By Ariella Pultman
On Wednesday March 30, Anna Quindlen ’74 gave an Athena Leadership Lab power talk titled, “The F-Word: A Celebration.” Quindlen, one of Barnard’s most illustrious alumnae (an award winning columnist for The New York Times and author who as she proudly admitted, was expelled from convent school as a child), defined feminism colloquially as, “valuing people based on their gifts and not based on their gender.” Though some people may believe, that that is the definition for “humanism,” Quindlen believes that this would only be the case if equal opportunity existed for all, regardless of gender.
Quindlen explained that though the world has moved to a post-feminist era and the perception is that all is right with the world, women are not really past anything. Now, Quindlen said, is a turning point in the struggle for women’s rights. As she described, “the world is different today; that’s real progress. It’s also a real problem.”
Why, Barnard students and feminists around the nation may wonder, is this progress such a problem? Quindlen argued that though this social movement has been extremely successful, it hasn’t yet been truly transformative. “We’ve moved,” Quindlen said, “to the subtler sexism of ‘far enough’ rather than the overtness of ‘no way.’” Older feminists feel that younger women in America today don’t understand how it used to be. It’s important to realize that we all rode on the shoulders of the women who came before us and we are indebted to their efforts and sacrifices.
Quindlen discussed the role that women play in corporate America today. She feels that
the high-powered, professional women of this generation are crazy perfectionists. “Women have won the right to do as much as men do, but not as little as men do.” When Quindlen speaks at college campuses around the nation, women always come up to her and ask about combining work and family. Yet Quindlen notes that young men never ask her about striking such a balance.
The frightening reality in feminism today is that we’re living this lie; we think all fields and leadership positions are open to women and that women are moving steadily to the top. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Recent studies have revealed that women make up only 20% of the nation’s leaders and that we’ve been stuck at those levels for the past 15 years! She emphasized that there is still a “double standard” and that “male is still the universal default.”
She cited Michelle Obama leaving her kids with their grandmother when she joined President Obama during his campaign. Quindlen believes that Michelle Obama was only praised for doing this because she was working towards the advancement of her husband’s campaign and she would have been received quite differently if she was promoting her own goals.
Of course feminism has seen much progress over the years. According to Quindlen, next year, in 2012, American college campuses will be 60% female. She feels that women leaders comprise a new breed of “inside outsiders.” Meaning that women provide a unique perspective, which is very advantageous because, “outsiders often bring a clarity of vision as well as a sense of innovation.” We must, as Quindlen highlighted, “transform the terrain because of badly needed change.”
We need to build egalitarian men and women from the ground up. “That’s why I’m a feminist,” Quindlen explained, “not because of my daughters, because of my sons. It’s good for all of us, it benefits all humanity.” We must change lives not just for fairness, but for richness and happiness as well. When it comes to “the F-word,” Quindlen concluded, “I’m going to keep on saying it, and I’m going to keep on doing it.” We should all follow in her strong example.
Ariella is a sophomore at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.