Robert Jensen: Can you recall the first time you understood what feminism meant and identified as a feminist yourself?
Ruth Anne Koenick: I am not sure I can define a specific time and, in truth, I am not sure that I totally understand it now. I am the youngest of four children and I was lucky to be raised to be an independent thinker by both my parents. They taught me to question things and that I could be anything I wanted to be, that there were no barriers -- I was as good as anyone else, male or female. Although there were some specific expectations -- go to college, get married and have children -- I was encouraged to have a career
and to make decisions for myself; I never really felt constricted. My mother was an independent woman and, although she did some very traditional things, she also clearly had a mind of her own and was in control of her life in a way that was unique for someone born at the turn of the 20th century. I think some of this came from my father, an immigrant from Russia in 1920 who
lived through the revolution, WWI, the pogroms -- he really was a hippie before there were hippies. He had overcome a lot to make it in this country, and nothing was going to keep him or his family second class.
RJ: Was there a defining moment as you got older?
RAK: When I was actively involved in the anti-war movement of the 1960s, I had an awakening, almost like the old "click" that feminists talk about, when it became clear to me that issues pertaining to women were so intricately intertwined in what we were doing. It was also clear that the men "in charge" gave only lip service to anything that was of importance to women, that we were always at the bottom of the food chain. Like others, I got tired of "making coffee and not policy" and began to look at that movement, my surroundings, and my life in a very different way.
There were other things, such as hassles my husband and I faced because I didn't take his last name. A married couple with different names is not unusual today, but in 1973 it presented real challenges -- banks not giving us credit or not printing both names on a card, a newspaper printing only his name and not mine in my father-in-law's obituary. That was all part of a process that got me to look at the broader picture of how our culture encourages and rewards the subordination of women.
RJ: So, in 1970 you were a student at the University of Maryland with this emerging feminist worldview, and you helped start a rape crisis center on campus. How did that come about? (...)