every single one of us. A shred of light may be coming since Exxon Oil has recently elected several climate activists to its Board.
Reviewed in the United States on December 2, 2009 If you have been more or less aware of the evolution of the women's movement since the late 1960s, this book is an engrossing and powerful reminder of how much things have changed and of how much courage it took for people like Brenda Feigen to step up, get to work, and move some mountains. If that evolution is not familiar to you, this book is a lively and inspiring history lesson. It also is simply a fascinating story of one person's remarkably multi-faceted personal path and career in the Midwest, East Coast, and West Coast. Feigen writes with clarity and passion, while offering consistently sensible insights about what needed to be done to advance gender equality in America over the past few decades, and about what still remains to be done
Reviewed in the United States on February 2, 2001
Not One of the Boys is satisfying on so many levels, as a biography, as a snapshot of the Women's Movement from its inception through the 1990s and as a discussion of how laws affect women. Brenda Feigen writes honestly, clearly and beautifully about her own experiences, what she sees as the failures of current feminism, theoretical differences between feminists and much, much more. I was completely enthralled by this book. Ms. Feigen very clearly conveys the excitement of the 1970s, the legal victories, the setbacks and her own emotions when facing a level of sexism that seems almost unimaginable today, although it took place less than 40 years ago. But this book is very personal, too, as she speaks about her marriage and other experiences that have shaped her perceptions and illustrate quite clearly the old saying 'the personal is political.' I could go on and on about how terrific this book is, how smart, how inspiring and how touching. Yet the real point is that I think that there's something in it for everyone, and I very highly recommend it. There's a great deal to be learned from this book and I hope that many, many other women and men explore it.
Reviewed in the United States on October 21, 2000 Brenda Feigen's Not One of the Boys does what few memoirs do. It shows that all journeys must come full circle. Starting with her own education at Harvard Law School and the discrimination she bore there, she ends her pages by inviting the daughters of the future to join her in the on-goingstuggle for feminist rights. Writing in prose that is never preachy or pretentious, Feigen, who helped establish Ms magazine, did bidding for the ACLU, assured the passage of the ERA, and gave Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Gloria Steinem the privilege of working with her, asks the reader to retrace her steps, which broke ground for all women every time she put her foot down. This book is a terrific read and a wonderful gift to those who still believe differences can be made by people who have the courage to make them. Brenda Feigen shows readers she has the stuff.
Reviewed in the United States on November 11, 2000
Brenda Feigen gives us an inside look at how it really was ... and she's not afraid to tell the truth about her treatment in Hollywood - horrifying and fascinating at the same time ... and at William Morris. The picture of Ruth Bader Ginsberg gave hope to this reader that the struggle is continuing in high places. I loved all the inside information about the startup of Ms Magazine and the complete legal picture of the progress of women in the last quarter of the 20th century. Read it for the gossip alone.
Reviewed in the United States on October 31, 2000
I loved this brave book. It is wonderful to read a chronicle of the times we grew up in. It read like a history of my life as a feminist, except that I was involved from the sidelines and Brenda Feigen was actually there, not only moving it along but making it up as she went along. Her observations on the future of feminism are worth the price of the whole book. We were, and I trust are, fortunate to have her fighting for us. 6 people found this helpful
Reviewed in the United States on August 19, 2020
Fighting for women’s (and human) rights: Brenda Feigen’s Not One of the Boys by Claudia Moscovici
If young women today harbor any doubts about whether or not the feminist movements in the sixties, seventies and eighties were necessary, I would urge them to read Brenda Feigen’s memoir, Not One of the Boys originally published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2000, which appeared in a new edition in July 2020. This book, as well as the entire history of the feminist movement, starting with the NationalOrganization for Women (NOW) feminist movement, organized in 1966 by Betty Friedan, and the National Women’s Political Caucus, founded in 1971 by Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Jill Ruckelshaus and Brenda Feigen herself, has once again become very topical not only because of the resurgence of political conservatism that endangers many of the values--and gains— feminists had fought so hard to obtain for women, but also because of the new interest generated in this subject by a popular series, Mrs. America. This show, which premiered in April, 2020 on Hulu and FX, finds inspiration in the efforts of second wave feminists (particularly the National Organization for Women) to get Congress to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and the conservative countermovement against the ratification of the ERA bill, led by Phyllis Schlafly (who is magnificently portrayed by actress Cate Blanchett), to counter those efforts.
The ERA bill itself is not a product of the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s. It was born of the suffragist movement that started in 1848 and continued to the 1920’s and it encountered resistance not only from men but also from some women as well, even among feminists. The leading feminist of the times, Alice Paul (leader of the National Woman’s Party) declared women should be regarded as equal to men in all regards, and no sex discrimination should be legal. But another feminist current led by Doris Stevens, the Women’s Joint Congressional Committee, argued that women should have special protections—such as in labor laws--because of their physical differences and different social responsibilities from men. Arguing in this vein, during the 1920’s, Mary Anderson and the Women’s Bureau maintained that regarding women as equal and identical to men was most detrimental to working class women. They claimed that women needed special legislation that mandated safety regulations, restricted working hours and gave them maternity leave, since they were primarily responsible for childcare. Ironically, because the Democratic party was very attuned to working class issues, it was the Republican party that was the main supporter of the ERA bill from the 1950’s until the late 1970’s, when Phyllis Schlafly’s intervention turned conservatives against the bill. This was quite a feat. By the early 1970’s, both Republicans and Democrats were on board with the ERA bill. Thanks in large part to Betty Friedan’s bestselling feminist book, The Feminine Mystique (W.W. Norton & Company, 1963) and the powerful women’s movement that NOW inspired, the ERA bill was gaining momentum, passing both in the House and in the Senate, and was expected to be ratified by the end of the 1970’s in 38 states. In fact, it almost was. By 1977, the ERA had received 35 out of the 38 needed ratifications. Phyllis Schlafly and her conservative women’s group, originally underestimated by the NOW movement, was able to turn this momentum around and even get some states (Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, Tennessee, and South Dakota) to revoke their ratifications. The language of the ERA bill is so simple and minimalist that it is difficult to see what one can object to in it: unless, of course, one believes that sex discrimination is desirable and should be legal. It has three basic parts: “Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.” (Wikipedia)
Feigen played an integral part in the NOW movement and in supporting the ERA, as the National Legislative Vice President of the National Organization for Women. It was a propitious time to militate against sex discrimination. By the 1970’s feminists were no longer split on the ERA bill, as they had been during the 1920’s. In fact, most men and women in general, of both political parties, tended to support a constitutional amendment against sex discrimination. But some women, particularly “housewives”, were nervous about how the ERA bill could be interpreted and applied. Once women were treated as equal to men, would they lose their right to alimony or to primary custody of their children in case of divorce? Would widows lose their Social Security payments? Many of these women had no work experience outside the home and feared that they would not be able to find jobs. Moreover, if the ERA were to be ratified, would women be subject to the draft just like men? Phyllis Schlafly played upon these fears—the fears of mostly middle class widows and divorcees--even though the language of the ERA bill didn’t stipulate that men and women would be treated identically or that women would lose all of their gender-based privileges (such as privacy in single-sex bathrooms and prisons) Schlafly managed to convince a significant portion of conservatives—both women and men—that the ERA bill would be detrimental to their values and tothe interests of middle-class women who didn’t work outside the home and had no independent source of income. While this may have been just fear mongering, the feminist movement, focused as it was on women gaining ground in the workforce on a par with men and eliminating sex discrimination, couldn’t allay these growing fears. Facing criticism from conservatives and from a significant segment of women themselves, the ERA lost support.
And yet, as Brenda Feigen herself was to discover in her own life, such an anti-discrimination bill was not only timely, but also absolutely necessary in American society during the 1960’s and 70’s. In fact, Brenda probably did not view herself as a feminist in college, when she majored at Vassar College with a degree in mathematics, which few women majored in at the time. But once she chose to turn down a full scholarship for a joint J.D./M.B.A. at Columbia University in order to attend Harvard Law School, she started to see the need for feminist activism. In the mid 1960’s, women comprised about 6 percent of students at Harvard Law School. They were explicitly discriminated against and made to feel unwelcome in class from the very first day. Harvard Law School Dean Erwin Griswold greeted the incoming class by stating that the few women in the group were “taking up valuable spots needed by men who, unlike their female counterparts, would have to support families” (Not One of the Boys, 4). This presupposed, falsely, that women weren’t breadwinners or didn’t have families—and, most importantly, their own selves--to support financially. Adding insult to injury, many chauvinistic professors—reflecting the dominant patriarchal values of the times--treated female students like second-class citizens. Feigen recounts that her property law professor, James Casner, designated only one day a week—dubbed “Ladies’ Day”—when female students would be asked questions or encouraged to offer comments during discussions. If women tried to participate on any other day, Casner essentially ignored them and called on male students. Even in that demeaning context of “Ladies’ Day”, Casner took steps to discriminate further against women and make them feel unwelcomed and inferior by narrowing the discussion to so-called feminine topics. As Feigen recounts, “Ladies’ Day in property-law class was spent on two issues: the dower rights to which a widow would be entitled in her deceased husband’s property and who actually owns the engagement ring when an engagement is called off” (Not One of the Boys, 5).
Made acutely aware of sex discrimination at Harvard, in her personal life Feigen made feminist choices. She chose to date a fellow law school student, Marc Fasteau, who shared her values: namely, that women were equal to men and should not be discriminated against or made to feel like second-class citizens. In fact, when they married in 1968, the couple went against the patriarchal tradition of the woman erasing her last name (and, along with it, a big part of her past and identity) upon marriage. They chose an innovative and egalitarian naming option: each of them kept their own last names and adopted each other’s last names. She became Brenda Feigen Fasteau and he became Marc Feigen Fasteau. Together they took on Harvard Law School’s notorious sexism when Feigen noticed a “NO LADIES ALLOWED” sign at the entrance to the library of the Harvard Club of New York. Initially the couple lost the battle, as the board voted to reject their proposal. The newlyweds didn’t give up, however. They took the case a step further, initiating a class action lawsuit against the Harvard Club of New York, suing them for sex discrimination. Five years later a judge ordered the Club to take another vote. This time, in January 1973, the social climate had changed and male students had different views from the board. The Club members voted 2,097 to 695 to admit female students. While this wasn’t a legal victory—since the case never got adjudicated in court—it was a significant social victory for Harvard University alumnae, who now had the same access to the Harvard Club of New York City as their male colleagues.
One of the most interesting aspects of Feigen’s book covers her collaboration with the incomparable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (Ginsburg insisted that Feigen be called Director as well instead of Co-director). In a recent interview with the ACLU, as well as in her memoir, Feigen describes Ginsburg as “a soft-spoken, thoughtful woman, with large, intelligent eyes” who was extremely mission driven in advancing women’s equal rights. She wasn’t into small talk, delving right into discussions of the most interesting legal cases: “Ruth, as far as I could tell, talked, thought, and probably even dreamed about the law any time she wasn’t spending with her husband or children” (ACLU interview, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Me”, Brenda Feigen, May 27, 2020). Interestingly, perhaps due to their awareness of the implicit biases of male judges whenconsidering cases involving sex discrimination against women, they introduced the issue of genderbased discrimination via a case about discrimination against a man: Frontiero v. Richardson. As Feigen recounts in her ACLU article, “Sharron Frontiero, a married Air Force officer, was denied the same housing and medical allowance for her husband that her male cohorts in the Air Force automatically received for their wives. The federal statue providing such allowances for spouses of military personnel stated that while all wives were automatically entitled to such funds, husbands had to prove that they were more than half dependent on their wives for support. Sharron and her husband thought this was unfair.” Ginsburg was allotted ten minutes by the Frontiero lawyer team to argue in favor of equal rights. She not only made a strong case for treating Frontiero’s husband equally as a spouse, but also showed “how men have traditionally viewed women and their role in society by quoting Thomas Jefferson, Alexis de Tocqueville, Blackstone, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Henrik Ibsen, Gunnar Myrdal, and Grover Cleveland, among others.” Feigen, along with the Justices, it seemed to her, were spellbound by the eloquence, force and depth of her arguments. The Frontieros won the case, which would eventually pave the way for many other cases combatting systematic gender discrimination in society and the workplace.
In the conclusion of her book, Feigen considers the important legacy of feminism, which enabled new generations of women to study, work and live as (more) equal to men. There’s still much work left to be done in achieving gender parity (meaning equal power not just equal rights), an issue that has been exposed as very complex. Third wave and, now, fourth wave feminists reminded us that women are never just women: ethnicity, race, class, sexual orientation all play a major role in women’s identities. Keeping this in mind, at times, third wave feminists have argued for cultural relativism, accepting practices in other countries and cultures that would be considered demeaning to women in our society. Feigen, however, rightfully reminds new generations of feminists in the U.S. not to neglect the focus on women in our own country: “Feminism, to me, is about helping ourselves, women, first. It’s not about us women using our power to save others before we save ourselves. Why is it that most women will fight to save anyone with less power than they have—which is very little? Why is it that many feminists today spend time worrying about the plight of women in other countries, from very different cultures and traditions, but they do not also worry that the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, is still totally dominated by men? (285). As the Me Too movement has shown, there’s still so much sex discrimination and harassment in the U.S., even in areas of society and culture—such as the entertainment and news industries—that, for the most part, proclaim liberal egalitarian values. But let us never forget (or take for granted) previous feminist achievements: without the groundbreaking work of second wave feminists like Brenda Feigen, Gloria Steinem, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, women would probably still be second class citizens in America today. It is upon their legacy—and thanks to their struggles and gains--that we continue to build a more equal society for women and men.
Reading Not One of the Boys, you get the feeling that Brenda Feigen really has seen and done it all. Having made it through Harvard Law School at a time when some professors confined taking questions (and answers) from female students to a once-a-semester Ladies Day, she went on to be a cofounder, with Gloria Steinem, of the National Women's Political Caucus and Ms, to work with Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, to run for political office in New York, and to make movies in Hollywood.
This is also a deeply personal memoir. Feigen's account of her relationship with Steinem brings out the complexity of a friendship between two women who have spent their lives fighting--for recognition, equality, and justice (indeed, one of the strengths of the book is the way in which Feigen brings out the differences--and strains--within "feminist" ranks). Her marriage to a marvelously enlightened man gave way to a loving partnership with another woman. She battled breast cancer. She got fired. Feigen's prose bristles with awareness of the sexist injuries perpetrated on a daily basis against women. Hers has been a life of not putting up with them. As a result, it sometimes seems as though she has sued her way through the last four decades.
It is also clear that the fight for women's equality--fought tooth and nail by Feigen and her ilk--is far from over. Women are still routinely paid less than men, subject to assaults of all types, and denied equitable treatment. For the many young women who take the feminist gains of the last 35 years for granted, and do not identify themselves as feminists, Not One of the Boys should be compulsory reading. --J. Riches
Feigen was no stranger to prejudice when she entered Harvard Law School in 1966, having faced anti-Semitism in her hometown of Chicago, but she was still shocked by the viciousness of that lauded institution's sexism. She persevered, however, married a feminist lawyer, and embarked on a high-profile career as a feminist attorney and activist in New York. Close to Gloria Steinem, Jane Alexander, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Feigen became a mother, negotiated a painful divorce, and found true happiness in a lesbian relationship after she brought her feminist principles and legal expertise to Hollywood, which, in the course of chronicling her work as an agent and producer, she energetically characterizes as a morass of sexist conventions. Adventurous, dedicated, dynamic, and matter-of-fact, Feigen prefers straight-ahead exposition and zestful discussions of the issues to psychological revelations, even handling her bout with breast cancer with admirable reasonableness, and her briskly anecdotal account of her many-faceted life neatly documents 35 remarkable years of progress and backlash in the struggle to secure women the rights and respect they deserve. Donna Seaman