Veteran Feminists of America


It is difficult to imagine that the year I was born - in 1933 - was only 13 years after women in the United States had the right to vote. I was raised in a Middle Eastern, predominantly patriarchal community, in Brooklyn, New York, that imposed limitations on my two sisters and my mother. After I chose medicine as a career, I found a similar patriarchy: there was only one woman in my medical school class of one hundred.

As a physician, I practiced Pathology at State University of New York but maintained an active interest in the arts. I trained as a filmmaker under cinematographer, Arnold Eagle at the New School in New York; and as an actor at the Warren Robertson Theatre Workshop, New York. My medical documentary, “Fraternal Twins: The First Year of Life,” was widely distributed to universities in the 1980s. Later, I produced and performed the title role in the award winning film, “The Poet Englestrom”; and I wrote, produced and played the lead role in, “Five Valid Reasons for Murdering Lisa,” a satirical film exploring the roots of misogyny.

My stage work includes the lead role in “Sing, America: Norman Mailer in His Own Words” at the Actors Studio; “Bringing the Fishermen Home” by Deb Margolin, at Dixon Place. As co-founder of the Perfectly Frank Cabaret Theatre, we produced over 40 new plays, mostly in downtown New York venues, including Dixon Place, Here, Home for Contemporary Theatre, and Le Poeme. Currently, a feature film, “Caballo,” is in development.

Since retiring from medicine I have found other interests, which, like the medical ethic, fall under the rubric of “Do No Harm.” Most recently, I have explored the proclivity of our species for killing our fellow members. This interest was stimulated by a book entitled, “The Most Dangerous Animal" by David Livingstone Smith, with whom I’m collaborating on a mixed media project. The project deplores our culture of violence, citing the killing of 200 million people over the last 100 years, through war and acts of genocide. The project’s goal is to create a movement towards a saner society.

This project feels like a natural sequel to a documentary I completed in 2010, entitled "Equality, I am Woman" based on footage I shot of the Woman's March for Equality in New York City in August 1970, a march that celebrated the 50th anniversary of women's right to vote. Equality is an ideal I’ve actively pursued throughout the years: the Civil Rights march with Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1970 from Macon to Atlanta protesting police brutality in Augusta; the first Gay Liberation march in June, 1970, which was a reaction to the police action at Stonewall Bar in 1969; a protest against the proposed neo-Nazi march in Skokie, Illinois, in the 1970s. (upper right corner of photo: Emily Friedan, Al Sutton, Jacqui Ceballos)

Women’s equality should be a natural right, yet it has been politicized, by tying it to religion, economy and birthing rights, rendering the issue almost unrecognizable. For a woman, though, the issue of equality is complex: she must maintain her own personal emotional and psychological stability, so that her belief in her right to equality is not mitigated. Often, she must also defend herself against personal attacks that she receives along the way. Thus, she must take care of herself while moving the world forward.

I dedicated "Equality, I Am Woman" to my mother, Luna Sutton, who was born in 1910 and passed away in the waning hours of 2010. My mother’s life spanned an eventful century, where she observed the evolution of the rights of women and minorities. She was my greatest inspiration.

The women’s movement has always been confronted with a male-controlled society that is threatened by its claims for equality. In 1970, the media did its best to ridicule the Women’s March for Equality in New York City as being comprised of a handful of misguided women, using the worst pejoratives. In its coverage of that event, The New York Times underestimated the numbers of the marchers by a factor of 10.

With men, there seems to be a disconnect in our behavior that disables our empathy, and allows us to pursue our own personal entitlement to the detriment of women. One could also describe this male quality as a cocktail of expedience, ambition, self-centeredness, arrogance, blindness or a kind of stupidity. After all, what could be more basic to our lives in this world than the notion of equality? Our society has been able to make wonderful advances because we have cooperated with one another. We need our neighbors. We need our mates, our partners, not as slaves, but as equals, because it is the right thing to do and because, as a society, we are no stronger than our weakest links.

Misogyny, in my belief, is the hostile, emotional underbelly of man's resistance to accepting women’s equality. A man may vote correctly, share in the household chores, and maintain a tokenism of being a fair mate; but if he does not examine his deepest feelings, he will not be free of the hostility that fuels gender inequality. The male perspective is formed from infancy. His mother appears omniscient and omnipotent, creating life and nurturing it. As he matures, he develops awe in the face of her natural gifts, her gracefulness, often leading to a lifelong obsession with women’s sensuality. So it is not unusual that some men are resentful and jealous of her. Someone said, “ The measure of a society is the level of intelligence and maturity of the majority of its members.” We still have a long way to go to achieve an equal society, but we are on the way.

PS from Jacqui:

In early 2010 Jeanne McGill, publicist representing Al Sutton, discovered the film he’d taken of the 1970 march, and then somehow found me. As head of New York NOW’s Strike Committee I’d planned many of the August 26th events and remember that march as the joyous culmination of the most exciting day in the early feminist movement. Thus began several months reaching out to many who had taken part in the march. As the memories poured in, Jeanne was inspired to put them into a book, soon to be published. Meanwhile Al edited the film, adding Helen Reddy singing “I Am Woman” and Gloria Steinem and me sharing our memories and Betty Friedan‘s speech at the rally after the march. All this culminated in our celebration of Betty on June 17th. We are grateful to Jeanne for her major role in this little drama, and to Al for the film and his gift of over 200 copies to share with you.

Check out Al Sutton at the Internet Movie Database:

Comments to Jacqui Ceballos:

Back to VFA Fabulous Feminists Table of Contents