Typically, I write about women of the present, whose lives and careers are marked by hard work, ambition, and sheer ballsiness. However, I also don’t think we can fully appreciate our present if we don’t remember the fantastic females who came before us and blazed the trail we’re on.
Betty Ford was one of those incredible women. She began humbly, but as First Lady to Gerald Ford, she spoke to the press and thus the American people with a candor yet undemonstrated by any other woman in a position of influence. She talked openly about controversial social issues and engaged the public in a pertinent and unprecedented conversation.
It’s terribly sad that we’ve lost this open, courageous woman, but it’s never too late to learn from the example she set.
Don’t be afraid to push boundaries.
In a time when TV sheltered the American people by showing most married couples sleeping in two single beds, she revealed to a reporter that she and her husband slept in the same bed every night. Before “Save the TaTas” stickers graced bumpers across the country, Betty Ford was the first woman to speak candidly about breast cancer and the mastectomy she underwent shortly after her husband took office.
The New York Times said that this openness, “which led to unprecedented awareness among American women about detecting the disease, and her later commitment to alcohol and substance abuse treatment, stemming from her own abuse history, set the stage for widespread acknowledgment and advocacy that is commonplace today.” By reevaluating the importance of social norms, Ford was able to give many hush-hush issues the recognition and attention they deserved and needed.
Disdain and closed-mindedness get you nowhere.
The same New York Times article about Ford went on to say that, “She was a product and a symbol of the cultural and political times — doing the Bump along the corridors of the White House, donning a mood ring, chatting on her CB radio with the handle First Mama — a housewife who argued passionately for equal rights for women, a mother of four who mused about drugs, abortion and premarital sex aloud and without regret.” Her non-judgmental approach to marijuana, unfaithfulness, equal pay for women, and other nontraditional trends not only won her unprecedented approval ratings: it helped give Americans hope that a real human beings - not just morally-bankrupt money machines - resided in the White House.
Smile and mentally flip off the opposition.
When I say her candor won high approval ratings, it’s important to note first that Betty Ford had some serious critics. Ultraconservatives called her “No Lady” and bashed her transparent approach to public relations as unladylike and unprofessional. However, the bulk of the American people seemed to disagree, with as much as 75% of the population giving her an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Though public criticism could’ve derailed her, she persisted in speaking to her husband’s constituents like fellow human beings rather than percentage points and participating in the conversation they wanted to have. For not being afraid to be a woman and a human being, she was rewarded with public loyalty and love.
While it’s unquestionably tragic that we’ve lost Ms. Betty Ford, I think it’s important that we don’t forget what she did for women in the public sphere and continue to learn from the classy, sassy, intelligent lady she was.