because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"Dr. Ruth" Westheimer

Having lost her orthodox Jewish parents to the Nazi regime during World War II while she was staying in a Swiss orphanage, Ruth Siegel could have spent the rest of her life feeling justifiably bitter and hurt. But she didn't. Actually, in many ways, this in-your-face woman did the opposite by brazenly celebrating the joys of sex and sexuality over the airwaves throughout the 1980's. But that isn't the way she started out.

When she learned that her parents were dead, she emigrated to Israel where she was badly wounded by a shell explosion in 1948. Living through this might have been an ordeal for anyone, but for one so young and at only 4'7", Siegel truly proved her mettle and then, in 1950, married and moved on to France where she studied and taught psychology in Paris.

Another move with another man -- to Washington Heights in Manhattan, New York -- brought a Master's degree in sociology and another divorce (while she worked as a housemaid to support herself and her daughter). Then, a decade working at Planned Parenthood in Harlem and a doctorate in Family and Sex Counseling from Columbia University vaulted "Dr. Ruth" into an arena she probably could never have imagined: publicly discussing other people's sex lives. And eventually, they climbed over each other to tell their most private secrets to the pint-sized therapist with the giant giggle -- over the air!

It didn't happen over night, of course. Initially, she taught at and then was fired from a university, leaving her discouraged and angry. But one night, she boldly spoke to a group of New York broadcasters about the need to counteract the silence around sexuality. The next thing she knew, she was being paid (albeit slightly) to deliver a fifteen-minute radio show -- "Sexually Speaking" -- after midnight on Sundays. Two months later, the show was an hour long with a live call-in format and a quarter of a million listeners. So much for America not being ready...! When an in-your-face woman is ready, the world will pay attention.

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