Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

October 19, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Feminism


  • What is the role and character of feminism today? Former Planned Parenthood national director Gloria Feldt will discuss feminism.
Guests:
  • Gloria Feldt - Former national director of Planned Parenthood
Category: Culture

View Transcript
Ted Simons: It's been a while since "you've come a long way, baby" was part of our everyday lexicon. While feminism has aged, it has not gone away. What is the unfinished work of feminism? That was one of the questions asked at a recent seminar held at Arizona State University with four feminist leaders. The seminar was titled, "Changing the world: Feminism In Action, Generation To Generation." I recently spoke to one of the panelists, Gloria Feldt, the former national head of Planned Parenthood. Thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Gloria Feldt: It's a pleasure, Ted.

Ted Simons: What is feminism?

Gloria Feldt: Feminism is simple justice. It's just about social justice. About equality. It's about a fair shake for everybody, basically.

Ted Simons: Has -- has feminism changed over -- 2009 feminism, how's it different?

Gloria Feldt: It's evolved many times. Back in the 1900s -- in the past 20, 30, 40 years, feminism has changed from a time when -- well, in my era, generally referred to as the second wave, we were ticked off. Going about breaking every glass ceiling we could find and today, young women grow up with so many more choices in their lives and sometimes the complaints you hear from young women about the complexity of having choices to which I say, hmm, yes, right, fine. It's fine. It's better to have choices and worry about them, than to have no choices at all.

Ted Simons: Is Sarah Palin a feminist?

Gloria Feldt: I think that's the question of the day. She refers to herself as a feminist and in many ways she's totally a product of the feminist revolution. I don't think she quite appreciates she would have never been Sarah Barracuda the basketball player had it not been for title IX and the shoulders she stands on are more progressive shoulders. I think it matters what a woman says and whether she's actually fighting for things that make women's lives better and I don't think Sarah Palin does that.

Ted Simons: There's some who say feminism is a small tent. It's not big enough for Sarah Palin, the stay-at-home mom. These people not thought of feminists.

Gloria Feldt: I think the reason -- it's permeated our culture to the point that people don't recognize it any more and I think feminism has changed men as profoundly as women.

Ted Simons: Talk more about that.

Gloria Feldt: My father, for example, he would -- he liked to play with the kids but never changed a diaper. Never responsible for staying home if a child was sick. My son, on the other hand, has been intimately involved with his children since they were conceived. Let alone, since they were born. And so -- and I think that men, as well as women now -- and by the way, this month is supposed to be the month that women become half of the workforce. And so that's a very profound change and I think that men and women together need to be the next big wave of feminism and change the workplace to make it more -- well, so that everybody can have a life and earn a living.

Ted Simons: And yet it sounds like there's a lot of criticism still of the feminist mind set, coming, mostly, from men. A lot of men still aren't buying into it and are loud and critical of it. How do you respond?

Gloria Feldt: From a life spent in social change movements, I can say, of course, when you're changing the world some are going to get uncomfortable. But just as we have a generation of women like Sarah Palin for whom the changes that feminism has brought has changed her life too, it's -- it's everywhere. And you could -- you could know that when you're changing the world so profoundly and changing the balance of power, it's really changing the balance of power, that some people are going to be uncomfortable, but if you're changing the balance toward greater social justice, greater equality, fairness, fine, a little discomfort is ok.

Ted Simons: The idea of feminist -- feminism as social policy and change and changing that power structure, how do you teach that to the current generation? How does that message get through to the next generation?

Gloria Feldt: Uh-huh.

Ted Simons: Because as you mentioned earlier, things have changed.

Gloria Feldt: And we have to tell our stories. That's why I've been actually going from campus to campus with a group, we call ourselves the women girls ladies, and we have several generations who tell our stories. How we came to feminism and what we think the unfinished business is and we had a great lecture. The women of the world lecture through women and gender studies here at ASU and we're proud to have that conversation because it needs to be a public conversation and it starts with sharing the stories.

Ted Simons: You mentioned unfinished business. Talk to me more. What is this unfinished business for feminism?

Gloria Feldt: For men and women to get together and change the workplace so it's more supportive of families and men as well as women can participate in family life. Secondly, I believe that it is time to change the whole basis for reproductive justice to a human rights basis and I think that the legal notion of privacy, while it has been necessary, isn't sufficient to carry us into the 21st Century and really protect the basic fundamental human right to make our own childbearing decisions without the government or anyone else intervening.

Ted Simons: Arizona has a new law -- it's blocked by the courts -- most of it -- regarding abortion. Are you saying there needs to be a new way to look at that?

Gloria Feldt: There are so many ways now to be parents. There are different kinds of fertility treatments, all kinds of issues that arise today that didn't arise 35 years ago when Roe v. Wade was decided based on a right to privacy. I think it's a human rights issue to be able to make our own personal decisions about childbearing.

Ted Simons: Is that an uphill struggle for feminists to look at it now? You've got a whole new paradigm. You've walked up one hill, and now here comes another one.

Gloria Feldt: It's a big hill to walk up. You begin to talk about it, apply movement-building principles and -- and we actually, in congress, have legislation that has been drafted called the freedom of choice act based on a civil rights protection. For reproductive justice as opposed to just being about privacy. And so you have a legislative agenda. You organized people around it, you educate, educate, educate, and it's a never-ending process. Like a relay race.

Ted Simons: How do you get bipartisan support for something like that? I'm guessing Democrats would be relatively open, but also guessing a lot of Republicans wouldn't. How do you bridge that gap?

Gloria Feldt: There's not a perfect correlation. Or non-correlation. Not all Republicans are anti-choice. Witness the fact that Peggy and Barry Goldwater -- Peggy was one of the planners of planned parenthood and Barry a great supporter until the day he died. It's not accurate to say all Republicans are anti-choice. Or all Democrats pro-choice. You're right, over the years, the polarization has begun to take its toll and I'm hoping we can begin to bridge that gap by talking about human rights issues and talking about really fundamental American values and freedoms that are for everybody. That's not a bipartisan issue.

Ted Simons: Last question: Back to the overriding issue of feminism here. Critics say that feminism in general disdains family, disdains religion and these things. These are loud voices and again, there are a lot of young people, next generation coming up, hearing those voices as well as your voice. Why are they wrong when they say that feminism looks a little bit on families and stay-at-home moms and religion, conservative Christians?

Gloria Feldt: That's an argument designed to keep gender roles in their place, I guess you could say. To keep the traditional division between the gender roles. But this is an era in which it's brains, not brawn, that makes the difference in the workplace. This is an era where we have found repeatedly that better decisions are made in the public sphere when women are part of that decision making process. It's been found that the return on investment is better when you have a third to 40% women in your management team and on your boards of directors. We can't afford not to have effect's talent in today's society and today's culture. So I really think that feminism is for the better of families. It's for the better of society. And that everybody will have a healthier, happy life -- look, men have been put into little stereotypes too. And maybe they don't all like that. I'm actually very optimistic and I think today's generation of young people, both men and women, are just incredible and they're going to take this whole notion of the simple justice that is feminism and take it places that I could never have thought of.

Ted Simons: Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Gloria Feldt: Thank you, Ted. It was great.

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