Our Daily Lives page presents excerpts of women’s autobiographies, essays, letters, journals, diaries, oral histories and testimony, with the hopes our readers will respond to the authentic emotions and ideas, see a connection to their own lives, and write or email us a note. Women’s Enews will post selected reactions from our readers for all to read.
This month, Our Daily Lives page brings you excerpts from the autobiography of Brenda Feigen recently published by Knopf.
Feigen was among the feminist elite of the 1970s. A graduate of Harvard Law, Feigen worked with now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on ground-breaking cases, including one that went to the nation’s highest court. This excerpt describes an event that occurred shortly after Feigen accepted a job as a lawyer in the business affairs department of the William Morris Agency.
Excerpt From “Not One of the Boys: Living Life as a Feminist”
They offered me a respectable salary and told me to let them know as soon as possible. I was excited enough about the offer of an actual paying job that I called Marc–even though we were “separated,” we were still living together–from the lobby of the William Morris building. He enthusiastically supported my taking the job.
My new office was small, but it had a window that opened, which would be important during the summer, when cold air-conditioning roars through Manhattan office buildings.
My education in the ways of the Industry was about to begin. I knew how to draft and negotiate contracts, which is what I’d been hired to do, but I had a lot to learn about Hollywood, its denizens and their ways of doing business. I also realized that there had been just one woman in the Business Affairs Department and now there would still only be one woman lawyer in the whole New York office.
One day, shortly after I started my new job, a woman appeared at the door of my office and asked if she could come in. I recognized her as the secretary of a TV agent for whom I had just renewed a contract. As she entered, she shut the door behind her.
“I was working late one night, because Dan* said that this deal was important. He was in his office, and eventually he buzzed the intercom and told me to come into his office. And then,” she said, tears coming to her eyes, “he bolted the door shut. And he raped me,” she gasped.
I stammered out something like “Oh, I’m so sorry. That bastard.” I asked her if she had called the police.
“I needed to think. I was afraid of losing my job.”
“Did you talk to management?”“Oh, yes. About a week later I went into Mr. Stevens’s office. I told him what happened.”
“And he told me that if I signed this paper they gave me and never told anyone what had happened to me, they’d send me around the world on a cruise.”
“Yes. And they promised to demote Dan.”
I wasn’t sure what kind of demotion she meant, since Dan was still at the agency, making deals and bringing in a good portion of the TV Department’s revenue.
* not his real nameBrenda Feigen was born in Chicago. She earned degrees at Vassar College in 1966 and Harvard Law School in 1969. She practiced law in New York and worked as a motion picture and literary agent, in addition to her work in the Women’s Movement. She served as legislative vice president of NOW, cofounded Ms. magazine with Gloria Steinem and directed, with Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Women’s Rights Project with the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1987, she shifted her focus to Hollywood, where she produced a film for distribution by Orion Pictures and worked with Jane Fonda on a feature for MGM and on films for CBS, ABC and Warner Bros. While maintaining her New York-based law practice, in California she serves as a literary manager and as copresident of and general counsel to Reel Life Women, a production company. This year, she also served as manager of Entertainment Goes Global, a joint project with the Annenberg School for Communications Norman Lear Center and the Pacific Council on International Policy. She is on the board of California Lawyers for Arts and has been a contributor to the Harvard Law Bulletin, Harvard Women’s Law Journal, Ms., Vogue and the Village Voice.