Women in the '70s, Now in Their 70s, Are the Last Best Hope

By Jamie Stiehm

June 19, 2019 5 min read

WASHINGTON — If you listened to Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark" album, singing the lyrics by heart, then you can accept Elizabeth Warren as your political savior. It was the closest thing a California girl had to a Bible in the '70s. Book characters Nancy Drew and Jo March also buttered a sense of worth in a family of sisters.

If "Diamonds and Rust" by Joan Baez, sang to Bob Dylan, is your forever best bittersweet breakup song, then it's no problem seeing that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has amazing grace.

Her political grace in polarized times is as sure as Dylan's eyes will be robin's-egg blue when his ghost comes again, when the moon is full. This song first shimmered in the 1970s. I remember the first time I heard it cut my mind. Lord Byron would have been green with envy.

Today the '70s are the talk of the political town — the age of President Trump and his top two challengers, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, and the decade Watergate shattered political faith. But there's a parallel narrative — stay with me — a winding way that has led to a new day for Pelosi and Warren, and a newfound place for older women in the culture.

Let me explain.

Baez and Mitchell are in their 70s now. Singer Judy Collins, muse of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" by Stephen Stills, turned 80 this spring.

This trifecta serenaded me from girlhood onward, each a female artist standing free in the world with her guitar and her gorgeous voice blowin' in the wind. They were my travel guides to inner and wider worlds, charting places like Chelsea mornings, where the light poured in like butterscotch. Collins is still singing in concert.

These three are cultural dots who connect in a large canvas of women in their 70s, and who connected us girls in the '70s. We were the first generations to breathe the oxygen of the women's movement.

We were their daughters. My long-haired mother, about Pelosi's age, lived on this pulse. We flew to San Francisco for a day to see the opening of a Judy Chicago art show.

Those in the House Democratic Caucus are swimming in bittersweet salty seas about Pelosi's refusal to impeach President Trump, but they know it has to be her way. They trust her wisdom, of age 79, to find the way out of American democracy's gravest political crisis since, um, the '70s.

Hearing Baez give a fare-thee-well concert this spring sent me spiraling back to good things about the spirit of the '70s for girls and women. It's worth a revival, or at least a revue.

The 1970s was the period when the women's movement flowered. It was when sisterhood was powerful. It was when the inaugural issue of Ms. Magazine arrived at the front door in our Spanish house in Santa Monica, edited by none other than Gloria Steinem. It's when the walls were falling down in the Ivy League and professional schools.

Let's not forget Billie Jean King winning equal pay for women tennis champions or the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made reproductive rights constitutional.

It's when the Equal Rights Amendment was poised for passage but barely lost. Now we have momentum in the air for celebrating the 2020 women's suffrage centennial. The collective #MeToo movement is creating change in the workplace.

Four Democratic women senators are running for president. All are viable candidates, but the oldest, Warren, is running the most energetic and successful early campaign. She turns 70 Saturday.

Comparing Warren to the songstresses of the '70s, you might say her plans are her music. Composed, she's going on the road to play. Voters seem eager to hear her version of possibility in a dry time. She's an American original and, rising out of Oklahoma struggle, she has a touch of folk in her story.

Baez championed the protest song. Collins mastered many keys, stories and colors. "Someday Soon" is a love song to a young cowboy. "Bread and Roses" — "As we go marching, marching" — is an anthem for justice. Mitchell was busy being a genius and didn't protest too much.

The '70s may be forever young for women of a certain age.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit the website creators.com.

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