Name: Peggy Orenstein
Age: 50 (yeah, that’s what I said)
Location: Northern California
Any other relevant tidbits you’d care to share: author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.”
How do you define feminism?
The definition of a feminist is really simple: someone who believes in women’s (and men’s right to full social, economic, and political equality. Basta. How that plays out in our lives, work and parenting, of course, can be trickier. But I think that simple definition can act as a guide.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
I can’t say precisely, though I do recall at age 12 being teased for being a “libber” by this guy I liked at my synagogue. I think it was because I said girls should be able to wear a tallis or wrap tefillin or something.
And I think the image I’ve returned to the most in my work is from around the same time–sixth grade–an afternoon I spent at a friend’s house. Her mom had a subscription to Ms. and an apron that said “Housework is Bullshit.” Ms. used to run the old Wonder Woman comics. I remember reading those at her house then fastening towel-capes around our necks with clothes pins and climbing up on the roof of their garage. And we jumped back and forth between their garage and the neighbors’ yelling, “Wonder Woman! Wonder Woman!” with our towel capes streaming. I remember how thrilling that was–the power, the danger, that sense of flying, and it was profoundly linked to the idea of female independence….
Has your (definition of) feminism changed over time? How?
I don’t jump off garage roofs any more.
I think everyone’s beliefs change. I mean, I’d be in trouble if they didn’t! If I was still clinging to my Mary Daly years….I guess that’s a way of saying that as a younger woman I could be pretty rigid. The older I get the more accepting I am of my own contradictions and compromises as well as everyone else’s. We try to be our best selves, to make change and be the change and all that. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t. And I don’t think I coud have sustained the level of anger I had as a young feminist. I”m in my Elvis Costello period: I used to be disgusted, but now I try to be amused.
Seriously, though, I feel like within my own life I’ve worked out a lifestyle in keeping with my beliefs. My husbandand I are true co-parents and co-wage earners. I could never, ever do what I do in terms of research, writing, travel without him. We both do work that we find meaningful and that, hopefully, contributes to making the world a more just place. And now our challenge and our joy is raising our daughter in a way that’s consistent with all of that, helping her be healthy, strong, conscious etc. So I feel like for the most part I’m living my values personally and professionally.
Have you ever experienced resistance to identifying as a feminist? If so, why do you think that is and how do you handle it?
Is it possible to identify as a feminist and NOT experience resistance? Of course I have! I get hate mail every time I publish a book, an article, a blog post. But that reaction is dwarfed by the number of supportive emails I get from people–men and women. So I try not to dwell (though I do, Lord knows I do….)
What do you see as the future of feminism?
I see the future of feminism in the faces of my daughter and her friends.
Peggy Orenstein is the author, most recently, of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” which will be released in paperback on January 30.
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