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From Betty to Olivia

19 Jul Posted by in • Rachel Wahba | 12 comments
From Betty to Olivia

WhenThe Feminine Mystique,” Betty Freidan’s seminal book arrived in the mail, it turned me inside out. I expected a how-to book on glamour – a  feminine “mystique” – refining  the ancient art of Allure/Glamour/Gorgeousness – how to put on make-up and look sexy. Right?

What else would an unsophisticated 22 year old new immigrant with her Egyptian/Iraqi/Indian/Japanese background expect?  When the book arrived imagine my surprise. Feminism was …What? “Feminism” wasn’t about being “feminine” and sexually attractive to …men… What?

Suddenly my lifetime of anger from the crush of “sexism” was unpacked and articulated. All my feelings and those I grew up experiencing secondhand from mom and granny were articulated and formed a theory called “feminism”. We were not crazy. I felt more validated than I had in a very long time. I had been lost with my baby daughter and a confused husband in the San Fernando Valley. I was unsatisfied and it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t supposed to be happy watching soap operas. It wasn’t my fault that I was losing the ability to read a book anymore. I had come from a world steeped in feminine “mystique” –The job of the female was to fan the flames of the elusive feminine. That was the “mystique” I thought I was going to master.

Before Betty Friedan I felt so guilty about not being happy in a role I thought was tailor made for me. Guilty counting the hours till the day would end as I folded diapers while the baby napped. Crying helplessly instead of Thanking God for my good life. He felt confused. What was wrong with me?  I didn’t know… Mike didn’t beat me, he didn’t even yell at me. He was a nice guy. My baby was healthy. I was physically healthy. What did I want? Why wasn’t “As the World Turns” and “One Life To Live” enough?

I could hear my mother’s voice, “you have to adjust, you are a wife and mother now…” I didn’t know where to find this new world where a new language was being spoken. We moved to San Francisco. Something was happening there. First the anti-war movement galvanized me, then University. I went back to school. Only this time, I was no longer looking for a husband and a way to stay in the USA. I didn’t know what I was looking for but they were there. Everywhere. San Francisco State had a small cadre of radical lesbian feminists. They found me, I found them. Life changed.

My now six year old daughter wanted to know: “Mommy, why don’t you wear your make-ups anymore?” Once turned on there was no going back in consciousness. And make-up? Its only gotten better.

For the next three decades my world was steeped in Olivia Records which morphed into Olivia Cruises. With the founding of Olivia Travel, my partner and I began taking thousands of lesbians around the world.  Out in every which way, make-up and lesbian feminism is a powerful mystique.


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