Feminism is clearly a major part of your life, and you have passed down the importance of it to your daughter, Ruby (Please watch this video of a 7-year-old Ruby telling Amy Poehler what it means to be a feminist before proceeding.). What does it mean to you to be a “feminist”?
It’s so important to me that you can see this child has a firm grasp on what “equal value” means, that even in the playground, feminism is an approach to the world that can come in handy.
To me, to be a feminist is to know that women and men are of equal value. Value. There are a lot of things that spring out from that ethos: what we can accomplish, how we evolve as people, how we relate to each other, gender wise. But if you approach gender from a place of an even playing field, it allows for “roles” to be stripped away, for convention to be stripped away, for conditioned behavior to be stripped away. It allows for women to enter a workplace and know that whatever her skill is, she can excel in that arena, go further and further still. To be a feminist who understands that women and men are of equal value means that in a relationship, a breadwinner is something either or both partners can be. To be a feminist to me that is understands men and women are of equal value is freedom.
How do you think the idea of feminism has evolved?
Do you mean since the Third Wave? Or since…when?
I mean more the perception of being a feminist, and the social stigma that goes (went?) along with the word. Do you think the “idea” of a feminist has changed/evolved in the eyes of the mainstream public? In the eyes of the average man? What about the average woman?
I think that the social stigma of being identified as a feminist exists. My daughter is now in 7th grade. At the beginning of the school year, she learned that she got the Suffrage Movement as a course in her curriculum and she was psyched; she felt this was a class she would ace given her extensive knowledge of the First wave. She was in a classroom with her advisor from 6th grade, a woman in her 20s who is also the Chorus instructor at school. And Ruby was like, “Ms ___, Ms. ___, I got into Suffrage! I’m so excited!” And this woman said to my daughter, “Oh honey, I wouldn’t brag about that, you don’t want to be one of those crazy feminists that hate men and no one likes.”
I was horrified when Ruby told me about this exchange. But it reminded me that we have a lot of work to do. The work we did in the 90s has only carried over to some extent. I’m excited to read Feministing every single day, and they do a great job of informing and educating, but you see the problems as well, the misogyny and the misconception exists on every level everyday.
I’m proud that my child knows that she can push back on an idiot exchange like this, but I’m sad to know that this idiot exchange exists.
I think we understand that Hillary Clinton is the shit. I think we can also see that she gets a lot of stones thrown at her and it’s not that difficult to connect that to misogyny.
Today’s average person? It depends on their age. You ask a 25-year-old man where he stands on feminism and you’ll get a different answer from a 40-year-old man. Same with women. I saw a seismic shift on approaches to feminism when I became a mother and moved into a community where many women were housewives. I was overwhelmed by the contentedness. Didn’t we fight for our right to have it all and didn’t it include working and parenting and what were these women doing? And the answer was simple: they were living their lives on their terms (up to that point- certainly by 3rd grade, I started to see marriages become divorces and watched women enroll in real estate courses and such so they could return to earning an income, and I watched these women work through their heartache, but also their fear about how to return to the workforce and what they would be confronting, etc.). When my daughter was four, I was reading some piece about Naomi Wolf and I turned to the Mom* next to me to ask her her opinion on a quote of Wolf’s, and the mother said, “Who is Naomi Wolf?”
So there’s an awareness and there’s a lack of awareness.
I dont know that I’m the average woman, but I suppose it depends on what you consider “the average.” I do know that I’m a woman raising a daughter on her own. I’ve had to balance having a demanding career while supporting my family (which includes a dog). I’ve had to do it all in a competitive market, in my 40s, without external financial support, in a city with a very high cost of living while maintaining friendships and being involved in her school and falling for someone every so often. The things I fought for in my 20s and 30s while starting BUST and turning into something relevant, well, that’s been incredibly rewarding. But where I am now? I wouldn’t be here without the fierce determination of the Second and Third wave feminists, what they instilled in me and how empowered I felt and still do.
*I left out that me and this mom were in the playground, watching our daughters play. And I was terribly and dreadfully unemployed and living off my savings and spending my afternoons in the park with the housewives and nannies and an occasional househusband to keep myself from going insane and this was pre iPhones and super-duper Crackberries. So, often, I would bring my knitting and something to read with me to the park in case I was stuck having to make small talk with ladies on park benches, which was excruciating to me, as I knew in my pre-mommy life, I most likely would not have known these women, their paths and mine would never have crossed, mostly because of the work I was doing as an activist and the work they were doing not being activists.
What women have inspired you in the past?
I could go on and on and on with this one. Because in many cases, it’s something that happened in a moment of time, something that happened that inspired me. So…Well, even though I didn’t know them personally, the Suffragists.What they were up against, what they made happen. And the list is rather endless. Gloria Steinem, many many many moments. My first grade teacher. Rosa Parks, obvs. Helen Reddy everytime I heard “I Am Woman.” Gilda Radner. Anita Hill. Patti Smith. Nina Hartley. Phyllis Diller. Faye Wattleton. The women in my family. I also have been inspired by specific men, and the values they’ve put into the world, like Ian MacKaye.
Who is a modern day feminist you admire?
What is your advice to women to be more aware and involved?
Think of just some of the things that affect women specifically where an interest from any individual could make a difference: ERA. Pro-choice. Funding for breast/cervical cancer screenings/research. Domestic violence. Sexual abuse. Mean girl-ism. The male gaze. The glass ceiling. Women’s health care. Pre-natal, post, all of it. WIC. Subsidized child care. Education. Employment. Social security. Women in government. Women in the sex industry. Stay-at-home women.
I mean, the list of hot buttons that affect us goes on and on. Pick one, just one thing, and get behind it. Start a Tumblr, get on Twitter. Speak up. Publish a zine. You don’t have to just limit voicing your frustration to coffee-talk with your friends; you can take the soap box to the world, with just a few key strokes. I think in general the best way to affect change is to focus on one thing, and master it- become an expert, be credible, know your facts. Be the person that helps to make a difference with your voice. I love what the students at Duke University did with WhoNeedsFeminism or what Danielle Henderson did with Feminist Ryan Gosling. Or what any of my friends are doing with their Tumblrs: they’re talking to the world. And that’s what the world needs- more vwomen’s voices. Speaking up.
“I remember the day that I realized that I could be a principal in my own life and that was really a revolutionary thought.” -Diane Nash
Do you have any suggested reading for women who want to learn more about the movement?
So with reading, this is a tough one because there are so many great books, so I’m going to just list a few.
Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem, and also Crazy Salad by Nora Ephron. These two books of essays came out ages ago and hold up to this day, two women in the midst of their impact on feminism, talking about the world as they saw it. Illuminating.
Another crazy influential book in my lifetime: Elaine Brown’s Will to Power. Something about her getting in the mix, in this all male world, and fucking killing it, plus her honest vulnerability. I couldn’t put it down. It was so far away from the world I was living in (Yeshiva girl life) and yet I could relate to her ambition, her passion, in a way that I hadn’t felt before, maybe since Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Tina Fey’s Bossypants. It’s an excellent memoir of a woman born into the Second wave, following her instincts, finding her awakening, honing her talent, and succeeding. Her feminism is thread throughout the book. And of course, it’s not at all boring like this description.
Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrl Revolution by Sara Marcus. This book covers the Riot Grrl era and is essential reading for bridging the gap from Second to Third wave and getting past it.
I would also recommend reading Jezebel, Feministing, Bitchmagazine.org and HelloGiggles every day. These websites cover pop culture, politics and everything in between- honestly, but always with a watchful female eye.
Click here to read the first part of this interview.
Photo by Art Streiber