We seem to think that things have always been the way they are now, that girls have always been strong, that they’ve always been valued and studied and written about. That they’ve always been treated with the respect that they deserve, on a level with the boys. That they’ve always had the opportunities that they have now.
We forget that the Pill has not always been available, that a girl couldn’t always just go to the doctor or a clinic and go “on it” if she wanted to.
We think that a girl has always had a choice, that abortion has always been available, if not legal, and that a girl could find a place to go to get one if she needed to, if it ever came to that.
We think that a girl would know about her own body. That she’d know what she needs to know about sex and reproduction, about the risks of pregnancy and disease.
We think that a girl would know when a man was taking advantage of her. That she would know who to tell, that she would know how to tell.
We think that if a girl went missing, somebody would try to find her. They’d put out an alert, they’d put up fliers, they’d put her face on a milk carton, she’d be in the computers, she’d be on television, somebody would look for her, if she disappeared.
We think that if a girl was killed, if she was found dead, the police would try to find her killer. Somebody would be arrested. Somebody would be charged. Somebody would pay.
We think that if a woman was married to a man who performed illegal abortions for money that paid for her house and her food and her clothes, she would feel some responsibility if one of those abortions ended in the death of a girl. We think that she would step forward and say something to somebody then. And we think that the people who knew this woman and her husband, those who were well aware of what he did and what he’d done, her family and her friends and the members of her church, we think that they’d come forward, too, and say something to somebody when what was left of the girl’s body was discovered four months later, hands and feet bound with rope.
We think that if a man preyed upon girls, if he drove his car around the neighborhoods looking for them, if he found one and invited her into his house and offered her money for sex, if he offered her a job at his brother-in-law’s strip club, if she was underage—somebody would know, somebody would stop him, somebody would put him in jail.
We think that if a black boy fell in love with a white girl, it would be okay, nobody would mind. We suppose the black girls would find a way to welcome this white girl into their circle of friends. We think they wouldn’t hate her for taking one of their boys. We think they wouldn’t want to see her dead. We think the white boys wouldn’t hate the black boy. We think they wouldn’t burn a cross in a black doctor’s front yard. We think they wouldn’t threaten him. We think they wouldn’t tie an unpopular girl’s dog to the back of their truck, set it on fire, drag it through the street, past her house.
We believe that if a girl dreamed of becoming a model, she could do that. We think she could set off on her own, leave town, go to modeling school, if that’s what she wanted to do. We think her friends would encourage her. We think her family would help her out. We think they’d loan her the money, they’d support her ambition, they wouldn’t think she was crazy to hope that she could be something other than what her sister was—married at eighteen to her high school boyfriend and already pregnant with his kid.
We think that by the time she’s eighteen, a girl is already a woman. We think that she can vote. We think that she’s not a minor, that she can sign a contract, that she can get a loan, that she can get a credit card, that she can get a job that pays more than the minimum wage.
But in 1970, none of this was true. In 1970, Feminism as we know it was only just beginning. Girls in college were still called co-eds. Few people knew who Gloria Steinem was. Ms. Magazine wasn’t published until 1971.
In 1970, you couldn’t get the Pill unless you were married, and abortion was illegal in every state except California and New York. The Catholic church had just decreed that anybody who assisted in providing a girl with an abortion, legal or not—by loaning money, by driving her to a clinic, by holding her hand, by giving her support—would be excommunicated from the church. Roe v. Wade didn’t legalize abortion until 1973.
Girls didn’t go to law school or to med school in 1970. Most girls didn’t even go to college then. Girls still took “home economics” classes in 1970. They learned how to cook and sew and keep house.
In 1970, girls learned about their bodies in “health class.” There they learned about menstruation and hygiene. They weren’t told about birth control. They weren’t supposed to want to have sex, and they were told not to have it until after they were married. They learned that if they did have sex, and they did get into trouble, that would be their own fault, because they had been warned.
In 1970, white girls didn’t go out with black boys, or if they did, they were treated like trash by both communities.
There were no computers in 1970. There was no internet with websites devoted to missing girls. There was no such thing as an “Amber Alert.” There was no place like Kinko’s where you could go and make a hundred photocopies of a flyer with a missing girl’s face on it to staple to telephone poles around town. There were no pictures of missing girls on milk cartons in 1970. A missing girl was not news enough to make even a mention in the local paper or on the radio or TV.
There was no talk about pedophilia or incest or sexual abuse or battered wives in 1970.
In 1970, a girl could be murdered, and her body could be dumped in the woods like so much garbage. The police could go about the business of trying to figure out what had happened to her, and when it was determined that she’d died of a botched abortion, that would be that. Even if the doctor who had performed the abortion was known to them. Even if the men who tied her up and threw her in the woods, left her there to bleed, to die of exposure and then rot away until she was just a skeleton, a carcass fed upon by rats and dogs, even if the men who did this to her were also known.
It would be as if it were the girl’s own fault, as if she had brought it on herself. Because she fell in love with a black boy. Because she let herself get pregnant by him. Because she went for an illegal abortion. Because she put herself into the hands of an evil man. As if by making these choices for herself, this girl had thrown away her own life and only got what she deserved.