It was just the same as it was on 9/11. You remember exactly where you were and what you were doing. So it was on November 22, 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was in 7th grade at the time and our teacher told us that the president had been shot. The whole school walked over to the church and en masse we all prayed that the president would be all right. After we finished, the pastor went up on the pulpit and announced that John F. Kennedy was dead. That was the very first time the concept of death hit home for me. I mean, it just couldn’t be. He was so young, so vibrant and he represented a new era in American politics. The torch has been passed to a new generation, my generation. And in an instant, it was gone. The hopes, the dreams the excitement over what was to be. Gone.
So now I found it very interesting to finally hear the words of Jacqueline Kennedy in the only interview she gave after President Kennedy’s death. She was only 34 at the time he died. So young, so beautiful and she carried the sorrow of a nation on her shoulders with dignity and class. Everyone wanted to be like Jackie. She had the ability to melt the heart of Charles De Gaulle and charm the throngs of people she met on the campaign trail. And now, marking the 50th anniversary of Kennedy becoming president, Caroline Kennedy has chosen to share her mother’s thoughts with the world by releasing the tapes of that interview.
What struck me as I listened to some of the excerpts is that although we as women feel we have come a long way, it was not that long ago that we were expected to be subservient to men and were socialized to believe that was our role. In listening to Jackie you hear how she willingly would defer to the wishes of her husband, how she wanted to make for him a quiet and relaxed atmosphere when he came home because of the enormity of the stresses he faced during the day and how she felt that women should never go into politics. She talked about Kennedy’s disdain for showing affection in public and so he would never hold her hand. She willingly accepted that and she usually tried to walk slightly behind him when they were out in public. As a matter of fact, a television commentator once remarked how unusual it was for Jackie to deplane Air Force One before Jack as she had done at Love Field on the day Kennedy was killed. She had very hard and fast beliefs about the role of a woman in a marriage and it was definitely one that took a back seat to the man.
Some people were actually shocked when they heard her words. How could someone like Jackie Kennedy, Jackie O, be saying these things. I was not shocked at all. I have been studying women and leadership for the past 6 years and one thing I learned and try to teach is that the rights women now have here in the United States were not unalienable and only granted a very short while ago. Women did not have the right to equal pay until 1963 when the Civil Rights Bill was passed. Women could not vote until 1920. In some parts of the world women still cannot vote. Just this past week women in Saudi Arabia were finally given the right to vote but not until the 2013 election even though there will be an election coming up in a few months. And women in Saudi Arabia still cannot leave the country unless they have permission from their husband or guardian.
American women have a lot of rights that we now take for granted and some that could very easily be taken away, namely to right to choose what you can and cannot do with your own body. I find it funny that many women take these rights for granted or think they are entitled to them. And I find it funny that they think it odd that Jackie Kennedy would sound so subservient to her husband. It was not that long ago that women were expected to behave that way. We’ve come a long way baby. Or have we?