Our History

Jackie Tapes End Where a Transformation Began

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The release of Jackie Kennedy's early tapes gives Caryl Rivers a chance to wonder at how the glamorous first lady's conventional attitudes about marriage and women's social roles evolved as her life went on.

Caryl Rivers(WOMENSENEWS)--Coverage of Jacqueline Kennedy's 47-year-old tapes has focused on her sharp eye on the world's powerful figures, from Indira Gandhi to Charles de Gaulle to Martin Luther King.

The images on the ABC television special that accompanied the tapes were of iridescent youth and glamour. (Jackie's daughter, Caroline, authorized the release of the long-private tapes this year, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of her father's presidency.)

But what struck me--and I suspect many other women as well--is how far this woman traveled in a remarkable life. She went from being a beautiful and decorative first lady to someone in charge of her own life, working in a field she loved, raising her children to become admirable adults and setting her own agenda about how much of herself she would share with the public.

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The Jackie of the tapes was very young, and despite her seeming sophistication, very much in thrall to ideas of marriage that today seem strange and antique.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd referred to her as a "geisha," and while that's an overstatement, she did give voice to what many people considered the proper role of a woman in that era.

Jackie referred to her union with JFK, approvingly, as both "Victorian" and "Asiatic." She said wives should get their ideas from their husbands and saw women who wanted power in their own right as unfeminine and unnatural.

In those days ambitious women were said to suffer from "penis envy," and as a 1947 bestseller proclaimed, modern women were "The Lost Sex." A passage from that book: "Male-emulating careerists have such anxiety about pregnancy that their glands secrete chemicals that destroy fertility."

In those days, nobody chortled at the idea of egg-stomping ambition.

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I think this article is too flattering by far. It offers nothing new and re-casts a social climbing Jackie as some kind of heroine while actually she married two philanderers, probably for the money, before she ever began living her "independent" life. While she came from what could be termed the upper class, it's my understanding that her family was pretty impecunious. In order for her to have the life she wanted, she had to make her "Victorian" and "Asiatic" marriages, and to take the humiliation of philandering husbands that a truly independent woman who believed in her own equality would never stand for in order to cmake sure she had enough money to live the life she aspired to without having to marry another similar man. This whole Camelot thing is too saccharin for my taste. I don't find it all that noble or romantic, or interesting, that a woman of her era did exactly what women of her era were expected to do--marry up--and that when her second marriage ended she made sure she got buckets of cash sufficient to keep her in style for the rest of her life. That she worked is lovely, but most women would never have had the opportunities that allowed her to find her first job in publishing. Again, privilege worked for her. I don't begrudge her, I just think this article is a sorry piece of the same fluff we've all heard/read for decades. I would think you could have done better.