Insights for Philanthropy Women from Take the Lead Women Happy Hour

Gloria Feldt, Co-Founder of Take the Lead Women and Former President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1996 to 2005.

Last evening, I had the pleasure of listening to Take the Lead Women’s Happy Hour with guests Rebecca Traister and Alyson Palmer. The preeminent Gloria Feldt, founder of Take the Lead Women and longtime leader for women in reproductive rights, moderated the discussion. All three women said things that not only lifted my spirits, but gave me some new directions to consider as I continue to develop Philanthropy Women. 

Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies and writer for New York Magazine and The Cut, talked about how she came to feminist journalism, starting with a job at Salon in the early 2000’s, where her editor was a woman and much of the staff was comprised of women. She started to write more from a feminist perspective at Salon, and that work gained traction online.

Rebecca Traister, Author and Feminist Journalism Pioneer

Traister also talked about how attention to gender equality on the left grew during the Howard Dean campaign for President of 2003-2004, when women writers called attention to the gender equality deficits on the Left. “In the years that followed I got to surf a wave of feminist journalism.”

Alyson Palmer, feminist activist and band member of BETTY, talked about her journey to a feminist awareness. Palmer referenced a formative experience in her teen years when she faced down her father as he was mistreating her brother. “You will never do that again,” she recalled telling her father. “Something about that moment changed me forever.”

Alyson Palmer, Musician and Feminist

Another formative experience Palmer referenced was in college, when she worked helping to book bands. A partner in the work kept wanting to book bands that Palmer felt “put me down,” and so she began to articulate a critique of how some music treats women. “I kept challenging him about that, and my feminism grew more from there.”

She then discovered playing the bass, and soon after met up with her fellow band members. “Once I found this little pod of females, that’s when I found my feminist voice.” Palmer has been part of the band BETTY now for thirty years. She advised women to “find at least two girl friends,” in order to grow their feminism and valuing of their own ideas and visions. “Have a small group of women you can turn to.”

Palmer is the mastermind behind a campaign called “1 at 1,” which calls all women to spend one minute at 1 pm EST on January 21 to “envision a world of gender equality.”

“The first thing we have to do is go beyond the bubble,” said Palmer. “What if the march could somehow go to you? What if every women who believes in equality could do the same thing at the same time?”

“What if all of us stood up in complete silence, and had a vision of women’s equality?” Palmer started telling people about 1 at 1, and the campaign has been catching on and growing quickly.

“It’s the simplicity of it,” she said. “I truly believe we need a structuring from the bottom up of how we see ourselves, and how we believe in ourselves.”

Initially, Palmer expected she might get 1,000 or 2,000 people interested, but the interest in 1 at 1 has been growing dramatically. Sister marches across the country are planning to participate in One at One and now, Gloria Steinem has signed on to do the countdown to the event. International interest is also growing. Women’s groups in Iraq, Norway and Israel are all planning to participate in One at One in some way. More information about the 1 at 1 campaign is available here. 

Palmer also talked about other movements for women happening internationally.  In India, women are organizing against “Eve Teasing” — the harassing of Indian women at night. To fight back, women in India are marching on multiple evenings.

Feldt posed a question from a listener in Brooklyn, Kiera, asking about  what women need to do in order to rise up and press on for gender quality. “What is the one thing women should say to themselves at the beginning of every day?”

Palmer responded by sharing a question she asks herself every day. “One of the best things you can ask yourself is:  what am I going to do for myself today? It gives me a sense of value, and a sense of time and place for myself within the day.”

Traister responded by speaking to the “untold diversity” of women and the enormous task of trying to represent women’s experiences. “I also think there are lots of women who could stand to think about what they’re going to do for other people, too,” she said. Traister referenced the unexpected voting patterns of white women in the recent election, with more white women still aligning with Republicans. She noted that, for women, “itcomes down to where you put your gender and interest in other women in comparison with where you put your interest in race or your connection to men.”

Feldt brought up a significant pattern that has emerged in the history of feminism in the US. “What we see is a pattern of having gotten started and making some big steps forward, and then voluntarily stepping back, often to let another group go first.”

“Zigging and zagging,” observed Palmer. “That is what we do. It’s very hard when your culture is always telling you to put others first.”

“We don’t want to lose the positive value of putting others first, but it’s a tricky balance,” said Feldt.

Traister made the point that there have been an enormous shift in marriage patterns in the US, contributing to cultural shifts that need more attention. She noted that for most of US history, “Women as a class were dependent on men economically. Women had to kick off their adulthoods with marriage for hundreds of years in this country.”

But that is no longer the case. Starting in the early 1990’s, that marriage pattern began to change dramatically. “For women who did marry, the median age of marriage rose. Starting in 1990 it jumped to 23.9. Today it is over 27, and in many cities, it is now over 30.”

“There are now more unmarried women in the US than there are married women. I was fascinated by that,” said Traister, which is a big part of why she wrote All the Single Ladies. 

“Housing policy, tax policy, the way that government has supported men’s participation in the workforce” were all designed around the idea that women would marry in early adulthood. “Now that we have women participating in the world differently, and we need a completely revamped set of public policies” to address that change, said Traister.

Traister said she recently learned that Hillary Clinton had put together an economic team for her presidency that “was going to redefine infrastructure to be about not just bridges and tunnels but about the infrastructure of care work — child care and elder care, those things were going to be right at the center.”

Traister expected that more women would vote for Clinton, based on how much her agenda planned to center around their concerns. “I did expect more women would vote for that. Women of color did. White women did not.”

Next up in the happy hour came a question from none other than me. “Kiersten in Rhode Island wants to know: what role can philanthropy play for creating optimism for women?” asked Feldt.

“Women are gaining power as they gain more wealth,” said Traister. “Philanthropy can play a role in terms of giving women direction about how to help, and it’s exciting to think about putting your energy and your dollars toward getting closer to equality.”

But Traister cautioned that philanthropy cannot be a stand-alone remedy for big social issues. “I also want to see philanthropy push for those policy shifts we are going to need. Don’t let up the pressure on the state institutions that are supposed to be providing for all of us.”

Palmer added that philanthropy happens at many levels in society and is not just about high net worth women. “There are people at all levels who are giving a percentage of their wealth who have very little money, but who are still giving at the same percentages. That fuels American progress, always.”

“It’s one of the things that has been characteristic of our culture in the US,” added Feldt. She noted that the philanthropic strain is more pronounced in American culture, and that government doesn’t tend to take on issues unless the grassroots, much of it supported by philanthropy, pushes for change. “Government doesn’t tend to take that responsibility unless we at the grassroots are setting the tone.”

Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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