The Trusteeship

May 9 Conversations: Taking Feminism’s Temperature

Panelists responding to questions on the "state" of feminism

Feminism is rarely discussed without passionate opinions.  On May 9th, Trusteeship members gathered at the Feminist Majority Foundation in Beverly Hills to discuss such opinions and to further delve into the current connotations of this ‘hot button word’.

A distinguished panel of women, all well deserving of being called ‘feminists’, led the discussion.   Panel moderator Honorable Lynn Schenk was the first woman representative south of L.A. in the U.S. House of Representatives and co-founder of Women’s Bank, California’s first chartered women’s bank. Other Trusteeship members on the panel included Kathy Spillar, Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine and Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation; June Wayne, renown artist and co-founder of the first Feminist Art Program; and Peg Yorkin, co-founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

As a first for the Trusteeship, some non-members were invited to sit on the panel, providing the next generation’s viewpoint on feminism.  These impressive young women included Jacqueline Sun and Myra Duran, both UCLA graduates who work as National Campus Organizers for the Feminist Majority Foundation, and Lindsey Horvath, who recently served on the West Hollywood City Council and is President emeritus of the NOW Hollywood Chapter.

A main topic of conversation by the panel was centered on the word “feminism”.  Many wondered if this word had lost its relatability and been dragged through the mud by the opponents of the movement.  Myra Duran explained, “There are stereotypes that (all feminists) are mean, angry, bra-burning people.  Pigeonholing these certain characteristics and labeling us as one type of person is just wrong.”   Kathy Spillar agreed that the word ‘feminism’ had been “beat up by the media for years.”  But, she explained, the Feminist Majority Foundation has embraced the word feminism and defines it in a very positive light.  She shared that Foundation business cards are printed with their definition, “Feminism: the policy, practice and advocacy of political, economic, and social equality for women.

Attendees and panelists responded by a burst of applause. June Wayne observed, “Feminism became a dirty word among women.  We’ve got to get over that.”  She thought that the Foundation’s definition showed positive movement toward the goal.  “We desperately need the word feminism and we desperately need for people to understand what that is,” she expounded, “We need to put that word back into the language, and I think the definition is exquisite.”

The future of feminism and how the younger generation views the topic were also discussed.   Overall, there was optimism about the popularity of feminism in the next generation.  Kathy Spillar shared statistics that 56% of American women identified themselves as feminists, even without being given a definition of the word.  And, to top that, the younger the demographic group, the more likely they were to identify as a feminist.    Peg Yorkin agreed that she had seen the cause of feminism come a long way.  She explained,  “I grew up when there were no women in any kind of jobs at all… men represented everything.  So I think we have come a long way, and we need to be positive about that.”

While feminism seems to be maintaining momentum in the next generation, some of the younger panelists explained how the face of feminism is changing a bit.  Lindsey Horvath explained, “Feminism is now a little bit broader of an umbrella in that you really can’t leave anyone behind.  It is part of a larger equality movement and when you talk about moving women forward you are talking about a general equality movement.”

Jacqueline Sun noted that she had similar experiences while organizing for women’s rights on college campuses.  “We are organizing for everybody’s rights. Equality is now seen as one giant movement.”   The panelists agreed that this was a good shift, but also expressed concern of the possibility that women’s rights could get lost in the bigger picture of all social injustice.  Jacqueline noted, “Our mission and principals at the Feminist Majority Foundation actually advocate for all people, and we need to make sure we don’t discriminate on the basis of anything.”

This sense of camaraderie was reflected in the entire evening’s discussion. Women were energized as the event came to a close and were reminder that, as Lynn Schenk summarized, “In the final analysis, we are all in it together.”

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“I am cloistered in my medical world. If not presented with a large, prospective, randomized study I question the evidence and relevance of many medical and societal conclusions. The Trusteeship is neither large nor randomized, but it is the most relevant, outstanding and compassionate group of women I have ever met.”

– Judith