Serena Freewomyn

Feminism for the 21st Century

Filed By Serena Freewomyn | November 01, 2007 12:03 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Arizona, feminism, Gloria Steinem, women's issues

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting the one and only Gloria Steinem (founder of Ms. Magazine and feminist activist extraordinaire) at a lecture hosted by the Arizona State University Women & Gender Studies Program. Steinem spoke to a crowd of 1000+ about “Feminism for the Twenty-first Century.” In her speech she summarized the gains women have made in the last 35 years, thanks in no small part to the feminist movement. (You can read an extended version of her summary in the current issue of Ms.)

For instance:

  • In 1972, 36% of women and 38% of men said they would not vote for a well-qualified woman presidential candidate. In 2007, only 11% of women and 11% of men said they would not.

  • In 1972, there were only 3 women heads of state internationally. In 2007, there are 20 women heads of state.

  • In 1972, women earned 59¢ for every $1 earned by men. In 2007, women earn 77¢ for every dollar men earn.

  • In 1972 only one law in the US prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 2007, 28 states and 171 cities and counties prohibit such discrimination. However, the federal government and 41 states have passed “Defense of Marriage Acts” prohibiting same-sex marriage, and it is still unclear whether the ENDA will pass.

Obviously, we have made a lot of progress in the last 35 years. But when you look at those statistics, it’s clear that we still have a long way to go.

Now in her seventies, Ms. Steinem still keeps and amazing pace. I was lucky enough to take her around the ASU campus to different events throughout the day and it wore me out. The fact that she’s still doing everything she always has for women’s equality is mind boggling. And I just hope that I’m even half as foxy as she is when I get to be her age.

For the video of Ms. Steinem's lecture, click here.

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First of all, great first post on our site, Serena! I'm so glad that you've joined us at TBP. Seriously, the G-Spot (Serena's zine that was a blog for a few months, for those of you who don't know) was one of my favorite reads when it was around.

That must have been amazing to meet a person like Gloria Steinem. I just saw her on The Colbert Report and she was hilarious and sharp and energetic. I did not know that she was in her 70's.

I'm interested in that you included sexual orientation discrimination in your facts about the current state of feminism. Because of the ENDA split, which just caught me off-guard because I really can't see much difference between transphobia and homophobia, has gotten me to thinking a lot about coalitional politics, when and how much of it is appropriate, how much we should "focus" on one area of activism, etc. I'm thinking about how transphobia and homophobia both come from a demonization of transgression against gender roles....

I'm thinking that's similar to the movement towards equality for women. What do you think? Was that the reason you included what some would typically label gay and lesbian issues into your list?

Or am I just trying to sound smart?

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | November 1, 2007 7:18 AM

Seeing your post (and joining Alex in welcoming you to TBP) as well as his inquiry about Steinham's mentioning of sexual orientation issues in her list of feminist accomplishments jogged my memory concerning on aspect of the link. When I was a government attorney I worked closely with a woman who was our Federal Women's Program Coordinator. Although she was an evangelical Christian, some of the more patriarchial aspects of her faith didn't invade her work for woman's equaltiy, at least in the workplace. But it seemed to in another area. She came back from a national conference in the 1970's saying it was all very nice but that there were "far too many lesbians", and that bothered her. "Some of them say we can do without men; they just don't seem to have any use for them", I recall her saying. I was married and still in the closet then, and didn't say anything back, but it did give me the impression, rightly or not, that lesbians played a significant role in the feminist movement at that time, but may not have been universallly welcomed by their straight sisters. Am I correct?

You are correct, Don. Feminism's early decades sadly left out a lot of non-white, non-middle class women. Lesbians often got pushed out of local chapters/ leadership positions, and women of color were often not invited or considered at all.

Third-wave/ new millenium feminists are working to make feminism more inclusive and to work with LGBT groups, people of color, and other progressive groups to push not just our agenda but the full broad spectrum of "let's make the world a better place where everyone can reach her/his full potential". Like I keep saying, it's the same tired few policy makers who are screwing up our environment, our government, our individual rights, etc, and if we can just get rid of them all of our movements will be better off. We have a lot in common, starting with (but by no means ending with) our common enemies.

Great to have you with us, Serena, and totally jealous you got to meet Gloria Steinem. I'm thrilled to see she included LGBT info among her stats--thrilled that one of the 2nd wave leaders is still progressing.

Wow, thanks for the positive feedback and the warm welcome.

To answer all three comments, Gloria Steinem nicely summed up her inclusion of LGBTQ issues in the list of feminist accomplishments when she said that the restriction of womyn's reproductive rights and the restriction of LGBTQ rights comes from the same root: patriarchy. If that wasn't the case, then everyone who is against abortion would be pro gay & lesbian sex. Because it's the only 100% effective form of birth control. But being against abortion has NOTHING to do with caring about unborn babies (just look at how the Republicans are against health care for kids). It has everything to do with restricting people's autonomy and controlling the modes of reproduction to ensure that there are plenty of future workers and soldiers being birthed, along with future baby factories (aka "womyn") in order to keep the capitalist machine going.

Seriously, though, the second wave of feminism wasn't a monolothic group as so many people would like to believe. There were the more conservative "liberal feminists" like Betty Friedan who were afraid of the lavendar menace (aka "lesbians") because they were afraid that the presence of lesbians in the womyn's rights movement would delegitimize their efforts to be more like men (aka have equal paying jobs outside of the home, run for political office, etc).

However, Gloria Steinem was part of the more radical group of second wavers who included LGB issues from the beginning. (I don't think anyone was talking about the T back then, Stonewall not excepting.) Steinem's group of radicals was about sexual liberation period.

Alex, I think you make a fine point about the split between coalitions. Seems like the trans community is always being told to move to the back of the bus. Look at how the treaty negotiations for the International Criminal Court (the body that is supposed to prevent/respond to acts of genocide) over the inclusion of gender-specific acts of genocide, such as rape during wartime. An "unholy alliance" was created between the US, the Vatican, and several Islamic countries to limit the definition of gender, because they knew that the treaty could be used to respond to discrimination/genocide based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This resulted in Article 7-3(h) of the treaty, which says, "for the purposes of this treaty, the term gender is defined as the two sexes, male and female, and should not be interpreted to mean anything different from the above."

How did the clause come about? Global womyn's rights activists who had busted their asses to have gender included in the treaty were worried that if they didn't concede on this point, the entire section of the treaty would be left out and rape would be a permissable form of genocide under international law. The LGBTQ activists who had fought alongside them were told, "wait your turn." Just like the African American women who fought alongside the suffragists in the early stages of the first wave of feminism were told, "wait your turn. Be patient. Eventually you'll get your right to vote, too."

Sorry for the long-winded history lesson. But I think Gloria Steinem's right on the money. We've come a long way, but we still have a very long way to go. And true coalitional politics (in my not so humble opinion) means that if one of us goes down, we all go down together.

Jen Jorczak Jen Jorczak | November 1, 2007 6:25 PM

Amen, sister! Thanks for the clarification on the 2nd wave--I was not a women's studies major and sometimes miss the subtleties. History is good to know--especially when 77 cents is still so far from a dollar.

The old adage used to be: "Feminism is the theory. Lesbianism is the practice."

And having just re-read Woolf's A Room of One's Own I'm reminded that the the women's movement began long before the 60's or 70's and much of that history should be revisited if one wants to discuss how far (or not) we've come.

AWESOME!! absolutely awesome!

If we were truly a brave country we would elect Gloria Steinem President!

BTW, I've been meaning to say this was one of the best post I've ever seen on Bilerico...I've shared it with several friends who also loved it

Great job Serena!