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Magazine editor tells of the days
of blue and white writing paper
March 8, 1999

Much has changed since 1966, when Marcia Ann Gillespie wrote on pink paper because she was a female researcher for a magazine, while the writers, mostly men, wrote on blue paper. "But we still have a long way to go," she told the audience during a lecture on Tuesday held as part of Women's History Month.

Gillespie said the women's movement is not a fixed moment in history, but an ongoing process. She said people assume everything is all right now. "But look at your paychecks. Look at the violence directed towards women. How many women do you see in the House of Representatives?" She challenged the audience to make connections between the past and the present, to cross racial, geographic, and other boundaries, and to discern patterns and systems of oppression.

Gillespie, who is editor-in-chief of Ms. magazine, said that in her experience as an African-American woman, racism and sexism are invariably intertwined. Yet they affect everyone, she said. Gillespie served as Editor-in-Chief of Essence magazine for 10 years before joining Ms. as a contributing editor in the mid-1980s. She said Ms. magazine has gone through some dramatic changes and was recently acquired by an all-female investors' company.

She said that although the position of women has improved over the years, much has yet to be done. For example, men are considered as experts on global issues like nuclear armament, but the voice of women is heard only on subjects deemed "feminine," such as child care. "We don't even exist when it comes to big issues," she said. Similarly, black people are consulted only when issues of race surface, "as if racism were a black problem."

Gillespie, who has written for the United Nations about the impact of HIV on the developing world, is now writing a history of the women's movement for high school students. She said that college is a time for us to "step out of our little circles" and to learn about the lives of other people and issues of the world. We could create a better world if we were committed to change, she said.

Gillespie ended her remarks with a story told her by Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist born a sharecropper in the Mississippi Delta. There was once an old blind woman, who had a reputation as a sage. Two people decided to play a trick on her, by catching a bird and asking her whether it was alive or dead. If she said it was alive, they would smother it; if she said it was dead, they would let it fly away. After thinking for a while the woman replied, "I don't know. All I know is - it's in your hands."

Gillespie told the audience, "That bird is freedom, justice, change, commitment - it's in each one of our hands. We have the ability to let it fly free."

The lecture was sponsored by the Student Union Board of Governors, the Women's Center, and the African-American Cultural Center.

Sonali Arseculeratne