Season 1

Feminist Files: Episode 2 – You Come On Too Strong… For a Woman

Bunny Sandler (Jodie Foster) discovers the footnote that will become the legal basis for Title IX – and uses it to start taking on the most powerful universities in the nation.



Leigh: When Rachel 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: The subject was her great aunt Bunny who discovered the legal basis for Title IX.

Bunny: Good luck on your project.

Rachel: Thank you.

Bunny: And also, I don’t know if anybody’s ever told you this: writing something short is much harder than writing something long.

Rachel: I know. It’s going to be hard for me.

Bunny: Yeah, you’ll keep making it shorter and shorter and shorter. Okay. Good luck with this.

Rachel: Thanks.

Bunny: Yeah. All right. Yeah, bye bye.

Rachel: Bye.

Leigh: Eight years later Rachel, who changed her name to Rora when she was 18, interviewed her great aunt Bunny again for a different kind of school report, her senior thesis to graduate from Yale.

Rora: I did like a little project on her in seventh grade when you had to do something about your family. And she sent me an original Title IX pin that I wore and felt very cool.

Leigh: But when she arrived in DC, she found her great aunt Bunny’s memory was failing.

Rora: So at that point, she had had chemotherapy for multiple myeloma. And it had, it can make your brain foggy. And that’s what happened to her. So, she just repeated a lot of the same stories over and over again.

Leigh: The one clue that Bunny left Rachel that might allow Rora to complete the puzzle is this:

Bunny: Can you send me a copy when you’re finished?

Rachel: Of course I will. And I’ll take pictures of the posters.

Bunny: Oh, that would be lovely. Because you know what I’ll do with it. All of my papers–which means, you know, the things I’ve written and emails and things like that, like the email you wrote me–they all go to Harvard University’s library, the Schlesinger Library, which is a library on the history of women.

Rachel: Wow.

Bunny: So when you’re all grown up and if you’re ever in Harvard, you could go. By then my papers will be organized, and you’ll find this there.

Leigh: So, I too, followed that clue and headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts to find the feminist files of Bunny Sandler, 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 2, “You Come On Too Strong for a Woman.”

 My name is Leigh Fondakowski. I’m a theater artist. I’ve spent my career interviewing people and making art from their actual words. Theater created from real events. It’s a form of storytelling in which I conduct research and interviews, and then an ensemble of actors brings the story to life.


Leigh: The actors will take something real and make it into art. It’s also fun. Actors can be fun. Actors can also be not very much fun, but we won’t get into that right now.


Leigh: This series will be constructed from actors, reading bits of history from the archive, interviews that I’ve conducted, and me guiding you through. It’s an audio theater: a theater that will take place in the space between us.

The Schlesinger Library sits on the end of the great lawn on the corner of James Street and Brattle in Cambridge, Massachusetts, right next door to the Harvard admissions building. Across the street is the American Repertory Theater. On January 22nd, 2020, there was a billboard out front announcing a production of Gloria: A Life. A nice coincidence. A play about second-wave feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, a consequential feminist significantly better known than Bunny Sandler. As I pull the heavy glass doors to the library open, my thought is: Gloria Steinem is really a household name. Even if you don’t know anything about feminism, you probably know her. And my next thought is: Bunny Sandler really should be a household name.

When I arrive at the library, I fill out some registration papers, and I’m directed to the lower level to the basement. I put my things in a locker before heading up to the Reading Room on the second floor. You’re allowed to bring a laptop, power cord, and your cell phone, but no paper, no notebooks, no laptop cases, no pens, no water. You’ve got your electronic devices and that’s it. Just you and your screens.

 The first librarian I meet is Diane. She is serious and kind, wearing a simple sweater and glasses. She can tell immediately that I am a novice and offers to help. Bunny Sandler’s papers alone are 70 boxes of material. Where to begin?

 You fill out a small card and order the boxes three at a time. Diane looks up the call numbers for me. We fill out the form together. Then she sends me off into the Reading Room to wait.

 The second floor Reading Room has these large wooden monster-size cherry tables with four wooden chairs per table. On the walls around you are portraits of women from the movement. Some painted sitting portraits from the 19th century mixed with more contemporary photographs from the 20th. The feeling though is that you’re surrounded by these women. It looks to be a who’s who of consequential feminists. I look around at these towering images and realize I don’t recognize a single one. I settle into the only empty table in the corner and wait. The temperature in the Reading Room is freezing, and the mood is quite intense. And it is true that you can hear a pin drop.

Soon another librarian arrives at my table with a book truck with three archive boxes on it. It’s Teddy. Teddy is all business.

Jules as Teddy: Only one folder at a time. Keep your place marked with this card. Keep everything on the table. Don’t pick things up, just leave them flat on the table inside the folder.

Leigh: Diane seems to be the outer chamber librarian who allows access to the Reading Room. And Teddy is the one who keeps eyes on the researchers and the material inside. Teddy seems young like this might be a work-study gig. Diane is sporting that iconic 90s academic look while Teddy is a gen-Zer who proves without a shadow of a doubt that the 90s are back in fashion. They really look like they’re wearing the same outfit. Teddy has more recently adopted it with hipster panache–the same ensemble, except with an orange mullet and hip round glasses.

Great Aunt Bunny’s papers are identified by the call number MC558. These are the feminist files of Bunny Sandler, the godmother of Title IX.


Leigh: One of the first documents that I find is not what I’m expecting. I don’t really know what I’m expecting, but I wasn’t expecting this. In box 1, folder 10, it’s a handwritten note: a page torn from a lined notebook, white paper, letter-sized. Written in green magic marker in big capital letters at the top of the page, it says: “I choose not to smoke.” This is Jodie Foster reading Bunny Sandler:

Jodie: I choose not to smoke.

Leigh: Below the heading is a list. Here’s some of what Bunny has written on the list.

Jodie: Running: shortness of breath, less energy, less desire to run. Sleeping habits: rise later, rise sleepy, headache, jumpiness. Role models: looks bad. Costs money, shame of friends and kids, lack of respect.

Leigh: The list continues up to 25 reasons not to smoke. None of them are good.

Jodie: Lung cancer, burned clothing, emphysema, bladder cancer, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, premature aging, mouth cancer, stomach cancer, intestinal cancer, smell, taste bad, taste less, tongue gray, wrinkles.

Leigh: She’s trying to talk herself out of smoking. Of course, she smoked. Everybody smoked back then.

Jodie: Bronchitis. [Coughs.]

Leigh: And then I found a note that seemed to shed some light on what I was reading.

Jodie: I quit about 21 times: once as long as six years, several times for two years, and for one year, and for lesser amounts of time as well. I would make a list. This is one of them, of at least 25 reasons not to smoke. And then if I wanted a cigarette, I would have to first come up with the 25 reasons why not to smoke.

Leigh: So Bunny smoked and quit over the course of her lifetime: 21 times. The reasons not to smoke are written in green marker. The clarifying note is written in blue ink as if Bunny had discovered this list among her papers and written the note in blue ink directly to us for context, so that the person, us, finding the document would better understand what it was.

Jodie: I told myself if I still wanted to smoke after I listed the 25 reasons I would, but I never did. 

Leigh: She’s taking us into her confidence. Bunny has given real thought as to what to keep and what to discard, what to preserve and why. Bunny has a sense of history–that she was a part of history. And that these pages, including this note, were important enough to save for someone to find. She’s talking to the future when she writes that note in blue ink. She’s talking to us. We’re getting closer to history.

What else has Bunny left for us to find? In box 2, folder 11, I find this: a transcript nearly a hundred pages long. An interview conducted by Julia Lamber and Jean Robinson with Bunny Sandler, June 28th and 29th, 2004 in Washington, DC. This seems to be before Great Aunt Bunny’s memory loss, while her memory is still intact.

It’s the story of Title IX in Bunny’s own words. The two-part interview looks to be part of a larger oral history project that was never published. A quick Google search locates Lamber and Robinson as professors of distinction at the University of Indiana. The transcript, which is a hard copy–not digitized–can only be read here at the library or copied at $2 per page. I look up at the clock and then I dive right in.

The story begins in 1969 with Bunny Sandler, of course, Great Aunt Bunny and her dreams of becoming a college professor.

Jodie: I always wanted to be a teacher or professor was how I saw my aspirations.

Leigh: 1969 is the year of the moon landing, of Woodstock, of the Stonewall Uprising, of the Manson family murders. It’s the Vietnam War. It’s a time of street protests for civil rights and against the war. It’s also the year that NOW, the National Organization for Women, holds a Mother’s Day protest demanding rights, not roses. Women’s lib is beginning to catch on.

Her two daughters are in high school, and Bunny has gone back to school to get her PhD.

Jodie: The women’s movement was just beginning to stir. We all knew there was prejudice against women. We didn’t have a word for it, but we used to joke that one day we were going to come to school and the ladies’ room would be locked. So we knew there was something there, but you couldn’t put your finger on it.

Leigh: She was just about to graduate from the University of Maryland, with a doctorate in psychology. By her own admission, she was a terrible typist, but she was smart. She wanted more than anything to be a teacher, a college professor. And just as she was about to graduate with her PhD, as luck would have it.

Jodie: I got my degree, my doctoral degree. I was still teaching the year I got my doctoral degree. There were huge expansions, seven openings.

Leigh: There was a huge expansion in the psychology department, and they were hiring. The expansion seemed at first like a real opportunity, except that before she could even apply, she discovered that the department had lined up male candidates for every single position.

Her own department. And they didn’t even pretend to give her a shot at any of the new positions.

Jodie: Seven openings and they didn’t even consider me.

Leigh: Bunny was stunned. But you see this moment, this is the start of the academic sex revolution, because what Bunny did next would set her down a path to change the course of history.

We’ll be right back.


Leigh: Bunny recounts in the transcript that before she left campus to head home for the day, she did something else. She did this.

Jodie: Because I was older than a lot of the faculty there, I was sort of friendly with them in a different way, you know. So I went to one of the guys who I knew fairly well, and I said, “Hey, how come they didn’t even think of me?” And he was very frank. He said, “Well, let’s face it, Bunny. You come on too strong for a woman.”

Leigh: “Well, let’s face it, Bunny. You come on too strong for a woman.” As is true for a lot of women then and now, Bunny internalized these words and became consumed by self-doubt.

Jodie: I went home, and I wept and said, “Oh my God, I never should have spoken out at meetings. I never should’ve, whatever, you know. I just blamed myself.

Leigh: She had two high school-age daughters at home and a supportive husband, Jerry, who loved that she was smart. It was Bunny’s husband Jerry who intervened.

 Jodie: My then husband was very good. He said, “Are there strong men in the departments?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, it’s not you; it’s them. It’s sex discrimination.”

Leigh: He named it.

Jodie: That was extraordinarily helpful because I was blaming myself. 

Leigh: And that’s how the whole thing began with these 13 words. “Well, let’s face it, Bunny. You come on too strong for a woman.”

Jodie: And if he had said “too strong,” I think I would have accepted it. You know, some people don’t like people who are active, but it wasn’t that at all. It was that “for a woman” I was too strong. I began to think: Well, what’s the role of women in universities? Do we get a fair shake? How good does one have to be? Can one not be good enough, no matter how good one is, if one is female?

Leigh: When her husband Jerry said, “It’s not you; it’s them. It’s sex discrimination.” Bunny wasn’t sure. She knew discrimination applied to race, but she had never heard it applied to gender. Plus, she figured that would never happen to her.

Jodie: As the women’s movement initially began, I thought I’d never been discriminated against. This would certainly not happen to me, particularly because I’m so smart. This wouldn’t affect me. I’m too smart. I mean, I laugh at that now, but I was going in that direction.

 Leigh: But it wasn’t long before she came to understand the merits of what Jerry was saying–that Jerry might be right.

 Jodie: I think what was also fortunate is that I had two more bad experiences in a relatively short time.

 One, I went for a research job for which I was eminently qualified. And the entire interview was spent telling me–not, not talking about my qualifications–but telling me why this guy didn’t want to hire women who had children. Because if they had children: “Well, we don’t hire women who have children because they want to stay at home when the kids are sick.” They will be taking time off whenever the child has a sniffle. I said, “Well, my kids are in high school, so that’s not a problem. I don’t take time off when they have a cold.” And he said, “No, no, no.” He just went on and on and on.

And then I went to an employment agency, and I filled out the resume. And the guy looked at me and he said, “Oh, I see the problem. You’re not a professional. You’re a housewife who went back to work.” You’re just a housewife? I had my doctorate! And those three experiences, I mean, sort of, wow. Something’s going on here.

Leigh: What happened next is, as they say, history. What happened next has also reached the level of legend in Bunny’s family. It was Bunny’s great niece, Rora Brodwin, who first introduced me to the concept and the term bibliotherapy. What’s bibliotherapy?

Rora: Bibliotherapy. Whenever there’s something wrong in your life, you find a book, and you read about it.

Leigh: Bunny went looking for answers. Bunny was going to fix this.

Jodie: I’m a great one who believes in books, you know. Whenever something is wrong in my life, I find a book, and I read about it. And because there wasn’t anything on women, I started reading up on civil rights. The civil rights movements were quite active. We’re getting schools beginning to be integrated. The Civil Rights Act has passed. So I figured I’ll just read up and see.

Leigh: And that’s when Bunny has a breakthrough.

Jodie: And I was reading a booklet from the Commission on Civil Rights, which was evaluating civil rights enforcements of various laws and what not, reading about an executive order that the president initiated.

Leigh: This was Executive Order 11246 signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 24th, 1965, establishing non-discriminatory practices in hiring and employment for anyone who worked for the federal government.

Jodie: And it said this order covers contractors. Yeah, people who have contracts with the government. And it prohibits race, religion, and national origin. Okay. And then there was a footnote. And being an academic, you know, you read the footnotes. I read the footnote at the back of the book, and it said this order was amended such and such date, effective such and such date to include sex.

Leigh: In other words, there was an executive order that amended a previous executive order. And the second executive order explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of sex. So sex discrimination was technically illegal. But you’d never know it unless you read the footnote. Bunny had found the legal grounds to fight back.

Jodie: And that was a really Eureka experience. I literally screamed. Ah! You know, that kind of thing, because most universities have federal contracts.

Leigh: Before there were iPhones or personal computers or access to online information or the internet itself, there was Great Aunt Bunny at her kitchen table, figuring things out.

Rora: So she’s found this thing, and she’s really excited. She’s like: “Oh, but I must be wrong. You know, I can’t have been the one that found this.” Bunny has no legal background. She’s just been reading a lot and like putting two and two together. So she calls the Office of Federal Contract Compliance.

Leigh: The Office of Federal Contract Compliance is part of the US Department of Labor. And back in those days, kids, you had to look up telephone numbers in a big fat printed phone book. Actually, you had two phone books: one with the yellow pages organized by type of business and one with white pages listed alphabetically by last name. And in the DC Metro area, the white pages included a whole separate section of blue pages for federal government offices. Sounds easy enough. No, it doesn’t. You had to know the exact name of the office and under which department or sub-department. Telephones were also manual back then. Rotary phones, meaning you literally dialed each number by turning a wheel with your finger. So when Bunny called the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, it was no small achievement.

Jodie: And what happened–having found this out–I called the Office of Federal Contract Compliance.


Mercedes: Office of Federal Contract Compliance.

Jodie: I called. I said, “I want to find out if this covers colleges that have contracts.”

Mercedes: Please hold.

Leigh: And sometimes there was a little plastic button on the phone that you could push to put someone on hold. And when she came back on, she said:

Jodie: The woman who answered said, let me put you through to the director.

Mercedes: The director would like to speak with you.

Leigh: Bunny wasn’t quite prepared for that.

Jodie: The director! Even though I lived in Washington, I didn’t know anybody who directed anything.

Leigh: The director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance was a man named Vincent Macaluso. He was well aware of the executive order.

Jodie: And then he said, “Why don’t you come in and we’ll talk about it.”

Chris: Bunny, you’re right. This executive order already exists. Why don’t you come in and we’ll talk about it.

Jodie: Now. Hang on, I’m thinking to myself. And I really was worried, you know, is this guy coming on to me? Or does he really want to talk about it? Because I mean, nobody’s ever shown that kind of interest in my ideas, you know. I mean, he was really interested.

Leigh: Bunny really took a chance. And she walked right into the Office of Federal Contract Compliance and had a meeting with the director.

Jodie: And I came in, and I saw him. And we talked.

Leigh: He knew about the executive order, all right. But the executive order needed to be enforced, which meant that someone would have to file a lawsuit to force the government to enforce their own executive order. It turns out Vincent Macaluso had been waiting for someone to call. And that person was Bunny Sandler.

Jodie: He said, you know.

Chris: If you’re serious about this, I will help you file a complaint.

Jodie: He said, “This is what you need to do. You need to gather all the information that’s out there.” And I’m saying, “Well, there isn’t much information out there.” He said, “It doesn’t matter. You need to have a whole packet of stuff, because no one’s going to read it anyway. But if the packet is thick, people will believe that there’s a problem.” Yeah, that was brilliant. It was absolutely true.

Leigh: Their mission was to bring the government into compliance with Executive Order 11246. It was an inside job. Vince’s boss was the Secretary of Labor. So this was all done in secret. Bunny didn’t give up his name for over 30 years.

Jodie: I mean, he was very sympathetic. I couldn’t have done this without him. I didn’t know a thing about politics or complaints. I mean, he wrote the first complaint. This is an interesting case study of how a few people had an enormous impact, because it was a new issue and there were no experts. And Vince played a major role. And it’s never been recognized. I never used his name, because I didn’t want to get him in trouble. He would have been in big trouble.

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

Leigh: Rora had found Bunny’s notes from this meeting in Bunny’s feminist files at the library.

Rora: She has in her notes for this meeting: women intimidated + afraid = not to reveal their names, which she’s underlined. This means that you don’t have to put in your own personal story of discrimination. You just have to show a pattern of discrimination.

Leigh: After the meeting with Vince, Bunny begins collecting data. She started with the University of Maryland, the school that just had seven full-time positions open up in her department. And they didn’t hire her for any of them. The school that thinks she comes on too strong for a woman. Yeah. That University of Maryland.

Jodie: The first thing I did: I did a quick survey at the University of Maryland, pretending I was doing research. I went around to a bunch of departments, and I said, “Uh, I need a list of the faculty. Uh, I need to know which ones are men and women.” I was afraid to say I was doing it for a complaint. I just said “I was doing research,” and they gave it to me. And so we were on our way.

Leigh: One of the most interesting things I discovered about Great Aunt Bunny: In 1969, she didn’t even consider herself a feminist.

Rora: Not in the beginning at all, not at all. She was very concerned with being ladylike. And also she felt like many people did–that the women’s libbers, the women’s liberation groups were unladylike and too radical. And she wouldn’t go on marches.

Jodie: They did look radical to me. One, they demonstrated. Having a demonstration in Washington is nothing now. Everybody does it. But I mean, I remember thinking: God, these people demonstrate. I don’t demonstrate.

Rora: She’s seen magazines where women’s, you know, it’s like women who will participate in these things are abrasive and man-hating and stuff. She wanted to be a lady.

Jodie: At the same time, 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. Who had quickly realized that now the National Organization for Women was too radical for a lot of middle-class professional women.

Leigh: Bunny had read about WEAL, the Women’s Equity Action League, in the newspaper and decided to join.

Jodie: A lot of them were lawyers. I mean, they seemed like perfectly nice people. They didn’t seem like these awful man-hating women’s libbers, you know. I laugh at myself now, but that was there.

Leigh: Meeting Betty Boyer from Novelty, Ohio was a significant moment in Bunny’s life.

Jodie: WEAL was important to me, because when I made this discovery that colleges. At least those that had contracts were covered by an executive order, which has the force of law in many ways. What do I do about it? WEAL was there for me.

Leigh: When Betty Boyer and the women at WEAL heard about Bunny’s meeting with Vince at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, they appointed her the chair of their action committee on federal contract compliance.

Jodie: I was the chair of the action committee. You know, what nobody knew at the time is that I was the entire committee.

Leigh: They made up the position and the title. So Bunny would be more legit. She had the backing of WEAL, which had already been lobbying in Washington. And under the auspices of WEAL, Bunny begins filing lawsuits. She starts with the University of Maryland. Sweet revenge.

Jodie: The study I had done showed, you know, the higher the rank, the fewer the women. The more prestigious the department, the fewer the women. It showed patterns of discrimination.

Leigh: But in order to really make the case, Bunny needed a way to reach out to women on every campus across the country to help her amass the evidence. Of course, this was before social media, before blog posts or podcasts. One of the things that Vince suggested was that Bunny might try giving a press release to the print media so that women like Bunny, her nerdy compatriots toiling away in academia, afraid if they spoke too loudly or otherwise asserted themselves, they’d never be accepted or promoted would have a way to contact her. Bunny knew that they were out there, and she had a pretty good idea of where she might find them.

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 a lot of academics read it. But in any event, when I sent out the press release, the Saturday Review of Literature puts something in maybe two or three sentences. And it has my name in it, my name in print. And I started getting letters from people.

Leigh: It was a long shot, that press release. But it clearly hit home for so many women. Here at last was someone who understood what they were all up against, who had named the problem in print, no less.

Rora: It’s like a really tiny thing. It says for more information, contact Bunny Sandler. And so then she starts getting letters from people all across the country who read this. And they want to do something too, like just a huge grassroots thing. Being the voices for all these people.

Leigh: They were writing to her from everywhere, and the whole thing blew up.

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.

Mercedes: I have been denied a faculty position for which I am fully qualified.

Jules: I was recently denied tenure.

Margo: I have been informed that my contract cannot be renewed because of my husband’s appointment.

Jodie: We were getting lots of horror stories.

Sarah: My position is as a full-time professor, but I can be paid only as a part-time instructor.

Margo: This has also happened to many of my female colleagues. I know of at least a dozen others.

Jodie: So I had all these horror stories of employment–people who were writing to me. The salaries were very discrepant. And what I would tell them is: “Okay, check the number of women and men. So the percentage of men and women at each rank in your department.” So we were able to get that kind of data. And that was our major way of looking at discrimination.

Leigh: Bunny believed a single woman’s experience, good or bad, could be discounted. But if she could build a statistical body of evidence to prove that women were being discriminated against–not only at the University of Maryland–but on campuses all across the country, the aggregate numbers could not be ignored.

Mercedes: I am enclosing tables, which show the admissions ratios here for each class over the last decade.

Jules: There is clearly a quota ceiling being imposed, limiting the number of women accepted.

Jodie: We also knew there were quota systems, both in admissions and again in positions. So they took fewer women. So you needed higher grades. Nobody questioned this. This was the way the world is.

Leigh: But the flood gates had opened, and the data and the stories were pouring in.

Margo: It seems they had met their hiring quota. And as a part-time, I could be denied all faculty benefits.

Mercedes: I was told that they preferred a male for this position.

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

Jodie: The discrimination was often quite bad. I mean, it was there, you know. I mean, we already have a woman in this department kind of thing. Or no women will have tenure in my department. That was it. It was there.

They were undergraduate quotas too. I mean, it wasn’t only graduate school. In a certain period in 1963, there was a state commission in the state of Virginia, which looked at admission figures to get some idea of how many students were coming up the pipeline. And during that period that they looked at, there were 20,000 women who were refused admission to state colleges in Virginia. Would you like to guess how many men were refused? Zero. Not one man was refused. So yeah, you got to be a real Neanderthal to not see that that’s unfair.

Leigh: By this time, Bunny had begun working with a woman by the name of Ann Scott, another consequential feminist, whose name you’ve probably never heard of. They were receiving so much mail from women, writing to them about discrimination and seeking help, that they developed an anti-discrimination kit, a series of questions they could drop in the mail with a letter seeking the data that they needed.

Jodie: So we were filing complaints like crazy.

Leigh: It’s a marvelous scene thinking of Great Aunt Bunny getting those letters and organizing them on her kitchen table. And she wrote back to every single one.

Rora: She was a terrible typist. She would, like with the two fingers, you know. Her typewriter was always broken.

Leigh: This is a letter written to Bunny from Ann Scott.

Victoria: Dear Bunny. The most important thing that has happened in the movement in two years, you got a new typewriter.

Rora: Yeah. She wrote every single one with all these typos.

Victoria: I noticed, however, that it needs a new ribbon.

Leigh: So imagine Bunny sitting at her kitchen table, having sent out the press release and gotten a tiny notice in the Saturday Review of Literature. She’s made dinner, done the dishes, and now she’s answering letters. Knowing what we know now, at least some of the time, there’s a burning cigarette next to that typewriter. Remember the list she made trying to talk herself out of smoking.

Jodie: Bronchitis. [Coughs.]

Rora: So now Bunny while she’s still, you know, doing the laundry and getting groceries and all this other stuff, is also receiving and sending hundreds of letters. And she ends up filing over 250 complaints against universities across the country, including the entire UC system of California.

Leigh: Bunny’s there with her manual typewriter, with a faded ink ribbon and keys that probably kept jamming. It took a lot of practice to be a good typist. You know, that image, the archetypal trash can overflowing with crumpled up pieces of paper. That was it.

Bunny may be a nerdy revolutionary. But in my book and not the phone book either, in my book, Bunny’s badass.

Rora: When all this happened, when all this went down, people had started to know about her work. I mean, she filed a lawsuit against the University of Maryland, you know, and was still working there part-time. She’s walking at the school at one point. Someone’s like “Why can’t you be a lady?” And she turns around. She yells at him. And she never yells; she never loses her cool. And she’s like “I’ve been a lady all my life, and what has that gotten me?” You know. And then turns around and leaves.

She loved teaching. She was a great teacher. It was no easy thing for her to turn away from academia in 1969 and start her life of activism.

Leigh: Women intimidated + afraid = not to reveal their names. Bunny would sign the complaints herself to protect the women who came forward to preserve their anonymity and shield them from retribution.

Jodie: And I was in the position because I had made a decision. I’m never going to be hired in academia. I mean, I knew that. So I might as well do all this, because they’re not going to hire me anymore. So I had that kind of freedom. And through the executive order, I could sign the complaints and never mention who sent me the information.

Leigh: Bunny had dreamed of an academic career, enough to go back to school and get her doctorate. But Bunny chose instead to take one for the team.


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