THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
Judith Meuli, 1938 – 2007
“It’s a Matter of Simple Justice.”
A Video History by Martha Wheelock, www.ishtarfilms.com
I keep thinking – of the little girl – including myself when I was a little girl. If things had been open the way they are [now]. As a child I had discrimination all the time, but I didn’t know what it was. And I always acted out my frustrations. I wanted to go to West Point and was told you can’t go, because you’re female. Earlier I had a prom date when I was a freshman and it was a big deal, because shortly after the prom he was leaving to be a page in the White House – in Congress. I said – Gee – I’d really like to do that. He said – girls can’t be pages.
So this was sort of mounting up. And I still was accepting. I was still passive but not so passive that I didn’t know that I was different. I was not thinking in terms of a traditional role for myself. The first issue was when I tried to get into UCLA Medical School.
They Wrote Articles Later About When You Have A “Click”.
And the “click” was, I think – 1966 when I realized that. The assistant dean of medicine told me at that time that as a woman, I’d have to have a 3.6 and I only had a 3.0. But I was teaching surgical procedures at that time to a medical student that had a 2.8. I asked him – what is your grade point? He said 2.8.
Personally, I didn’t get it until 1967, when NOW was just starting and I met Toni Carabillo because they were organizing this group called NOW. And that was my real personal contact – because Toni was not only very charismatic, she was convincing in terms of running for office in NOW locally. I had a lot of frustration until I met with someone that was passionate about something as in NOW. Not only Toni, but also all the women involved were very passionate about justice and equal rights and that sort of thing.
I Could Channel All My Frustrations – Harness that Energy and Organize Within a Movement.
And those first years are brilliant years when you first start – like NOW. And you’re meeting women that cut across all age groups. I was probably one of the younger ones at 30. I come along and – Wow – they wouldn’t let me in med school. So I probably was one of the few that were part of discrimination in education.
The newspapers had job wanted male and job wanted female. And I remember you never looked on the female page for a job. You always went to the men’s page. If you had any education you’d to go to the men’s page. You go and you learn to harness your frustration and organize to change whatever your frustration was. I don’t want to say that they were a group of malcontents, but in reality you have to be discontented with something in order to change it.
You Have to Recognize There’s a Problem.
And then you have to fight. In the 1960s we were still – sort of – well it was a half a dozen people putting out a press release that pointed out that there was a problem with sex segregated want ads. And by putting out a press release and calling a few friends to come, you could have a protest. You could make your signs on your living room floor and show up at the L.A. Times offices in Times Mirror Square and protest. And guess what? It changed. That was one of the many easy laws to change.
If you can get a person, an individual to think in terms of how they can change the environment, then it will channel – it’s a natural follow- up. You don’t have energy to do anything else. And if you’re fighting for things like justice, you don’t have any other energy and you get very serious. It’s harder to have a sense of humor – except for Vagina Monologues and things like that.
It Gives an Individual Meaning.
It’s obvious that we all struggle for meaning – why are we here? And what should we be doing on this earth kind of thing. And I think it hits people at different times. We had the easy part in the beginning of the movement. All we had to do was identify the laws – hit a few people that were passing the laws or could change the laws – lobby a few people – and change the laws. And there we had it – we were done. Now it’s the behavioral change and that takes a long time. For people to think that the movement is needed – [its] crazy.
On the other hand, you don’t have the same battles to fight. That’s why the movement almost has to go global. Because we’ve got it pretty good here and you almost have to point out what’s happening in Darfur or Sudan.
If you talk about my contributions as a team player – I did symbols. I decided that we needed a Women’s Equality symbol. So I did the woman’s sign with an = sign across the inside. That was the first one and I believe it was about 1970 that Betty Friedan gave it to the Pope. He had given her a present so she gave him the woman’s equality sign. There was a picture in Time Magazine of her with my Woman’s Equality pendent. So the Pope had one.
It Didn’t Stop with the Women’s Equality Symbol.
I used to do all the buttons. I did the Matriarchy Lives – it was a double edge axe and the ankh. Remember I had this graphic communications business, so we did a lot of work for other organizations. One other contribution I think I made to the feminist movement is – I got the bills paid. Because Toni was a wonderful political team with Ellie Smeal and they really were 24/7 part of the feminist movement.
I tended to like to be in business and in real estate, so I funded the operation and kept the bills paid. From the beginning – I knew I had found a home. Actually I think a lot of women that joined in that period of time in the late 60s felt they found a home, which is why we’ve fought so hard. First against our enemy and then against each other. It was like – at last we have found the truth. And this is it – this is where we need to be. To 1971 it was one win after another.
There Were so Many Wins and so Many Good Things that Happened.
That most of us were pretty happy about – boy were we good. That’s the first chill you get. And then there were other times when we won the extension – that was pretty exciting. Toni and I were in the gallery – the senate for the vote. And when we came down those stairs it was just so exciting to have won in the senate – the extension. Toni and I did the feminization of power exhibit. That was based on the book we did in 88. The tour was to get more women to run for office.
After all these inspirational speeches and the movie – we’d get them all inspired. And we copied what these religions do – “come on down – come down to the stage – we want you to pledge to run for office”. We got a lot of women to run for office. It was just terrific. In 1971 Betty Friedan gave her papers to the Schlesinger Library in Radcliff College and made that the official depository of NOW. So I thought – well – they better get all the papers that I’ve got. Because having been editors of the National NOW Times we had a lot of the papers that no one else had.
I Think the Changes Were so Positive and I Want to Continue to Contribute.
And one of the ways that when you reach my age or health – just turned 69 – one of the ways to contribute is to think ahead and write something in your will to donate money to one of the local women’s studies or endow a chair, if you’ve got that much money or just send a check to NOW. I’m sure there are little girls that are being discriminated against. And I just feel that there are always people that will donate for little boys but they don’t donate for little girls. And that’s why I feel that any woman that is in the movement should be thinking ahead. So that little girl is helped in some way.