The Writerly Sisterhood of Women’s Times

It was the 1970s, and I was very young and very lonely.

I was pregnant with my second child. I remember that it was mid-summer, and that I was reading Kate Millett’s Sexual Politics with the book propped on my six-month belly. I recall that the repairmen who I was waiting for were an hour or so late. As I turned each page, my mind swam with the phrases “internal colonization” and “compliant woman. ” These ideas made my “brain hurt.” This phrase would later be used by my university Women’s Studies students— at a much later date, in a state 3,000 miles from where my much younger self was now reading— in reference to my own courses.

Eventually, the cable repairmen came. They were polite. They were deferential. Their eyes rested on my swollen stomach. Their voices were quiet, as if they were in the presence of something they knew they could never understand. It was then that I began to understand that these men were clearly responding to me as a woman—a pregnant woman at that—while I, who had been living in my head all morning long, was responding to them as a person.

It wasn’t until that moment that I truly understood that I had been living my life, first and foremost, as a human who happened to be a woman, while the rest of the world was communicating to me first—and often only—through the lens of my gender. Biology was my psychological destiny.

Later, when I was alone in my own home and once again inside my own brain, this epiphany was so powerful that it propelled me physically forward. I went to our front door, opened the screen, stuck my head out and looked down the empty street, certain that some parade would pass by and, with drums and fanfare, and announce to the world this newly discovered revelation.

And so this is why I found myself, nine days after my daughter was born, sitting on a stack of pillows so my new-birth-stiches wouldn’t hurt, driving to an editorial meeting of Women’s Times, the brainchild of editors Andrea Wandelt and Kathleen Topagna. This newspaper was, at the time, the only free women’s newspaper in the entire country. It was featured in the New York Times and Newsday. And it was located not more than 15 minutes from my house.

I felt excited and exhilarated that I could use my writing talents in an atmosphere of acceptance and creativity. The editors and writers at Women’s Times, many of whom were young mothers themselves, welcomed me as their intellectual equal.

They published several of my first poems, one of which later garnered a fan letter from a woman living in another state.

Not long after, I would become poetry editor. I wrote columns on an old typewriter with my infant daughter falling asleep to the clacking of the keys. I took on the role of public relations liaison, getting a notice in McCall’s magazine. I wrote interviews of notable women writers and businesswomen who lived in our county. During the Bicentennial, I wrote and compiled a primer for children. I helped with distribution, as we all did. Our editorial meetings were stimulating as we discussed, dissected, and debated the issues we felt were the most important ones facing women of our day.

This experience of this “writing sisterhood” has stayed with me my entire career. Those young women writers had confidence in my ability. They viewed my writing and the themes therein as valid and necessary to intellectual discourse. They believed our words could change society in a positive way. They laughed at my jokes. They held my baby. They embraced me as a whole human being who happened to be a wife and a mother, a daughter and a writer.

Lois Roma-Deeley’s most recent full-length book of poetry is The Short List of Certainties, winner of the Jacopone da Todi Book Prize (Franciscan University Press, 2017). She is the author of three previous collections of poetry: Rules of HungernorthSight and High Notes—a Paterson Poetry Prize Finalist.  Roma-Deeley’s poems have been featured in numerous literary journals and anthologies, nationally and internationally. She has served as a creative writing contest judge at the local, state and national levels. Roma-Deeley is  Associate Editor of Presence. She was named U.S. Professor of the Year, Community College, by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and CASE, 2012-2013.  Roma-Deeley is the recipient of a 2016 Arizona Commission on the Arts Grant.