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Feminism is Alive and Well ... Even Sarah Palin Wants to Be One

Gloria Steinem, grande dame of the feminist movement, and Jehmu Greene, Women's Media Center director, discuss the state of feminism with Katie Couric.

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COURIC: What was confusing for me when I read the article ... I thought, well, this is a lot to celebrate and then I would read other pieces. And Anna Quindlen came and gave a speech in Charlottesville and she brought up some very antithetical points to the piece. But before we mentioned those can I just talk about some of the good news real quick before we totally become buzz‐killington, as my daughter says?

Women are 60 % of all college graduates. Women are 68% of all master degree holders. They have more PhDs and almost 42% of those with MBAs are now women. So there are some good things. As we mentioned, they are the majority in the work force. But let’s talk about some things that are not so good.

STEINEM: But even that is not so… It’s great that women are educated. I couldn’t agree more because it gives you pleasure in your life. But part of the reason women need a BA degree or a college degree is that even with one they make less than a man with a high school education because they can’t become plumbers and electricians or they’re less likely to get into the trades that pay a lot even without a college education.

COURIC: Which is an interesting point. But let’s talk about some of the negative statistics and why they still exist. Now this is according to the White House Project. Women account for only 18% of our top leaders in all fields. In politics – in female representation -- the US has dropped to the 69th spot, behind Iraq and North Korea, which I found so shocking. In 1993 women were 12% of partners in law firms. Today it’s a whopping 18%. Only 17% of Congress is made up of women. Women make 78.7 cents for every dollar a man makes. And women earn more college degrees, as I mentioned, but hold only 16% of leadership roles in the business world, 23% in academia, and 22% in journalism. And of course the number that you mentioned are decision‐making ‐- I guess management ‐- jobs. So why these depressing statistics? What’s behind this? And why haven’t we come further if so many strides have been made?

STEINEM: Patriarchy is behind this and racism is behind this. These are really old systems so it takes quite awhile.We had a suffragist and an abolitionist movement that gained a legal identity as human beings for women of all races and men of color. That took more than 100 years. Now we’re striving for legal and social equality. That’s gonna take 100 years probably. We’re only 30 years into it. This is a long process and we’ve come an incredible distance, which we need to celebrate, but really the problem mainly is our idea of our sound bite minds that we think it’s going to happen right away. We have to do as much as we can every day and push the boundaries. But we also have to plan for our daughters and our grandsons who are also going to be feminists. We have to look forward.

COURIC: What do you think are the major factors? If you had to pinpoint sort of actual things, in addition to social and cultural movements taking a long time to have an impact. Are there specific things that are keeping women from progressing more in the workplace?

GREENE: We have to look at the media again. It surrounds us. It tells our stories. When you look at G rated movies having the same amount of sexualized images of girls and women as R rated films do, that clearly has an impact. When you look at the speaking roles in all animated films that one out of three are going to be girls or women. If you look at just the acceptance of sexism in the media, especially with our female candidates, the levels of attacks and how it is accepted which is completely contrary to if something is said that is deemed as being racist. I think I’m actually quoting you when I say “sexism needs to become as repugnant as racism.” We are far from that place today because the outrage isn’t there. We saw in the 2008 presidential campaign, with the level of attack Senator Clinton came under, all without much response from the community to say: “This is unacceptable."  Whether it is products that are being sold or statements that are said on air, we do have a long ways to go to raise the level of outrage around sexism.

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