Where are they now? It’s a simple but still powerful narrative trigger, put to effective use this week by the editors of New York magazine.
In 1972, Jennifer Rogers appeared with her four young children on the cover of the May 15, 1972 issue, for a story about her impending divorce and move to the city in the shadow of the women’s liberation movement. For this week’s issue, exactly 45 years later, Rogers has checked back in. Her essay begins with the revelation that her then-first husband immediately disappeared upon the publication of the article, resurfacing in Paris with another woman. But that was the least of her problems:
There were phone books back then, with phone numbers in them, and my name was on the article; guys called me up in the middle of the night to chat and breathe. Elsewhere, feminist leader Betty Friedan shook her head (or was it a finger?) in dismay–“Not what we meant,” she was reported to have ranted, presumably about liberation, at a party in the Hamptons. A sociology professor at Yale called to ask if I’d be willing to become a subject for his study on public scrutiny of the naïve individual. (No doubt the research was otherwise titled, but no matter — I quickly said no.) The publisher of a forthcoming memoir I’d written about one of my children insisted I take my name off it, and use a pseudonym.
Rogers, who went in the spring of 1972 by the name Jennifer Skolnik, shares all kinds of other intimate details about her subsequent career, her decades of single life, where she now lives, and how well. In the wake of the 1972 cover story, she was recognized all the time. When her first husband sued for custody of the kids, his lawyer argued that she was an unfit mother because she had allowed the couple’s children to pose on the New York cover.
The magazine has republished the original cover story, “Notes of a Recycled Housewife.” And one of the comments left below the new essay, by user laurasname, has all the makings of a separate New York magazine essay. That reader’s observations end with:
The 70s were a crazy, transitional time, and I feel sorry for those who got caught in its swirling waters. I am a devout feminist and have had a successful career and life, but I credit those like my mother (who did it poorly) and the author (who did it better) for taking risks and paving the way for the right of later generations to be able to take it for granted.