A couple of weeks ago, a friend stopped me at a party and asked for my commentary on what Lou Dobbs said about the latest Pew study on working women: women are now the breadwinners in forty percent of American homes with children. I knew Dobbs had said something sexist, and that Fox commentator Megyn Kelly had taken him to task for it, but I hadn’t followed the issue closely because my feminist attention has been deeply absorbed by a book I’m reading. As it turns out, that book—Sacred Pleasure, by Riane Eisler—is integral to my understanding of what Dobbs said, and how Kelly replied.
I first encountered Trista Hendren’s name in an article by Elizabeth Plank that described Trista’s work with Rapebook, a page that cataloged and attempted to stop the proliferation of materials promoting rape and violence against women on Facebook. I wrote a blog post about Facebook and misogyny, and Trista and I found one another on Twitter. Imagine my joy when I learned that Trista is also the author of The Girl God, a children’s book about the divine feminine. I immediately ordered the book, and when it arrived, I knew I’d made not just a new virtual connection, but a friend. The more I learn about Trista’s life and work, the more she inspires me. She’s in Oregon and I’m in Virginia, so our paths aren’t likely to cross soon, but I feel sure we will meet in person one day. And when we do, we’ll begin talking as if we’d picked up a long-lost conversation. That, my friends, is the Goddess at work. And so is this—you might want to grab a cup of coffee or tea, because Trista’s answers to my questions will give you plenty to ponder, and plenty to savor.
As a feminist writer, I understand the significance of the word choice for women. I believe pro-choice and anti-choice are the right words to describe the positions supporting and opposing abortion because abortion is the controversial epicenter of a debate about the relationship between a woman and her womb. However, because abortion became the flashpoint of American conversation about patriarchy and female empowerment, choice has become a loaded word: one which can block empowerment as well as facilitate it. As Susan Faludi asserts in her introduction to the 15th anniversary edition of Backlash, when pondering the question of a current backlash in the media: “…there are still the periodic reprimands, though generally they are presented as the products of a woman’s ‘choice.’ The backlash is now said to be a strictly self-inflicted affair.”
So I just read Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, by Sheryl Sandberg. I’d heard so much about this book—both good and bad—that my curiosity was seriously piqued. I’d shared articles from women who said “leaning in” wouldn’t work for them, at least not in the same way it worked for Ms. Sandberg. I’d watched friends and strangers alike create “Lean In Circles,” in which they share stories and support one another in their careers. I’d heard this book has the real power to create change—or at least to get people talking. So I wanted to know: was this book really going to light a fire for change, and help push us all toward greater equality in the workplace?
A few weeks ago, I talked to a group of students and faculty at Longwood University, where I teach, about public misperceptions of feminism and how we can use social media to change them. The day before my talk, Beyonce (who seems decidedly feminist to me) reluctantly admitted to being a feminist: “The word can be very extreme…but I guess I am a modern-day feminist. I do believe in equality.” Many people who wrote about this statement—and the statements from famous women who disavow feminism—say they don’t care if people identify as feminist or not, as long as they work toward equality. I agree with that sentiment if the person in question identifies as a Womanist or Mujerista or feminist ally, but those terms aren’t even in the mainstream conversation. In the popular media, quoting women who disavow feminism serves to keep the conversation about equality on the sidelines.