Feminists at 75

By Don Rollins

Call it chance, fate or the grand design of some celestial goddess, what’re the odds that Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda would simultaneously garner attention in this feminist-hostile, postmodern age? And yet that’s just what happened last month when Steinem sat for an HBO documentary and Fonda hit the media trail to promote her latest book.

For the forty-and-under, the similarities between Fonda and Steinem are many; so are the differences. They’re but a couple of years either side of 75, have toured off and on together for many years and even launched a short lived radio network for women.

But the Hanoi photo shoot aside, Fonda has always been more mainstream, more appealing to affluent women and of late, more spiritual. She projects some residual Hollywood, genuine optimism and a still youthful vibe. Even if the air of inordinate privilege irks you, you’re glad she’s on your side.

Steinem, she remains more analytical and articulate.

She knows her American history. While she at points shares her cohort and friend’s guarded hope for the future, there’s a sobering, populist gravitas about her. She’s the steely liberationist. The praxis organizer with a dark nature.

But whatever their differences, time and events have shaped both Fonda and Steinem into something approaching activist oracles, at least for anyone with the horse sense to listen. While they set out to champion the feminist cause, they eventually recognized that the marginalization of women is but one head on the Hydra of American conservatism.

Witness their latest work which connects the dots most insider, reelection-minded Democrats dare not: sex education and rising, off-the-grid abortion rates; ongoing Bush-era foreign wars and disappearing safety nets; and tea party influence with the advancing disparity between rich and poor.

Fonda and Steinem are truth-tellers in the mold of their slightly older sisters-in-arms: Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Aileen Hernandez.

And like them, they have come of age in tough times.

Problem for our side is that when strong, gifted, battle-tested women like these are placed beside the current crop of mostly timid and tepid Washington liberals (male and female) does that make us bad people for ruminating about a Hillary presidency? Probably not.

But we are where we are, and we have to deal.

So we should hope that Fonda’s book sells and Steinem’s documentary ends up in the syllabi of universities across the nation. They deserve a wider audience. Say, the iPads of the White House staff. And the fellow they work for.

Rev. Don Rollins is Interim Minister, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, N.C. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2011


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