Why We Love the 1980s & Why We Can’t Go Back


The 1980s was my favorite decade.  It wasn’t the shoulder pads, big hair, Brideshead Revisited (the TV series), Farm Aid, Hands across America, yuppiebacks (Vintage Contemporaries like Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City),  Tom Petty, or  Cynthia Heimel’s columns in The Village Voice.  I liked ’80s culture, but I enjoyed the decade mostly because I felt empowered as a woman.

I never wanted a career, though I considered myself a feminist. Is that an oxymoron?  I couldn’t imagine myself in any profession. A librarian?  Dull.  A lawyer?  Couldn’t face it.   But classics turned out to be a lucky field for me in the ’80s.  I was content to find a job teaching Latin at an excellent girls’ school.

I was an earnest teacher.  My students could write “This sucks!” on their saddle shoes with impunity, but had to be able to identify”absolute absolutes”and “historical infinitives” to prove they were doing the translation. They bragged that they  knew more Latin  than their brothers and boyfriends at the prestigious boys’ school across town.  It is true  that I drove them through the Jenney, the first-year text, at a rapid pace, and required the upper-level classes to scan poetry at sight.  I learned that girls preferred Ovid, Virgil, Catullus, and Horace to  Cicero.  After Cicero reduced a smart student to tears and others looked perplexed, I made a decision.   Poetry would drive my program.  The point was to make them love Latin literature.

Like most teachers, I had an avocation.  I was an aspiring writer. And on the weekends I began to write reviews, articles, and essays.   In retrospect, I wasted too much time on bubbly features and should have stuck to reviews.

And it didn’t occur to me that I was grossly underpaid.  Later, I was appalled to find the freelancing men were paid more.  Yes, there is sex discrimination in writing.   But in the ’80s I felt empowered!   I was a writer.  There were no limits for me.

Were people happy for me?  Not especially.  And freelance writers were cautious allies at best, competing for the same jobs.  At an informal meeting of women writers, a middle-aged woman said (loudly so I would hear) that I got assignments because I was “cute.”  Cuteness wasn’t my thing:  I had a bad haircut, no makeup, wore jeans and cowgirl boots.  Did the cowgirl boots give me an aura?  Should I have thanked her for the “compliment?” But later, I did know what she meant.  Haggard after a hospitalization, I heard a male editor say, “She didn’t used to look this way.”  Divas need to be young and pretty.

Still, I didn’t know any of that in the ’80s.  We have to enjoy our youth while we’re young.  And I was so excited about everything back then.   I’m glad I didn’t focus on the negative.

The  best thing was the joy of new experiences.

6 thoughts on “Why We Love the 1980s & Why We Can’t Go Back”

  1. What a lovely piece, Kat! The eighties were your Age of Innocecnce, but you are still able to dream and be content despite experiece. Very inspiring.
    Stefy 🙋

  2. I’ve had happy times in my life: I loved the 1960s, which seemed to me at the time to provide a measure of liberation and truth in human relationships, and me especially another chance at life in a totally new kind of wardrobe, for I married for the first time out the 1950s and was in prison, and then married again at the end of the 1960s and threw off all convention. I was happy in the 1990s, which is given no label, but I was publishing for the first time, the coming of the Internet gave me my first group of friends to belong to, both online and off, started to go to conferences. I enjoy this second decade of the 21st century which has brought me to teach again in new kinds of college-like institutions, and more chances to write to others as the Internet has so many platforms, but I am not happy because Jim is not here. My happiness comes from within and if I have any deep companionship.

  3. Yes, I love the different decades, and what they mean to us personally. The ’60s led the way to social change, so I understand very well how you could throw off convention and achieve what you wanted. We’re always more or less on a quest! That’s how it seems to me. The loss of Jim was tragic. But I’m so glad you’re enjoying the teaching and writing.

  4. I’m one who did love the ’80s culture, as bizarre as it now seems. And I did have a couple of those Vintage paperbacks (but have never seen such a lovely collection)!

    1. The ’80s were fun. Viva la ’80s! I got the pic of the Vintage books in Google, but I did read many of them years ago. 🙂

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