Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
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this is what a feminist looks like

Features
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

News
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

Departments
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


I called my father and asked for the one hundred dollars I needed to start classes at the local community college. He happily obliged. After that, I was able to get small scholarships to pay for my tuition.

The Pill had reached Odessa by then--1962--and I started popping those high-hormone Enovid E's like they were candy. The hell with the side effects. I knew having another child would send me over the brink, physically and emotionally. After a while, I couldn't take the Pill anymore. The ob-gyn who had delivered two of my children made arrangements for me have a laproscopic tubal sterilization. I went to the hospital alone because my husband had to get the kids off to school and get to work or lose a day's pay. The woman who signed me in said I had to have his signature. That made my new feminist hackles rise, and I
told her that was impossible and, also, unfair-- I was the one who got pregnant, after all. When she saw I wouldn't budge, she called my doctor, assuming he would decline my request. Instead, after a few words with him, she handed me the consent form without a word.

That was my small victory. It's no wonder that history is filled with stories
of the desperate measures women have taken to control their fertility. Even today, nearly half of all women in the U.S. who have had legal abortions say they would consider, or would definitely have, an illegal one-risking health and life-- if that were their only choice. If history is any predictor, almost all of them would.

It took me 12 years to get my bachelor's degree, partly for lack of funds,
partly because I wanted to minimize the time away from my children, and partly because I worked part-time. Surprise-- I liked having money I had earned myself. I liked the sense of accomplishment for work well done.

Once I got my degree, my real life work-- in the reproductive health and rights movement-- began. The defining moment was my first day as director of the two-room, donated, Planned Parenthood office in Odessa, Texas, in August 1974. I had a one-person staff, no health care or administrative experience, and a bright pink and white button admonishing us to "Love Carefully." I broke out in a rash from stress but I plunged on.

I thought my real job would be running family planning clinics for low-income women in 17 counties. It turned out that while we were quietly providing services, the issues were being redefined. We neglected to communicate a broad-based public-policy agenda. Abortion became politicized and sensationalized; sex education and even family planning became controversial. Over the years, as I became more deeply involved in the movement and took a more prominent role, I became accustomed to being told to travel with a security guard and not to work in a bright open office because I'd be an all-too-easy target for violence. My first experience with clinic invasion came when I headed the Phoenix office. One day a group of a dozen or so people suddenly swarmed in. They terrorized people in the waiting room. Two chained themselves to a desk. That was just the beginning, I know now.

What kept me going then-- and locks in my dedication now-- are the hundreds of letters Planned Parenthood gets; letters like these, that tell women's stories:

I was born into an overpopulated house in an ethnic neighborhood. Shortly after my sixth birthday my mother died from a self-inflicted abortion. Our family was so damaged as to stunt our intellectual and social growth. Each of the siblings suffered in individual ways. At sixteen, when I learned why my mother died, I determined this would not happen to me. --Linn, age 79

(Linn was able to get contraception when she married at 19 in 1942. She and her husband planned their four children, and just celebrated their sixtieth anniversary.)

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