Pat Carbine: Leading the Feminist Movement Through Journalism
with Pat Carbine of the Ms. Foundation for Women
Launched in 1972, Ms. was the first nationally circulated women’s magazine to bring feminism and the women’s rights movement to the forefront.
Pat Carbine — founding editor of Ms., and one of the founding mothers of the Ms. Foundation for Women — reflects on the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s and how her work was born from that movement.
February 28, 2022
Anderson: In 1972, just months after Congress passed the Equal Rights Amendment and only a few weeks after President Nixon signed Title IX into law, a group of feminist mothers launched Ms., the pioneering magazine that brought a feminist perspective to American households. The following year, several of the magazine's editors -- Gloria Steinem, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Patricia Carbine -- joined forces with actress and activist Marlo Thomas to create the Ms. Foundation for Women. Its mission, to elevate women's voices and create positive change. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. In the 1970s, the women's liberation movement took shape as feminist activists led the charge for equal rights. Ms. magazine and the Ms. Foundation for Women were both born from that movement. And today, I'm joined by one of the founding mothers of the foundation, Patricia Carbine. Pat, thanks so much for being here.
Carbine: Very happy to be here, and I thank you for inviting me.
Anderson: So, we know that 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Ms. magazine. If you could start by just sort of setting the stage for us about how it all came about, where we were as a country, and why Ms. was so necessary and what it led to with the foundation.
Carbine: Well, we were at the end of a tumultuous decade, the '60s. If we think back, there were upsets in every possible direction, including a war and assassinations, et cetera. And it was clear that women were not equal partners trying to make decisions about going forward as a country, unifying as a country. They were watching sons and brothers go to war, and they felt quite powerless. By 1970, it was pretty clear that women needed to find a way to be taken seriously, to take themselves seriously, and to start the hard work of trying to level the playing field. At that point, if you were to look at magazines for women, particularly the service magazines, the editorial content dealt only with domestic life life inside the home. No media really were taking women seriously, and women's magazines were not taking women -- looking at women as full human beings. So it was time for a discussion and some insistence that we try to level the playing field so that women could make choices about their lives. And that's what led to the formation of and the launch of Ms. magazine. Gloria Steinem was running around the country, always with a woman of color. I don't think many people know that. From the get-go, she went on her speaking tours always with a sister speaker. In any case, at the rate they were going, they were never home. They were exhausted. And it was important for us to be able to get important information to women who were hungry for it and had no place to find it. I was sitting as the editor, we'll call it, helping her in whatever way I could, explaining to her what some of the options were. So, here we are at the beginning of the 1970s, and what women needed was a voice that would be taken seriously. So the decision was to try to launch a magazine that was like no other, to make sure it looked like a magazine, to make sure it had advertising, because part of the imagery that women have of themselves, ourselves, is to be found in commercials, in print, et cetera. So it was important to us, to me, that we carry advertising, and it had to be taken seriously. Well, the magazine that we were describing as our dream, our intention, was described as being owned and controlled by women. We thought that if we wanted this magazine to stay true to its promise to potential readers, we had to be the controllers, and women had to be the owners of it. I should also say that I couldn't find a woman with the experience to be the publisher of this. I had been an editor for all of my journalistic life. So I put that hat on and the editor's hat, as well.
Anderson: So, I know that after the magazine launched, you and the other founding mothers established the Ms. Foundation for Women. What did the foundation allow you all to do that the magazine didn't?
Carbine: Here's, as quickly as I can say it, here's how it happened. Gloria -- very, very well known and respected as a leader of the feminist charge -- and I, who was well-respected in the magazine business, the publishing business, had a terrible time raising money. And nobody wanted such a magazine to happen. Nobody thought we could do it. Nobody thought it was worth it. And I remember saying to Gloria one day, "You know, if we are having this much trouble trying to get taken seriously enough so that somebody's going to write us a check to give this a chance, think about the trouble women are having all over the country who have no exposure at all and have projects they need to start and want to start. We really should start a foundation right away, and when we start making money with Ms. -- hopeful -- we can begin to help other people get their projects started." So the Ms. Foundation for Women became a thing in my middle drawer at my desk where it resided for a year. Along came Marlo Thomas with a project that she thought would be just right for the Foundation. And just very quickly, it was her project Free to Be... You and Me. She produced royalties that gave us some funds right away.
Anderson: It's incredible. I know you've talked about pivoting from being a journalist in feminism to being a feminist in journalism. Tell us what that journey looked like.
Carbine: Well, I wish I'd had an editor looking at my comment, because I would have changed it a little bit. I was a journalist who was very often the only woman in the room. I was a journalist who had a hard time persuading my leadership that we ought to be putting men in the same starting positions as we were putting the women. That was not happening. We needed -- As a journalist, we needed to look at feminism seriously, and we needed to explain it, and we needed to get women to understand it. And by the time the tale ends, I was the feminist who was using journalism to try to get women to revisit their hopes and dreams.
Anderson: So, you're speaking about feminism, and that makes me wonder what you sort of make of this whole debate around the fourth wave of feminism. I mean, is this something that we're in? Do you find it useful to talk about waves of feminism?
Carbine: [ Chuckles ] Well, it was useful as we were the second wave, and we had the suffragists to study and to look at and to admire and respect and appreciate. But we were involved in what we thought and think today -- I think today, is a woman's movement. And thinking about the wave question, I thought to myself, "Well, you know, a movement involves movement. And waves move." And I think that part of what we're seeing is as we move from one phase to another, what we're seeing is the unfinished work being approached by new generations and in new ways. And God knows the availability of social media has made a huge difference. Part of what we could really look at easily now is there has been a shortage of attention paid to marginal people, to women of color, to Native Americans, and that part of what's happening now, of course, is that inclusivity is it. And I think it's the right time. If we want to call it the fourth wave, that's fine with me.
Anderson: So, Pat, I know that people are going to want to find out more about the work that the Foundation is doing. What's the website? Where should they go look?
Carbine: Ms. Foundation for Women. And it's a very good website. We are all over the country. Our mission, really, is to have been the supporter and resource for what we call the grassroots, for projects in smaller cities, smaller towns, for -- but to help and stick with our grantees.
Anderson: An incredible life. Incredible work. Pat Carbine of the Ms. Foundation for Women, thank you so much for being here.
Carbine: Thank you, Tetiana. This has been really a pleasure.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.