“On Consciousness-Raising” by Nora Ephron (1973)

April 8, 2013 | Posted in Essays in America | Tags: , ,

Nora Ephron. Photo credit: Linda Nylind for the Guardian.

Born in 1941 to Henry and Phoebe Ephron, both writers (of screen and stage), Nora Ephron (1941-2012) began her journalism career at the New York Post, then moved on to the position of columnist at Esquire magazine, from 1972-74 writing a column simply called “Women,” then one about the press, and finally working as a senior editor there. Her articles for Esquire often dealt with the burgeoning women’s movement and her personal life. The “Women” columns were collected in Crazy Salad: Some Things about Women (1975), while the press columns were in Scribble Scrabble:Notes on the Media (1979). She has and continues to write for such publications as New York Magazine, The New York Times, and Vogue. In addition to essays, she has written several plays and screenplays, including When Harry Met Sally, and a novel, Heartburn (1986). She most recently published two collections about aging: I Feel Bad about My Neck (2006), and I Remember Nothing (2010), before her death in 2012.

Essay’s Form

Alix Nelson, when writing about Crazy Salad, says Ephron’s wit, though “offhand and irreverent is without the Parker bite,” while her writings succeed in part “through the particular sensibility which infuses her pieces with a freely acknowledged moral bias…that nonetheless is seldom allowed to take over the whole show” (202).

The centered illustration of “On Consciousness-Raising.”

In this essay, Ephron may mock and dissect the faults of the consciousness-raising group which she attended, but she is quick to implicate herself in the mess alongside them.

The tone of this essay is closely tied to its content. As with many of Ephron’s essays, a hint of confession reaches the reader, a suggestion of what she holds back from the other characters in her story.

In this case, her motives for joining a consciousness-raising group are revealing: “I didn’t see how I could write about women…without joining a group,” she admits, “ [and this] had to do with my marriage” (77).

These asides, wherein Ephron reveals a minute detail about herself, create a balance in the piece that allows it to offer a critique from the inside, a constant in Ephron’s writing about the women’s movement, marriage, and recently, aging.

Essay’s Immediate Context

When Ephron began writing for Esquire, its editor was Harold Hayes, who, while publishing her sardonic but sympathetic pieces on women and society, was also encouraging New Journalists such as Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, and Tom Wolfe to write for the magazine, along with a broad base of literary fiction.

In her Preface to the 1975 edition of Crazy Salad, reprinted in the 2000 edition, Ephron provides a personal and historical context for her essays on women, noting that “it seemed clear women were going through some changes….When I began the column, the women’s movement was in a period of great activity, growth, and anger; it is now in a period of consolidation. The same is true for me” (xxiii).

Essay’s Subsequent Appearance

“On Consciousness-Raising” first appeared without its title in the March 1973 issue of Esquire as a “Women” column.

Two years later it was reprinted, with only minor punctuation changes, in Crazy Salad (1975).

The most recent edition of the essay (with added footnote by the author) appears in a Modern Library Humor & Wit Series volume entitled Crazy Salad (2000), edited by Steve Martin, with essays chosen from both Crazy Salad and Scribble Scrabble.

The footnote, occurring at the end of Ephron’s discussion of Midge Decter reads: “I feel that a footnote is called for here, but I’m not exactly sure what to say in it. The marriage did end. I don’t really want to go into the details of that. But I do want to make the point that when it broke up, it broke up for the right reasons. When it was over, I did not think that I was a victim, or that I-was-perfect-and-he-was-awful, or any of that” (74).

Selected Bibliography

“Backstage with Esquire.” Esquire June 1973.

“Cover Art.” Esquire Mar. 1973.

—. Crazy Salad : Some Things about Women. New York: Knopf, 1975. Print.

—. Crazy Salad: Some Things About Women. Ed. Steve Martin. Modern Library Humor & Wit Series. New York: Modern Library, 2000.

Ephron, Nora. “Women.” Esquire Mar. 1973: 77-8. Print.

“Harold Thomas Pace Hayes.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2007. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Mar. 2011.

Nelson, Alix. “Nora Ephron on Women and Nora Ephron: Crazy Salad.” New York Times (1923 Current file): 202. Print. 1975.

“Nora Ephron.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center.

Web. 10 Mar. 2011.

“Table of Contents.” Esquire Mar. 1973.

Text and images: Julie Dow.