Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
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this is what a feminist looks like

The Feminist To-Do List by Gloria Steinem
Ms. Poll Feminist Tide Sweeps In as the 21st Century Begins by Lorraine Dusky
Affirmative Action on Trial by Teresa Stern
Women on Death Row by Claudia Dreifus
In the Thick of Life at 70 by Jessica Chornesky

Special Action Alert
Women Take Action Worldwide
Listing: Coalitions and Groups
National Council of Women's Organizations Statement on War with Iraq
NCWO Partial Members List
Why Peace is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue
by Grace Paley

Writing of War and Its Consequences
Ghosts of Home by Patricia Sarrafian Ward
Tales from an Ordinary Iranian Girlhood by Marjane Satrapi
Snow in Summer: LA, CA, 1963 by Helen Zelon

Pat Summitt's 800th Victory
Augusta Golf Club's Red Face
National Map of Priest Abuse
Women Warriors
Lesbians with Strollers
Kopp Trial
Trouble in Herat, Afghanistan
Reproductive Rights in Poland
Health Clinics in Guatemala
Congolese Women for Peace
Global Good News Round-Up
The Opposite of a Nuclear Bomb

Lower Breast Cancer Risks by Liz Galst
The Making of an Activist by Gloria Feldt
Nature Conservancy Gains by Rachel Rabkin
Harvard Stumbles on Rape Rules by Lorraine Dusky
The Bush Overhaul of Federal Courts by Stephanie B. Goldberg
My Friend Yeshi by Alice Walker

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Gloria Feldt has been president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America since 1996. This article was adapted from Behind Every Choice is a Story. (c) 2002 Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Reprinted by permission.

The Making of a Political Activist
By Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt, President of Planned Parenthood
(Photo by Marty Lederhandler/AP Photo)
When I was 13, my father handed me a slim paperback titled The Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers. My little book became the hottest item at camp that summer. By the end of my two-week stay, it was in shreds. Like most children, my campmates learned about sex from a peer-- me (or at least my book). And my career as a sexuality educator was launched. The only problem was that I didn't understand much of what I read and I was too embarrassed to ask questions. No one in my home said "sex." Ancient history? I wish.

Girls face a triple whammy on the path to womanhood. It starts with lack of knowledge. Then there is the shame about sexuality that comes from our society's silence about it. Shame and lack of knowledge are bound together by cultural cues about gender roles into a toxic combination that turns many a strong girl into a teenage jelly woman who molds her personality and her body to fit what she thinks the world wants her to be.

As I was starting high school, my family moved to Stamford, a red-dirt cotton farming community in West Texas. I set out to be sociable and well-liked instead of an achiever. If a girl was intelligent and able, she could be a social misfit. I still got good grades but I managed to hide it. I was elected freshman class favorite and VP of the sophomore class. In my junior year, I was elected cheerleader unanimously. Mission
accomplished. I had overcome not only the burden of my intelligence, but that other teenage horror-differentness. We were not only new; we were the only Jewish family in town. I had a serious case of déjà vu when this letter came across my desk at Planned Parenthood recently from a woman 25 years my junior:

I was 15 years old when I became pregnant by the "love of my life." I knew it would last forever. I really thought I wanted to be a parent. I was the only child of divorced parents and I knew the baby would make me happy. Thank God my mother worked for Planned Parenthood in Odessa, Texas. I ended up having an abortion in a doctor's office with
my mom there to hold my hand afterwards. I have never had any regrets.
I am now the mother of four daughters, who I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. But I'm so thankful that I did not become a parent at fifteen! Wake up America! Talk to your children. Let them know that teens having babies is not acceptable behavior.
--Wendy, age 33

Wendy and I lived in different times and made different choices about our
pregnancies, but we both learned the same life lessons from our experiences.

The fall I was 15, my 19-year-old boyfriend and I announced to my parents that we were married, pregnant, and moving to Odessa, Texas. To save face for everyone, I felt that I had to tell my family I was married rather than admit that I was just another frightened 15-year-old desperately in need of help. I was not strong enough to fight for my own identity. Instead, I melted into a new mold. So I got what I had always wanted-to be "normal"-the average all-American girl. So average that, unbeknownst to me, the country registered its highest teen pregnancy rate the year-1957-- I became a part of that statistic.

I remember well the moment five years later, when I decided I was no longer the jelly woman; I should take care of myself. After our third child was born, a light bulb went off in my head. I realized that if I had to support those three children, I would be up a creek, because I had no employable skills.

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Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009