Finding Their Why: What Equality Means to Our Hosts
Listen to our hosts talk about what equality means to them, how they got involved in politics, and share stories about their time as activists.
They invite you to join in the conversation by telling us what equality means to you and what got you involved in politics.
All episodes begin and end with the 2017 single “Rise” by rock group Betty (www.hellobetty.com)
It’s not a chicken-and-egg kind of thing. There isn’t one that comes first. [These rights] are interconnected.Gloria Feldt, (29:05)
In this episode:
What our hosts are pissed about (02:48)
What equality means to each host (09:32)
How voting, equal, and reproductive rights connect (28:55)
The Hosts Start by Sharing What They’re Pissed About
Gloria is pissed that a Nebraska mother and daughter were served warrants for their arrest after discussing an abortion over Facebook. She opens her statement by reading an opinion from a 34-year-old Boston lawyer named Louis Brandeis 26 years before he would serve on the Supreme Court, thus illustrating the long-standing issues around technology and the right to privacy.
Sherrye is pissed off that not one Republican senator voted to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, which will allow Medicare to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs and tackle climate change on a huge scale. Regardless of the lack of support from Republican senators, the Inflation Reduction Act did, in fact, pass. But their lack of care “pisses [her] off royally.”
Carol is pissed that our democracy is teetering on the edge of collapse, but she is glad that President Biden sat down and listened to historians who are warning him about the writing on the wall. She’s also pissed that most of America doesn’t really get how much trouble we are in.
Betty is pissed the governor of Indiana signed a near-total abortion ban. While there are some exceptions, there are such complex hoops that all of the Planned Parenthoods in the state have ceased abortion services. She’s also pissed that major companies who are headquartered in Indiana failed to stand up and defend the rights of the women who work for them, despite the calls for these companies to do so.
Carol Jenkins on Women’s Equality and Being a Black Female in America
Carol discusses that she can’t separate her experience as a woman in America from her experience as being Black in America. Some folks speculate that the US is headed for another civil war, but Carol discusses her direct family ties to the Civil War that took place from 1861 to 1865. Some of her family members fought for the Confederacy during that war. Her grandfather was the child of a plantation owner and a Black woman, and that’s where her family lineage began.
There is an extremely vicious war against women of color in this country, and Carol wants her work to provide an environment for her children and grandchildren to love and be comfortable with who they are.
Our listeners need to understand that they’re coming for all of us, and we really have to marshal our efforts. It’s clear women — especially women of color — are being made to feel less than. Carol Jenkins’ work has centered around ensuring that women have protection in the United States Constitution through the Equal Rights Amendment.
Gloria Feldt on Women’s Equality and How November 2022 May Be the Last Opportunity to Right the Ship
Gloria’s idea about equality is summed up by the idea that there’s no antidote to assaults on democracy except for democracy. She states two main sources for the intense attack on women’s rights happening today:
- Ourselves – when a movement reaches a certain point, it suffers the wages of winning, and the wind goes out of the sails of the movement.
- The progress we have made – it’s easy to think that we’ve already gotten women’s equality if you’re not really digging into what’s going on under the surface.
Gloria talks about the writer of the Equal Rights Amendment, Alice Paul, and how she knew that securing these rights in the Constitution was critical. She was one of the only suffragists to voice the need for a constant political agenda. It’s time for all of us to remember that we need to fulfill our obligation to ourselves and each other in order to keep clawing towards women’s equality.
Her book “The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women’s Rights and How to Fight Back” has a chapter called “Fighting Forward” that offers a step-by-step guide for how everyone can use their tools to save democracy.
Sherrye Henry on Women’s Equality Came to the Forefront After Her Divorce
In the 1970s, Sherrye went through a divorce and found that she couldn’t get a credit card or an apartment in her own name without a male to co-sign for her. She also couldn’t serve on a jury or get a drink by herself in many bars around the city.
She recounts a tale of the time that she and a friend went to the Russian Tea Room and attempted to order themselves drinks, but they were denied because they didn’t have a male escort. Sherrye got a little fresh with the bartender and asked if they brought in the homeless man in from the alley outside, could they be served a drink then? After she relayed this story to the owner of the Russian Tea Room on live TV, the owner changed the regulation. The next day, Gloria Steinem and a host of feminists went to the restaurant to order themselves a drink.
After that, Sherrye saw the direct impact that people can get by becoming personally involved, which led her to volunteer with organizations, run for office herself, write a book about women’s equality, and advocate for women getting business loan when she worked in the SBA under President Clinton’s administration.
Betty Spence on Women’s Equality and the Private Sector
Despite being somewhat politically involved in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, but her epiphany really came during 1994. After being denied a promotion at her job, she became an overnight activist for women’s equality in the private sector. She’s spent the last two decades working with the National Association for Female Executives (now called Seramount) to build the ranks of future women leaders. More women need to run major divisions in corporations, since those positions are where powerful businesses are made, and thanks to work the work of NAFE, the percentage of women in profit-and-loss positions has gone up from 2% to 33%.
Betty now wonders what will happen in the future where women don’t have the right to reproductive self-determination, and how forced birth will keep women out of these positions of power in the private sector.
The Interconnectedness of Voting, Equal, and Reproductive Rights – Yes!
While American women and people of color have made enormous strides, what we’re seeing now is a reaction to those victories. The people in power are struggling to hold onto their power, and they won’t relinquish it voluntary.
One of the goals of this podcast is to help all of our listeners see themselves in the story.
Carol talks about how there’s a need for all of us to focus on these rights and understand how they’re interconnected. These issues are very relevant today, and this push can be encapsulated in 100 years of things we thought we had fixed. Voting, equal, and reproductive rights are sliding back, and it’s time for all of us to become activists.
Even though we have different lived experiences, Sherrye underscores the importance of rising up to fight for these pivotal and intertwined rights.
Why Our Hosts Do This Work
Carol says her purpose with this work is encapsulated by a story where she took her 10-year-old granddaughter, Avery, to the press conference where Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives had voted to overturn the deadline on the Equal Rights Amendment. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called out to Avery and said, “We are doing this for you.”
Sherrye adds a P.S. to her previous story about the liberation of the Russian Tea Room. She later became great friends with the owner of the Russian Tea Room. The owner says that the media missed one of the best parts of the story. Right as the doors opened and before the feminist icons arrived, an old woman came in with white gloves, pearls, and a black hat. She slid into a stool, banged on the bar, and said, “I want a double martini, and it’s about time!” A great motto for all of us — it’s about time for our voting, equal, and reproductive rights to be truly protected.
Gloria feels that her activism comes down to these two words: simple justice. Everyone deserves to have it, and that’s been the driving force behind her career. Gloria retells a famous Molly Ivins story about scaring ourselves into inaction. She used this sentiment in the face of major ballot initiatives to outlaw abortion, and she sees that going on today. While this is a dark time, we don’t need to scare ourselves. Instead, we need to mobilize and do the work.
Betty highlights the work that she and Sherrye did with Executive Women for Hillary. They would host salons that they called WHAM – Winning Hearts and Minds – for Hillary. Betty saw the difference they made in persuading people to vote for a woman for president, and that helps her stay motivated to do her work.