Shame was woven into the fabric of the Cottin household for three generations, the anxiety of being “discovered” as something other than the idealized American family. No matter that Jack Cottin was a successful attorney; that his wife, Cyral, worked her way up from sewing machine operator to clothing designer; or that their daughter Letty graduated from Brandeis University with honors before she turned 20.
Dread of the ignominy of shanda drove their aspirations, just as fear of exposure of their imperfections simultaneously crushed their spirits. In her new candid memoir, Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy, activist and author Letty Cottin Pogrebin describes that duality: the fiercely guarded lies and charades that wounded and the remarkable talent for reinvention that drove them forward.
She joins us for a conversation with her old friend and longtime feminist comrade Gloria Steinem to discuss the power of shanda in her own family – reflected in so many other immigrant Jewish families – and the legacy it has left for younger generations.
Cofounders of Ms. magazine, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the Ms. Foundation for Women, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Gloria Steinem are longtime activists and writers. Pogrebin won an Emmy for her work on the TV version of Marlo Thomas’s Free to Be . . . You and Me.
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