I knew they were getting a non-feminist message in society and in school. I wanted them to have something that said – Yes, it’s okay to cry. Yes, it’s okay to have a doll. Yes, you don’t have to be perfect at sports.
For Judy Buckman, feminism has always been about creating a more equal and empowering future for the next generation. In fact, it was motherhood that originally drew her to the women’s rights movement.
As a teacher in the early ‘70s, Judy faced pressure to quit when she became visibly pregnant with her son. When she first approached civil rights lawyers, they stared at her blankly, unsure why she was there. Pregnancy discrimination was a new concept to them; Congress did not amend the Civil Rights Act to include sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy until several years later in 1978. Once Judy demonstrated that this was a form of sex discrimination, the lawyers agreed to take on her case, securing a court injunction that allowed her to remain in her position.
Soon after, Judy attended her first NOW meeting and resolved to raise her children as feminists. Judy explains, “I knew they were getting a non-feminist message in society and in school. I wanted them to have something that said – Yes, it’s okay to cry. Yes, it’s okay to have a doll. Yes, you don’t have to be perfect at sports.’” She recalls being pregnant with her daughter at her first NOW Conference in 1974, breastfeeding at meetings, and eventually taking mother-daughter trips to conferences when she was in high school. Judy laughs, “She literally got feminism with mother’s milk.” Now as adults, both her kids have served as clinic escorts and support feminist political candidates.
Still, she fears her daughter’s generation is less active in the women’s rights movement. Judy explains, “My biggest worry overall is that they don’t know how to be social justice activists, and if Roe v. Wade was pulled out from under them, they wouldn’t know how to get it back.” Today, having grown up accustomed to the rights previous generations fought for, young women see less of a need to get involved. When Judy first joined NOW, over half of the women did not work outside of the home and were able to donate time during the day. However, this number has dwindled as more women started working outside of the home. Now young women are often juggling a career, kids, and aging parents, leaving little time to volunteer.
This has led to a generation gap with the new wave of feminists that have emerged. Judy has frequently felt invisible in discussions and found her opinions undervalued. When asked what advice she has for the next generation of women, she candidly admits, “I don’t think they would listen to any advice I have to give…they think they know it all. They work differently.”
Though working differently is not necessarily a bad thing, it has made collaboration difficult. When she tried to start a consciousness raising group, they replied, “We have a Facebook group for that.” Citing the experience as “the biggest positive influence” in her life, she wonders how Facebook can replace the feeling of sitting cross-legged in a group of women, sharing your innermost thoughts, and crying and laughing together? To cater to young women who already see themselves as feminists, Judy is now considering modifying the concept. “We did it so that we could figure out: Were we feminists? And why? But maybe young women now are past that.”
Despite this generational split, much of her work has been aimed at uplifting young women. As one of the founders of the Alice Paul Institute, she helped develop the Girls Leadership Center, a program that cultivates leadership in high school girls through focus groups and training. In these girls, Judy often sees herself. She reflects, “I was that girl that would join focus groups, that would join a club, but never be president of that club.” Judy has also supported Running and Winning, a Burlington County League of Women Voters initiative that encourages young women to become involved in the political process. The program has high school girls participating in a workshop where they work together to build a campaign. Throughout the day, they hear from female elected officials, learn how to get involved with campaigns, and end with presentations of their campaigns. Judy remarks, “They go from these scared young girls who don’t want to be there, to empowered women that start thinking about running for office, that will think about running political campaigns, that will certainly never stay home and not vote.”
Much like these leadership programs for young girls, NOW gave Judy a sense of pride. It turned her – a shy person into a leader. She ponders, “I just wonder how different my life may have been in terms of career choices, in terms of marriage choices, if I had had a Girls Leadership Center to tell me – you are smart, you are capable, you are powerful.”
Although Judy has received many awards like the Planned Parenthood Public Affairs Award, Outstanding Woman of Burlington County
Award, and Alice Paul Equality Award, she professes, “I’m proudest of keeping my NOW chapter together, saving Paulsdale, starting the Girls’ Leadership Center – providing girls with opportunities, unlike the childhood I had.” She recognizes that kids need to be raised differently. Parents are still raising daughters to think they need a man to take care of them. But now through programs like the Girls Leadership Council and Running and Winning program, “Girls are combatting the Cinderella message, and they’ll never go back.”
Read the full transcript of the interview here.
Shree is a recent graduate from the University of Chicago working as a paralegal for the Department of Justice in their disability rights section. When Shree is taking a break from her environmental justice advocacy, you can find her dancing to Bollywood music or catching up with John Oliver on YouTube.
Watch Raising Consciousness – a spoken word performance based on this project.
Judith (Judy) Buckman is President of South Jersey NOW – Alice Paul chapter. After her pregnancy discrimination case with the Cherry Hill schools in 1971, Judy heard a NOW speaker and realized it was society that was broken and needed to be fixed (Gloria Steinem called this “the click”). Judy joined Philadelphia NOW then, and in 1974, South Jersey NOW and has been a member of the chapter for 41 years. In 1978-1980, 1982, and since 2013, Judy has served as chapter president. In 1984, Judy and other chapter members formed the Alice Paul committee (now the Alice Paul Institute) to celebrate Alice’s 100th Birthday, an event that Judy chaired. After serving on the APCF Board for 10 years, Judy started their Girls Leadership Program. She is the recipient of Planned Parenthood’s Public Affairs Award, the Outstanding Woman of Burlington County Award, and the Alice Paul Equality Award.