It happened again the other day: I was being interviewed by my introductory journalism class when I got The Question:
Are you a feminist? Of course, I shot back. Beat. Are you?
The young woman was the tiniest bit flummoxed at being put on the spot. Well, she said. I guess it depends on how you define feminist. “A human being,” I replied, as I always do, and then enumerated some of the issues: equal pay for equal work. Equitable division of labor at home. Equal representation. Blowing up gender stereotypes.
And then I said something like this: How can anyone NOT be a feminist?
Cue the debate. About the meaning of feminism. About the bad rap the label has gotten. About the fear some young women have in owning the term. Finally, I asked for a show of hands. How many of you consider yourself feminists, I asked. Slowly, about half the class – including some males and the woman who had asked the question in the first place — raised their hands.
Whew. Better than I expected.
Anyway, I was reminded today of all the things I should have said when I ran into a video of a killer keynote address given by the glorious Gloria Steinem this week at the National Press Club in celebration of Ms. Magazine turning 40. (Fun fact: Back in the 1970s, Steinem was the first woman ever invited to speak at the Press Club. Like all the other speakers, she was given a necktie.)
The irony, as Steinem pointed out, is that public opinion polls show that the majority is on our side when it comes to any of the issues raised by the women’s movement. (See? We are all feminists.) It’s the power structures that are resistant to change.
Her take on equal pay? Check it:
…if we just had equal pay in this country, just the single thing of equal pay, which is what most everybody agrees with, right? We would have the single most important economic stimulus this country could possibly possibly ever have. It would be about $200 billion dollars more a year injected into the economy, about $150 a week more for white women on the average, for women of color something between $250 and $350. And it would be injected into the economy exactly where it’s most likely to be spent. We are not going to send it to the Cayman Islands, no! We are going to spend it and it is going to create jobs…
Awesome. Hard to disagree.
She also talked about the backlash against feminism, and one of the most insidious strategies is telling us that the women’s movement is over and done. Old news. We’ve succeeded. It’s one way to keep us from moving forward, she said, and to keep younger women from identifying as feminists. She also noted that “women’s issues” – think childcare, for one — often get siloed. She said that for years, she’s been asked if she is interested in anything other than women’s issues. Her answer? “Can you think of one thing that wouldn’t be transformed by looking at it as if everyone matters?
Seriously. She went on to discuss something else that had more than a little resonance with stuff we’ve written about here – and relates to one of the last questions I was asked in that classroom interview. A student asked if I thought I had it all. (Insert smirk here.) I said absolutely not, that having it all is a myth, especially one that so many of them had been raised with, and rambled on about the expectations of what having it all means for today’s women: smart, successful, skinny, sexy, great career, even better family, and granite in the kitchen. I could go on, and I suspect I did, but let’s give Gloria the last word:
Can women have it all? That’s not the right question. Most women are asking – am I going to lose it all. It’s a rarefied question. The real question is why we’re asking it at all of the individual when we live in the only industrialized democracy in the world that doesn’t have child care, has more unfriendly work policies in terms of both parents being equal parents… The ultimate answer is men raising children as much as women do and women being as active outside the home as much as men are.
And wouldn’t we all be better off? I have this hunch my students would agree.