Women's Liberation and Crossfire
From "Sliced Bread" by Rosemary Phillips
Bruno, a studio director for CBC's Daytime Programming, sat at his desk in the corner of the office, waved a piece of paper and announced, "CTV needs someone to appear on the panel for Crossfire today. It's about Women's Liberation."
Everyone shook their heads and muttered things about being busy, not having time, and having other commitments. Shirley came out of her office and stood looking at me.
"Rosemary," she said, "you could benefit from being in front of the camera. It'll give you a different point of view for putting a show together."
"But I'm not dressed properly," I blurted.
I was wearing blue jeans, a bright red shirt and a striped woollen vest thinking I was just going to be working around the office that day. My protests were ignored and I was elected to be the representative for our department.
All afternoon I was distracted while I worked on Outside/Inside research. What was Women's Liberation? I knew nothing about it. The last I had heard about it was at my graduation ceremony at Ryerson when I was given the Women's Liberation fist-in-the-air sign.
I was working with an amazing group of women who were proficient at what they did and never once mentioned anything about liberation. They all seemed pretty liberated in what they were doing: Dodi Robb was executive producer for Daytime Programming, and producer for Marketplace; Chris Paton was director; Shirley Franklin was our producer; Ray Staples was the key host and a successful interior designer with her own business; Dee was script assistant; and I was researcher. The only male on the team, other than Alex Trebek as co-host, was Gordon, the studio floor director who sometimes grumbled amongst the all-male crew about the frustration he was having at being directed by a bunch of women.
That afternoon (1972) Toronto was buried in an unexpected snow storm and traffic was at a standstill when I left the CBC offices on Church Street. The only way I could get to the studios in Yorkville on time was to forget about taking a bus and run all the way through the blowing snow.
I arrived at the CTV studios short of breathe and soaking wet and hoped that the make-up department would help me towel off my hair, comb it, and put a little rouge on my cheeks to enhance my pale face and maybe help me look a little more feminine. I was surprised to find there was no make-up. On our show at CBC everybody got make-up to help them look their best under the glaring lights. Not so at CTV.
We were instructed to wait in a seating area then go directly out into the studio where we stood on a circular raised platform around an open area in the centre of the floor where the guest would be located. I stood quietly, feeling most unglamorous beside the rest of the panel of women who were really respectably dressed. I just didn't fit in. A studio director spoke with us about how the show would run; the guest would be standing in the middle of the floor and panel members were to ask questions, firing them at random. Now I knew why the show was called Crossfire.
"Everything has to be phrased as a question," was his final instruction.
The guest entered the studio and took her position in the centre of the floor. She was stunning. She was beautiful, had a wonderful make-up job and wore a gorgeous soft feminine outfit. My mind went into a spin. "She's a Women's Libber?" I asked myself. In comparison I looked like a real tomboy.
Show host Fred Davis began the questioning and for the first round I decided to stand back a bit and see how this action worked. A two-minute break was called for commercials and then we were right back at it. By now I was feeling some confidence and wanted to ask my questions but as soon as I opened my mouth one of the other panelists would start out, and quite aggressively too. They must have been experts. All the questions seemed to be based on money and income and job situations. By the end of the round I was pretty upset with not being able to speak out, so during the next commercial break I went up to Fred Davis and asked if I could start the final round. He agreed.
When the break was over the studio director began the count-down. I was nervous and shaking because now I knew the camera would be on me. Fred Davis gave me the floor and I asked, "What is liberation?"
"Freedom to be what we want to be," was the answer.
"What is Women's Liberation?" I then asked.
The guest responded, "Equal pay and work opportunities and promotion for women."
I continued, "What has a man got that a woman hasn't got?"
The Women's Libber answered, "Higher income, better chances at raises, and promotion."
And then I asked, "What has a woman got that a man hasn't got?"
She stood with her mouth open and couldn't come up with an answer. To prevent dead air time I decided to respond, but phrased everything as a question. "Today does a woman not have the choice as to whether she can be a housewife, stay home and raise a family, or take on a career and work, whereas a man does not have that choice?"
I paused then asked my last question, "Should it not therefore be Individual Liberation instead of Women's Liberation?"
My knees were like jello. My eyes and attention were focused solely on the Women's Libber and I was totally unaware of anything else in the studio. The crew had started winding down the show and on screen the credits were rolling over my face.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Northern Ontario a family was finishing their supper and doing their dishes and recognized a familiar voice. "Isn't that Rosemary?" the mother asked as she came out of the kitchen in time to see the final credits roll.
No sooner had the show started than it was over. I slipped quietly back into the waiting room, put on my coat, then walked out alone into snow covered Toronto.
POSTCRIPT: Since this event in 1972 I have to admit to having been the victim of sexual harrassment, prejudice in the work place, and, like the Women's Libber in the show stated, had my male co-workers promoted and paid more than myself. With the rise of the ME TOO movement, there is a greater feeling of hope for equality for women in this otherwise male-dominated world. I look forward to the day there is equality for ALL, regardless of gender, race and creed.