Season 1

Feminist Files: Episode 10 – The Finale: Bring it On
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As we come full circle, Bunny’s unique form of activism takes flight, while Rora makes a connection that changes her life forever as she walks through the Title IX office doors – doors her Aunt Bunny helped created – after she is sexually assaulted. Though Rora was unable to share her story with Bunny, she is inspired to channel it through her senior thesis play and tell Bunny through her art.




Leigh: For Bunny Sandler, it all started in 1969 with 13 words that ended her dreams of becoming a college professor.

Alex: Well, let’s face it, Bunny. You come on too strong for a woman.

 Leigh: Which led her to the discovery of a footnote.

 Jodie: I literally screamed. Ah! You know, that kind of thing, because most universities have federal contracts.

 Leigh: Which led her to the Office of Federal Contract Compliance.

 Mercedes: Office of Federal Contract Compliance.

 Leigh: Which led her to Vincent Macaluso, who worked for the Department of Labor. He knew about the executive order and had been waiting for somebody to call.

 Chris: You gather the information, and I’ll help file the lawsuits. Show them the data, and you’ll change the world.

 Leigh: Which led her to start filing complaints against universities, charging sex discrimination.

 Jodie: I did a quick survey at the University of Maryland, pretending I was doing research, and they gave it to me. And so we were on our way.

 Leigh: Which led to a mention in the Saturday Review of Literature.

 Jodie: I don’t know if you remember the Saturday Review of Literature. It was sort of like a fancy book review with good articles. It came out on Saturdays, and the Saturday Review of Literature puts something in maybe two or three sentences. And it has my name in it, my name in print.

 Leigh: Which led women all over the country to contact her.

 Margo: Dear Dr. Bernice Sandler, as regards to your recent press release.

 Mercedes: I read with interest in the Saturday Review of Literature.

 Jules: I have decided to write to you in the hope that you might be able to help me.

 Ryan: I’m writing to you in desperation.

 Leigh: Can you help me file a complaint? I thought I was the only one.

 Jodie: We were getting lots of horror stories.

 Leigh: Which proved they were not alone.

 Jodie: Now this was proof that it wasn’t individual bad experiences. It was a pattern of discrimination.

 Leigh: And which led Bunny to start bringing class action complaints from her kitchen table.

 Jodie: So we were filing complaints like crazy.

 Victoria: Dear Bunny. The most important thing that has happened in the movement in two years, you’ve got a new typewriter. I noticed, however, that it needs a new ribbon.

 Leigh: Which led to a mention in The New York Times front page.

 Mercedes: Dear Bunny. I was pleased to see that The New York Times has finally reported on your work.

 Leigh: Which led her to meet Phineas Indritz.

 Jodie: P-H-I-N-E-A-S I-N-D-R-I-T-Z. He was an attorney on the Hill.

 Leigh: An environmental lawyer who was also a professional juggler, who used to juggle on the steps of the United States Capitol.

 Jodie: Here I am a little Jewish girl from Flatbush. Someone on the Hill, you know, an attorney wants to talk to me.

 Leigh: Which led her to meet Edith Green.

 Jodie: So I’m filing complaints like mad, and Edith Green gets interested. She decides she’ll introduce a bill.

 Leigh: Which led her to testify before a congressional subcommittee.

 Mercedes: Section 805 of H.R. 16098 to prohibit discrimination against women in federally assisted programs and in employment and education.

 Leigh: Which led her to meet many significant and exceptional activists—consequential feminists—including Pauli Murray.

 Samira: Dear Bunny. It’s a great time to be alive and to be associated with women like you and so many others who are in the movement today. When you’re written up in the history of this era, they should refer to you as the little woman who started the academic sex revolution.

 Leigh: Which led her to work for Edith Green and lobby Congress with their findings from the hearings: 1,200 pages of testimony from 89 witnesses.

 Jodie: It’s an official record. Everything was in the Congressional Record.

 Leigh: Which led in 1972 to the addition of 37 words being slipped into the higher education bill.

 Jodie: Mrs. Green’s bill is still in markup. I don’t know what the chances are since the bill—the higher education bill—is in flux.

Leigh: Title IX was originally Title X in the larger education bill. But when one of the articles was struck from the bill, Title X became Title IX. And because this time they didn’t lobby.

 Jodie: And she said, don’t. She did not want us to lobby. And she said, if anybody finds out what’s in this bill, they’re going to oppose it. She says, you know, trust me, you don’t need to lobby. It’s going to pass. And she was absolutely right.

 Leigh: Very few people knew it was there. And it was signed by President Nixon the day after Hurricane Agnes blew through—a hurricane so powerful they retired the name.

 Jodie: Nobody was watching. I mean, it was the people in higher ed. It was the athletics people. It was also the Department of Labor. They were not watching, and they were very surprised after Title IX passed.

Leigh: Which led to the fight over the regulations, the rules by which Title IX would level the playing field, and the defeat of the Casey Amendment in 1975.

 Jodie: There was all kinds of opposition. I mean, there’s the psychological opposition, the recognition that this is going to change the power balance in my life. And I’m a big person, and these little upstart women are going to take over or try to take over. This is…this is a gut reaction. I mean, we were knocking down cherished beliefs.

Leigh: And Bunny staffs up to talk to people, to provide information, to ensure that women understand their rights.

Jodie: Women were beginning to organize. When I started and I knew almost every woman in the country who was working to do something about this, but there were so few of us. As time went on, I mean, you begin to get women talking to each other and developing networks around women’s issues. This was new in the ’70s on campus.

Leigh: And Bunny, well, Bunny is just getting started. Bunny’s activist career is about to take flight, which will earn Bunny a place in history as the Godmother of Title IX.


 Leigh: From Frequency Machine and Leigh Fondakowski comes the story of the 1972 landmark legislation for women’s equality in education: 37 words that would change the world.


Leigh: Join me and an ensemble of actors as we discovered the stealth politics of Title IX. This is Feminist Files episode 10, “The Finale: Bring It On.”

I’ve gotten to know Great Aunt Bunny through the stories that Rora has told me and also from the papers that Bunny left behind in the archive at the Schlesinger Library—in particular, the oral history that was conducted by the scholars at the University of Indiana in 2004. It’s a two-part interview, a 90-page transcript. In the oral history, Bunny put it like this:

Jodie: What I’ve learned about myself is I’m a very good, clear technical writer. I’m not a literary writer, but I can write and people know what it means. And so I was able to provide information to people who had no other source.

Leigh: This is Bunny’s great niece Rora Brodwin.

Rora: She gets hired by the Association of American Colleges.

Leigh: How Bunny got hired is a great story.

Rora: She was working with a coalition. They were working on something, and the Association of American Colleges asked to speak with them. And so they like had this meeting, and at some point someone says: Look, we’ll talk to whoever your senior woman director is. And there was kind of like a pause in the room where the Association of American Colleges looked around, and they’re like they had no women in positions of leadership. And then when everyone in the room realized that they had no women, the team stood up. And they’re like, all right, well get back to us when you’ve hired someone. And then they left. And so the Association of American Colleges created a position that Bunny started in, and then she was able to hire her own team.

Jodie: And one of the reasons I got hired by the Association of American Colleges was because I had worked for Edith Green. This meant I was not a crazy women’s libber. I was legitimate, so I was an expert. I became an expert.

Rora: And that’s what she spent the rest of her career doing was researching these issues. She found her calling in a lot of ways, but it was hard for her to step into that role. And she never fully made herself like an in-your-face radical person at all. She called herself a feminist, absolutely. And, you know, would absolutely go on marches. You know, all those sorts of things. She ended up making a ton of buttons. She just like ordered buttons, and then she would leave them everywhere.

Leigh: Bunny is rather cunning, we’ve established that. She flies under the radar when necessary. She resorts to subterfuge.

Rora: Bunny wore her wedding ring for years, even after she was divorced from Jerry, which happened in 1978. And she would always hold her left hand over her right arm, so that when she was talking to a man, he would see the wedding ring and he would trust her more. She was very good at using existing…like respectability…to kind of slide under the radar and do her thing. And her story is littered with little anecdotes like that. Which I love.

Leigh: The oral history was conducted in 2004 when Bunny is 76 years old. One of the stories that jumped out at me—a nice metaphor for Bunny’s activism—the idea of flight.

Jodie: There was a group called the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL), which was developed by a woman named Elizabeth Boyer. Also known as Betty Boyer, B-O-Y-E-R from a little town, Novelty, Ohio.

Leigh: In 1969, when Bunny started out on her activist journey, she attended a conference in Ohio of the Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL), her first women’s conference. Her husband Jerry was there to support her, because she was afraid to fly.

Jodie: I went out to a conference in Ohio, what I think was their first national conference. I was afraid to fly, you know. My then husband came to hold my hand, because I was terrified of flying. He was very supportive of women’s issues.

Leigh: Bunny only ever refers to Jerry in the 2004 oral history as my then husband. She never refers to him once by name. I only know anything about Jerry, even his name, from talking to Rora.

Rora: They didn’t get divorced until ’78. So there were many years of them not having a great marriage, but at this time, ladies didn’t get divorced. And she, still being a lady…she would have felt that she failed in some way if her marriage failed.

Leigh: Obviously, no marriage fails for a single reason, but Bunny’s feminist activism certainly was a part of it.

Rora: What Bunny talks about is that when she started to bring this stuff up, he would say, you know: Oh well, you don’t want to cook. Well, let’s just eat out. And Bunny’s like: What eat out three, four times a week? And he’s like: Sure. And Bunny’s like: That’s not a solution, you know.

My understanding is that his sense of his own manliness was not to cook and pick up the girls from school and do all these chores. And that, you know, the idea of changing that was really threatening to him and to his understanding of his own manhood. How sad that he couldn’t grow, you know. How sad that that’s where he left it, right.

Leigh: I asked Rora if Bunny ever remarried after Jerry.

Rora: She did not. She never had another significant partner that I know of, which is interesting. I think that she had come to define herself by her work.

Leigh: And then years later after Title IX, Bunny’s fear of flying was still with her. It’s a serious fear and not an easy one to master. And in the oral history, Bunny tells this story.

Jodie: And then as I started giving speeches, which I didn’t do initially, because I was terrified of flying. You want to hear a nice story? Can I…can I digress for a minute? I was absolutely terrified of flying. I had done it a couple of times, and I sure didn’t want to do it again. And so when people would ask me to come out to Iowa, I would say: Oh, I’m so busy now or whatever.

And there was a wonderful Black woman who I’d worked with. She was with the NAACP, a tall woman with enormous personal dignity—strength and dignity simultaneously. And she called me and said: We’re having a conference in Houston for trainers, and we’d like you to give a major address. I said: Oh yeah, I’d like to do that. I said: Is there a train that goes to Houston? And she said: Why are you looking for a train? I said: Well, you know, I don’t fly. And everybody was very sympathetic, and she did just the opposite. She said, this was a direct quote. She said: “Listen, girl, you want to stay in the women’s movements, you learn to fly or get out.”

Now, I’d never seen her angry incidentally. I mean, I’d seen her angry, you know, in terms of civil rights. But, boy, that did it, and I flew to Houston.

Leigh: When I read this story, I imagined Bunny with her monogrammed suitcase, nervously boarding the plane to Houston. She’s got her paper ticket booked through a travel agency, like you had to do back then—smoking or non-smoking, window or aisle. This is going to be her first time flying solo. So maybe she requested a seat in the smoking section of the plane, you know, just to calm her nerves. There will be a stewardess in a tight-fitting dress, offering her a drink on a tray and later a hot meal: chicken or fish. She’s got a book to read, two books probably, and the morning newspaper. If she can just get through the takeoff and landing part, you know—when the engine roars and the plane shakes, when her stomach churns and her ears pop—she checks to make sure there’s a barf bag in the seat pocket in front of her. She closes her eyes and grips the arm rest, you know, with that little astray built in. You can do it, Bunny. I know you can.

You see the reason this is important is that, by getting over her fear of flying, Bunny began traveling around the country, giving speeches and talking with people. She’s on a speaking tour, but she’s also on a listening tour. And this is when Bunny’s particular brand of activism begins to take flight.

Jodie: The reason I mentioned flying around to different places though was important, because I talked to people. This is how I got ideas. As I went from campus, I’d give a talk or two or three or four or five or whatever, but I’d always meet with women, because women were usually arranging for me to come. And I would hear the stories. And when I kept hearing the same story, I figured it out. I’ve got to write about this. I mean, that’s how I knew about sexual harassment. That’s how I learned about gang rape. That’s how I learned about the chilly climate. I just kept hearing, you know…you keep hearing the same story in very different settings. You say, this is apparent that something’s going on here. And I think I learned a lot that way from other people telling me their stories.

Leigh: Bunny had trained her ear to listen for patterns, patterns of discrimination, and to name it.

Rora: Her strength has always been channeling everyone else’s voices into a nature of reality that you…that you cannot resist. I mean, of course, reality always existed, but people didn’t understand it and didn’t call it for what it was. And so she changed the nature of reality by channeling hundreds of thousands of voices.

Leigh: The evolution of Title IX is really the evolution of Great Aunt Bunny’s life. It shows us how she became an activist and how her view on discrimination expanded and how her world expanded too.

Jodie: Because I think what…what has happened over the years is we’ve gone beyond those walls, those areas that we knew were discriminatory. And we’ve added women’s health. We’ve added sexual harassment. We’ve added campus rape. We’ve added a whole bunch of things, you know, well beyond education. Because I think our view of discrimination that started out rather small is now the whole world, essentially, so huge, huge changes with that. And the project lasted 20 years. You know, it was a good time.

Rora: It’s a neverending struggle. And she knew that and was very comfortable with it by the end of her life. I’ve always seen her as…like a conduit for everyone else, which is a tremendous gift and a very different gift than sharing your own story.

Jodie: The project has been disbanded since 1990, and newsletters are disappearing and going on the web. So it’s a very different thing, but I was an expert. I became an expert.

Rora: She had an inkling that it would affect sports, but no one understood kind of how dramatically it would affect sports.

My generation associates it entirely with sexual assault, sexual harassment stuff, because the Title IX coordinators…which were Bunny’s idea…to have Title IX coordinators at each school to help implement this stuff. The Title IX office is the place that you go to if you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment. So that’s how a lot of people know it today. And it will be used for like transgender rights later on.

Most of the early legal battles were about sports. And so there were like maybe five to ten important court cases that defined how Title IX would be implemented after it came out.

Jodie: Does it cover employment? It took a court case to find out if it did. It did. It’s a good court case to find out if you could sue under Title IX. It took a court case to find out if sexual harassment was covered. And these are all Supreme Court cases. And it took another one, you know, does it cover student to student harassment? It does.

Leigh: That oral history was conducted in 2004. Bunny’s memory is still very much intact.

The interviewers are closing out the interview for the day, and Great Aunt Bunny adds this.

Jodie: The other thing I wanted to say is: If I hadn’t been there, we would have gotten something like Title IX, but we would have gotten it later. Someone else would have figured out something. People would have complained. Edith Green would have met people, and eventually we would have gotten Title IX. But by then, they would have known about athletics. If we got it later, there would have been more exemptions, and there would have been more opposition. But because I came early, I mean, it wasn’t a deliberate plan in that sense, but it was being there and getting involved, really. So I think that is important to note.

Leigh: So after Title IX passed, what became of Edith Green?

This is a curious point of history. In spite of her long tenure and many accomplishments, Edith Green was not exactly happy with all the results of Title IX. She was distressed that it might lead to coed gym classes and coed dormitories when her intended focus had been on admissions and hiring. So in December 1974, she resigned from Congress and returned to Oregon. She was in many ways more conservative than many of her Democratic colleagues.

Case in point: Patsy Takemoto Mink, co-sponsor of the bill, who picked up the mantle of Title IX after Edith Green left. And because men woke up to the true implications of Title IX, Patsy Mink was tasked with beating back the many attempts in Congress to weaken Title IX and exempt men’s football. What became of Patsy Mink?

Remember the floor speech that Patsy Mink gave in 2002 on the 30th anniversary of Title IX.

Amy: While the story of Title IX is a story of celebration, it is also a story of struggle to defend it against persistent challenges. There is a clear pattern of repeated attempts to weaken or undermine Title IX from the very beginning. For 30 years, we have constantly needed to be on guard to defend it.

Leigh: And then Patsy Mink added this.

Amy: One of the most notable successes was the tremendous victory by the US women’s soccer team in the 1999 Women’s World Cup.


Amy: Hundreds of thousands of spectators attended the games, and millions more watched on television. These strong, disciplined, and exciting athletes drew record-breaking audiences, inspired a whole new generation of girls to pursue their dreams, and captivated a nation. Mia Hamm, one of the team’s brightest stars, was born in 1972, the same year that Title IX was signed into law. Without Title IX, she and many of her teammates may have never had the opportunity to develop their talents and pursue their dreams.  

Leigh: Representative Mink gave this floor speech on July 19th, 2002. A little over a month later, she would be hospitalized in Honolulu due to complications from chickenpox. And a month after that, she died in Honolulu of viral pneumonia at the age of 74. I spoke to her daughter, Wendy Mink, about what happened next.

Wendy Mink: It was immediately following her death in 2002. And I was not present. It was literally like within days of her passing away, the House initiated this kind of move to honor her. There were speeches and a vote, but that particular phase of my life is a giant fog. And I have never had the fortitude to go back and examine the details of that month. 

Leigh: October 2002, Congress passed a resolution to rename Title IX the Patsy Takemoto Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, which was signed by President George W. Bush. Patsy Mink was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. 

Wendy Mink: There’s this phrase in Japanese or a word in Japanese. I don’t know the exact translation but ganbatte, which is you just…you just kind of go fight for it. You know, you go for broke and do that good thing. And I remember that sort of emanating from her persona when I was a child.

Mink: We’re just at the very beginning stages, I think, of this whole movement to reawaken the sense of equality in this country.

Leigh: That was Patsy Mink. How can it be, so that two decades later, we would find ourselves still at the beginning?

Hold that thought a moment while we take a brief intermission.


Leigh: One of the things that interested me about Title IX is that it’s not self-executing. It’s a law that has to be used. It’s a tool that has to be picked up and used. This is Wendy Mink.

Wendy Mink: The grassroots nature of the policy requires and empowers girls and women, who are students or faculty or staff in educational institutions, to use it as a lever to advance their own equality. And if nobody states a claim for equality under Title IX, then Title IX will fall into total disuse, because it’s not self-executing. It’s not a command. It’s a promise of non-discrimination, but the person who suffers the discrimination has to speak up very often for the discrimination to be vindicated, to be taken care of.

Leigh: And how it will be used by future generations is a story yet unwritten.

Wendy Mink: Every generation, every cohort of students, needs to know about Title IX. Needs to know what their rights are, what they can claim, how they can contest the boundaries of Title IX to make it include more stuff that would make life more fair for girls and women and for boys and men too in education.

Leigh: In 2009, when Rora Brodwin was in the seventh grade, she interviewed her Great Aunt Bunny for a school report for Ancestor Day.

Rachel: I’m going to be making a poster on that, and I’m going to be writing a five-paragraph essay on that.

Bunny: You know what I should send you? And I haven’t, I haven’t done this, but I definitely will do it. Let me make myself a note. I can send you some, uh, two Title IX buttons.

Rachel: Oh.

Bunny: Yeah.

Leigh: Rora Brodwin was still called Rachel when she was in the seventh grade.

Bunny: Rachel, if anyone had said to me, before I got started in this, you know, you’re going to change this whole country. You’re going to be giving speeches all over the place. I just would’ve giggled.

Rachel: Yeah.

Leigh: Years later in 2017, Rora sits down with Great Aunt Bunny for another school project. This time a theater project, her senior thesis to graduate from Yale.

Rora: I started to ask her these questions my senior year. And I was like, oh, thank God. I get to ask her these questions. And at the same time, she was starting to lose her memory at that point.

Leigh: When Rora sat down as a college senior to talk to her Great Aunt Bunny, it was 2017, the first year of Donald J. Trump’s presidency and the last year of Great Aunt Bunny’s life. When Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, Bunny’s family was afraid to tell her.

Rora: She had been really struggling the last couple years. She had chemo for multiple myeloma a couple of years before she died. And one of the side effects of that can be just like a foggy brain. So she started to have like really bad memory loss. And she wasn’t able to do the work by which she defined herself. And she became really depressed. She loved working, and when she couldn’t do it, it was really hard for her.

Leigh: Bunny’s family had hoped that the real possibility that a woman would finally break through that hardest and highest glass ceiling would cheer Bunny up—would bring Bunny’s life full circle somehow.

Rora: When Trump was elected, her daughter called her and was, you know, very, very upset. She hoped that Bunny would see a woman president in her lifetime.

Leigh: When Bunny heard the news that Hillary had lost, Bunny’s response shocked everyone.

Rora: And Bunny was surprisingly not that upset and said: You need to take the high road and the long view. She had a kind of serene faith that with hard work and determination and a lot of people, you know, the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice.

Leigh: That was Bunny’s view.

Rora: One of the things that Bunny said—that I love is—she said: After Title IX was passed, I thought it would end sex discrimination within a year or two. After two years, I thought 10. After 10, 20. Then I finally realized that it was a pervasive problem that would take more than my lifetime to accomplish.

Bunny passed away at 90, beloved. In her final days, a caretaker and dear friend told her: I will be with you until the very end. Bunny said: That’s okay, I can do this by myself.

Leigh: We have their papers and recordings in the archive, but we won’t always have those who remember them. Maybe this is where the art of storytelling comes in.

Rora: I just started writing things down to try and figure out how to make a play of all this. And then over the course of starting to write, I realized that the…the power of a one-woman show is that it’s…that I am her family member and I get to stand in front of people and say I knew her. And I loved her. And here’s who she was to me. And here’s what I’m grappling with and what I’m thinking about. And here’s what I wish I had said to her. And all of those sorts of things so it became a one-woman show where I embody myself and I embody Bunny.

Leigh: Rora created a solo show which meant Rora became a character in the story too. The show was about her Great Aunt Bunny and how Great Aunt Bunny’s work directly impacted her own life. All these years later across the generations, the work that had begun on Bunny’s kitchen table with a broken typewriter before Rora was even born.

Rora: The Title IX office at my school is in the Yale health building, on the basement floor. And there’s a door with glass, but the glass is covered, right. And I’ve walked past it so many times, and I’d never gone into it. I was kind of on my final straw when I walked in.

It’s so easy to blame yourself when you’re in your own head. And you don’t see the larger picture and to have people around me to show how my experience has fit into a larger pattern—that I’m not alone. I think the moment that really struck me is—wow, Bunny did this—was learning that it was her idea to have Title IX coordinators on each campus. Because it’s one thing to have a law and rules and all this sort of stuff. And it’s another thing to have a person that is sitting in front of you that is on your side. But, you know, it’s life-changing to reflect on all the various ways in which Bunny gave me power. And that office was just one.

Leigh: Rora went looking for her Great Aunt Bunny’s story and found herself, which is often what happens as a storyteller.

Rora: And so at the time when everything was still so fresh…and I was scared to tell…talk to most people about most things. I was scared to talk to her about it.

Leigh: Looking back on the year she spent getting to know Bunny’s history, Rora said:

Rora: And the more that I separate from the person that I was, you know, at 20 or 21 who had just experienced this thing, I think part of me absolutely would have loved to talk to Bunny more specifically about my experiences. And I never did.

Leigh: I’m someone who makes theater. In musical theater, not my genre, but in musical theater, there’s something called the 11 o’clock number. It’s different from the finale. It’s the big climactic moment when the main character has an epiphany, makes an important decision, or just gets this really great song that, as the saying goes, brings down the house—meaning like thunderous applause, enough to literally cause the theater building to shake. 


Leigh: When I first started working on this series, I imagined how the 50th anniversary of Title IX could be that moment. You’d have well-known public figures like Billie Jean King and Megan Rapino, as well as some of the outspoken activists from the ’70s, women like Flo Kennedy and Shirley Chisholm.


Leigh: They would be downstage center belting out this song of cathartic triumph. And you know Flo can sing, but they wouldn’t be singing acapella.

Upstage of them, revealed behind a scrim, would be our band of nerdy revolutionaries. And if I imagine the four of them like a rock band, then Edith Green would be on keyboards, cuz you know she must have taken piano lessons. Patsy would be on guitar, definitely not a ukulele. Pauli would be on drums. And Bunny would be on the bass, cuz the bass is the backbone of the band. It may not be as flashy, but the bass adds the depth and it keeps the band together.

For the sheer spectacle of it, we’d cue the juggler Phineas Indritz and Vince Macaluso. Our covert activists would make an entrance too, with the complaints hidden away in a briefcase. And all the other supporting players we’ve met along the way—Frankie Freeman, Catherine East, Ann Scott, and the 89 witnesses in the Edith Green hearings—they’d all enter and form a gigantic chorus, behind the band.


Leigh: We’ll add a smoke machine, because why not? There will be a mist of fog building underneath them. Wendy Mink and Rora are there.


Leigh: Obama makes an entrance and awards Patsy Mink the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Roy goes running by, of course.

And on that final grand note, everything falls away. Everything goes quiet until the only thing left on stage is Great Aunt Bunny at her kitchen table with her broken typewriter. And her great niece Rora Brodwin crosses the space-time continuum and tells her Great Aunt Bunny what she couldn’t tell her in real life while she was alive.

Rora: When I was first writing this piece I was, you know, a college kid, eating and breathing and living the university life. And I had so many conversations. And I never told her some things, but I think that’s okay. I think that having all these conversations over orange juice and learning about birds with her and driving to the museum, having her describe the history of every single building we passed in the Lyft ride there and those same buildings on the way back, so describing the histories of the buildings twice, like all those are enough. And it’s enough, because she’s given me an American mythic figure that is real to me—someone that I can pray to.

Leigh: Rora never told Bunny about her sexual assault. But she did tell Bunny in a way, the way an artist might. She put it in her play. Here is the last moment of Rora’s play. She talks to her Great Aunt Bunny and she says this: Because it was her Great Aunt Bunny’s idea to have Title IX offices on every campus, so women would have a place to go.

Rora: So here is my prayer today. Bunny, I was sexually assaulted, which is a great loss of power in my body, in my mind for trusting this man. And because of you, because of you, there were systems in place. There were people in my university who gave power back to me. You found power where there was none. You created power where there was none and you institutionalized it and you left it behind. I would be a different person if you had not created that strength and authority on which I rest. And I cannot thank you enough.

Leigh: What started out as six or seven or maybe 10 women in Washington became the academic sex revolution. The 37 words we now know as Title IX are still reverberating, still alive and well—a work in steady progress on college campuses across the country today. Today Title IX provides a learning, working, and living environment free of discrimination on the basis of sex. It protects women’s safety. And by doing so, it protects their ambition. Title IX protects women from sexual misconduct, including sex discrimination, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and any form of retaliation. It covers all persons without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. People’s rights are protected in employment, student life, campus, life—any program or academic activity from sports to the classroom. And that is the origin story of Title IX.

I’ve never really been very good at endings. Most of my plays have several endings. So I guess in the tradition of that, there will be one more thing.

Epilogue: Back in the library. I’ve been making weekly trips to the Schlesinger Library starting on January 22, 2020. On March 5th, I’m still there, typing, typing, typing, transcribing like crazy, taking photos of documents, and hoping to get as much of this material into my laptop as possible. I look up at the clock. My eye catches Teddy’s eye, and Teddy calls time.

Jules: The Reading Room will close in 15 minutes.

Leigh: This is why scholars take 10, 15, 20 years to write a book. This is why so many manuscripts are never finished, because always there’s the feeling that the story isn’t complete. The window of time to study the papers at the Schlesinger Library is literally closing in on us, but we don’t know it yet.

New York has reported the second case of COVID-19. And on March 10th, the day before my next scheduled trip, Harvard will shut down the campus. A few days later, March 13th, the whole world comes to a grinding halt. March 13th, the same day that Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her own home by police with a no-knock warrant. Life is about to change for everyone.

Our lived experience is about to become history. We won’t be able to return to the library again. What we found is what we have. What we found is all we have. We’ve been unlocking the feminist files to find a blueprint for social change, except we can’t really end where we began, because now everything is different. We are in a very different world than where we began—a radically different world than where we began. It turns out that we’ve been living history all along.

On the actual 50th anniversary of Title IX, there was a celebration at the White House. And the next day, the very next day, the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, uprooting 50 years of precedent and taking away a right once said to be guaranteed in the Constitution, the right to privacy.


Leigh: Looking back, the years 1972 and 1973 saw three monumental advances in women’s rights—Title IX, the ERA, and Roe v. Wade—representing three different tactics and three different outcomes and legacies. Of these three legislative victories, the ERA was never ratified by the states, and Roe has now been overturned. Title IX is the last one standing. It could be easy to be despairing at this time. Instead, we could look to the women who came before us—the nerdy revolutionaries—and be inspired by what they were able to achieve, knowing that they left behind a blueprint for social change.

Vice President Kamala Harris was quoting John Lewis when she said that moment in your life when the activist in you “shook loose.” Something happened, and you realized you had to do something about it. It turns out this series is a call to action. History is still unfolding. The consequential feminist is you.


Leigh: I’m Leigh Fondakowski. Thank you for listening. This is Feminist Files.

© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.
© 2018, Frequency Machine Studios.