RIP Dear Abby
Rick Perlstein has a lovely tribute to Dear Abby, who died today. Be sure to read the whole thing:
Sometimes we feel so alone, we liberals, in this country where a massacre of children wins 100,000 new members for the National Rifle Association, where politicians and pundits’ answer to a middle class drowned by predation by plutocrats is to preach a squeeze on government spending, where a president heard in the voices of 3,000 people slaughtered by Al Qaeda an injunction to invade Iraq. The beacons, however, are out there—everywhere, and sometimes where we least expect them. I’m not saying Pauline Friedman Phillips, who published her advice column in some 1,400 newspapers under the pen name Abigail Van Buren, was some Emma Goldman or something. But for millions of ordinary Americans who trusted her, she was frequently a voice of progressive decency on the cutting edge of subjects on which most voices of authority were saying very different things indeed. We lost her yesterday. So here’s an example of what I mean.
In August of 1980 the director of the ballet company of which Ron Reagan, son of the presidential candidate, was for some reason moved to put out a statement that both Reagan and all the other men in his group had “nice girlfriends.”
In the notion that ballet dancers must be gay, and that this was a shamefully horrible thing, he spoke to a fear shared by Ron Reagan’s father, who when Ron dropped out of college in 1977 to become a dancer immediately phoned up Gene Kelly to ask if that meant he was gay. Later, his adopted son Michael helped him process a disturbing discovery: he caught Ron with a woman in his and Nancy’s (gross!) bed. Said Michael, “The bad news is that you came home early and you caught him. The good news i that you found out he isn’t gay.”
“Dear Abby” had a different view. Of the ballet director, a reader wrote in to decry the “sad commentary on our society’s attitude toward human sexuality that such a statement was made at all. Implicit in that announcement were the following erroneous assumptions: 1) That male participation in ballet requires lengthy justification lest it threaten our traditional views of masculinity; 2) that all male ballet dancers are suspect and therefore proof of their masculinity is required—i.e., having girlfriends; 3) that without proof of their manliness, people might think they were gay; and 4) that being gay is bad.”
I read Dear Abby avidly from the time I was a small child. I recall her giving advice to young girls about being strong individuals and thinking for themselves long before I'd ever heard it from anyone else. She was decent, compassionate and smart and a very keen observer of human nature. And, thank goodness, her influence was huge.