California Women's Foundation

The Other F Word

The lobby of the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles was packed with a couple of generations of well-dressed women for the launch of The California Women’s Foundation leadership speaker series, “Amazing Women. Inspiring stories.” Kimberly Freeman moderated a conversation with filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom (Miss Representation) and Dr. Kathy Magliato, one of the few female cardiothoracic surgeons in the world, who is also the Director of Women’s Cardiac Services at Saint John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica. I sat down with a young woman I didn’t know and then suddenly, we were part of a group of six fast friends, having a somewhat rowdy conversation about our work, men and whether or not we called ourselves feminists.

“Yes,” I declared brightly. It’s the same way I answer men who pose the question during the opening first date interview.

"You are?" They ask concerned.

"Yes?" Why wouldn't I be?

Even though some friends have told me to keep that information to myself on dates, I have a "You ask, I'll tell" philosophy when it comes to men and my value system. If you don't like what I believe, you best trot along now because I'm way too old (and impatient) to explain that feminists don't hate men. One of the nice things, when you’re at an event about women’s leadership is that nobody looks back at you in horror when you say you are.

Just before we could finish our 2nd glass of wine, we were asked to move into the auditorium for the presentation. Each woman was an accomplished leader in her field. Both were married to successful men and both had children. As Magliato said, women want it all and they should be able to have it all — a motto I'm definitely on board with.

I marveled at Siebel Newsom's ability to take a stand against the sexist portrayal of women in an industry that’s built upon it, an industry where she’s had a lot of success. I wondered, was she ever afraid that making her film would affect her bookings, her relationships with directors, the majority of whom are male? Has she experienced any fall out for taking a stand in an industry where a lot of times people — women in particular — are disposable. I thought, when I grow up, I want to be just like her!

Magliato talked about being at a screening of Siebel Newsom’s film and the way her husband California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom beamed with pride at his wife’s accomplishments. It was reassuring because so many divorced and single women’s stories are about relationships ending when she finds the full expression of herself and success in her work. So then I wondered, is it easier to call yourself a feminist, to take a stand for the rights of women when you’re married?

Would Gloria Steinem have had it easier if she was married? Is Oprah, one the world’s greatest advocates for women — not just in the US but in the countries where the women she’s inspired have been called to serve — so successful because she refuses to explicitly acknowledge a feminist identity? What is it about being single woman, one of "those" kind of single women want equality between the sexes that some folks find so threatening?

Because that's what feminism is, a belief in the social, political, and economic quality of the sexes. It means he gets to be him and you get to be you, and you’re each valued equally, for what you bring to the world’s table. It's about both of you being empowered. What’s so wrong with that?

What about you? Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not? Are you afraid to admit it to men?