March 1: CUNY history/women and gender studies major Lee
Taylor asked me some great questions for a paper she's writing. They
really made me think, so I decided to share her questions and my
answers with you as my first 2009 Women's History Month post.
I'm going to post something new on GloriaFeldt.com every day in March to recognize this
auspicious month. But you'll have to look around the site because I'll
post each to the page where the subject matter fits the best. Be sure
to let me know your thoughts, post your ideas, and feel free to suggest
women whose contributions you think should be recognized.
LT: What are some of the distinct differences you see between Second and Third Wave feminism?
GF: I don’t think much about these distinctions. I’m more concerned
about points of convergence and universal goals. Every generation has
to speak in its own tongue, but the human issues are the same--to find
meaning and purpose in life, to love and be loved, to have the
resources with which to build a life.
LT: What are some of the key women’s health issues of which you think young women need to become aware?
GF: In the reproductive health area, young women know so much more
than my generation did, but there are also so many more issues to
consider. Protection of fertility, for example, since childbearing now
occurs on average a decade or more after first intercourse and the
probability of having several partners, thus exposure to ST’s, during
that time is high. And deciding when is the best time to have children,
if they want children. All this requires comprehensive sex education
which we have too little of in this country, so young women need to
take the lead against the abstinence-only scourge and not allow it to
keep them from the knowledge they need to make healthy, responsible
decisions for themselves about sex, childbearing, and their health.
I am also very big on general preventive health--healthy diet and
exercise, not smoking, and getting enough sleep in particular. These
are lifelong habits that can make such a difference. Of course, my
family teases me that I think exercise cures everything! (It does,
LT: Women of my generation (college age) seem to embrace the
fluidity of sexuality, and often experiment with members of the same
sex. Do you think this is just a “trendy” phenomenon or a serious
development in feminism?
GF: Actually, I remember reading books of fiction when I was a
pre-teen a thousand years ago, in which they talked about younger
college women having crushes on older ones. And all-boys’ schools have
always been pretty famous for same sex experimentation. So that’s not
new, though today’s ability to completely separate sex from
childbearing makes it more likely that gender barriers will be fluid.
This adds a complexity to life that might be confusing, so I really
don’t know how to predict whether it will be a long term development in
feminism. There could be a backlash against it. Or it could become a
generally accepted social norm. Or more likely, both.
LT: Do you see a huge difference between your approach to feminism and that of the college age generation?
GF: When I discovered feminism in the 1960’s, it was because I got
ticked off at the “help wanted female” ads that were limited to
teaching, nursing, and secretarial work and when I couldn’t get a
credit card in my own name or buy a car without my husband co-signing,
even after I was earning more than he was. The term “barefoot and
pregnant” wasn’t a theoretical construct for me—it was normal life.
Once I got the birth control pill, I realized how important it was for
any woman to be able to control her fertility if she was to be able to
determine anything else about her life. So the personal became
political in a very concrete way. The key for younger women today—who
have birth control, credit cards, and unlimited educational and
professional options--is to identify what injustices tick them off,
what are the issues they are passionate about, then make the political
personal, and take action accordingly.
And I would add that while I believe my generation made many
important advances, one thing we didn’t do so well is teach the next
generation about the power and pleasures of working together as sisters
in a movement. I hope young women will rediscover the magic of taking
action collectively to advance something about which you feel
LT: What is your definition of feminism?
GF: Equality and justice.
LT: What is your reaction to young women who express discomfort with identifying as a “feminist”?
GF: The powerful don’t relinquish their power easily. So the
traditional male power structure makes fun of feminism and when that
doesn’t work, they get angry and attack feminists in a variety of ways.
Young women seem particularly vulnerable to controversy and conflict so
they shy away from being called feminist. This is a normal human
reaction, but young women need to get over it for their own sake. Point
the finger in the right direction, toward those who denigrate you by
denigrating feminists and feminism.
LT: How did becoming a teen mother impact your perspective on abortion and other reproductive rights like birth control?
GF: It made me humble. I realized that my choices weren’t any better
or more moral than other women’s. And I wanted my own children to have
more choices than I’d had. In regard to birth control, I truly felt
like the pill, being the first really reliable method, had saved my
life, and I became passionately committed to making sure everyone had
access to the means to plan and space their childbearing.
LT: Do you think the definition of feminism has changed within the past thirty years?
GF: No. But it has enlarged.
LT: What do you think are important feminist issues today?
GF: Young women and men should join together to change workplace
policies so that both can have a life, earn a living, and have the
opportunity to contribute their skills to society. It isn’t fair that
the burden of care giving for children and the elderly still falls
almost entirely on women, nor is it fair for the burden of earning
income to fall more heavily on men. One of the best victories of
feminism has been that men today are or want to be much more involved
in their children’s lives so for once men and women are natural allies.
There are many global issues, sex trafficking for example, that call out for feminist action.
Media justice for women is another area I’ve become involved with in
recent years, because the portrayal of women as objects or idiots in
the media is harmful, and the fact that women hold only 3% of the clout
positions in media leadership is one appalling reason why.
Women need to step up to the political plate, since we now make up
only 17% of Congress and 25% of state legislatures, and we have never
had a female president. This is not because it is harder for women to
get elected any more; it is because we aren’t as likely as men to run.
So men end up passing the laws that govern our lives. Gender balance in
government has been shown to improve the quality of decision making and
the passage of female/family-friendly policies.
And finally, as I said in this article recently, we have to recreate the entire reproductive justice movement from the ground up as a movement for human rights.
That should be enough to keep you busy for quite some time.
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