An Interview with Gloria Feldt
Gloria Feldt, a former teen mother, was the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood. She is currently an activist, author and leading expert in women’s rights, leadership and politics and blogs about these topics. She has a special passion for encouraging young people, through the media, to participate in the political process on behalf of their own rights and health.
It’s hard to believe that Gloria Feldt, accomplished activist and fearless leader for women’s rights, wasn’t born a radical feminist, ready to slash the patriarchy. In fact, until she was a young adult, Ms. Feldt was set on a more traditional path. A teen mother and young wife living in Texas, it wasn’t until she experienced sexism in her own life that she began to think about feminism.
“I started trying to stick my toe into the world of employment. I realized how limited I was,” Gloria told the FBomb. “I wanted to get a car loan and I was making as much money as my husband at the time and I couldn’t get a car loan without his signature. I couldn’t get a credit card in my own name. And it really ticked me off.”
But the true experience that set Ms. Feldt on her feminist journey and later crusade for women’s rights? Direct access to the birth control pill. “I could actually plan my own life and I used that newfound freedom to start college. And that’s where I started getting more involved in what was going on in the larger world. It didn’t take me too long to realize women have civil rights, too.”
The same thing that so many teens and young adults alike take for granted today revolutionized Ms. Feldt’s life, and allowed her to revolutionize ours. “For young women today, the availability of birth control is like the air and the water. For me, it was this miraculous new thing,” Feldt stated.
But birth control clearly has not solved all of our problems. Feldt points to both societal and political problems that stand in the way of the battle for choice and moreover for the safety of our generation’s health.
“I think a lot of shaming still goes on and that really hasn’t changed,” Feldt lamented. “I think that more girls today may say they are ‘pro-life’ because they have sort of been shamed into it, when the truth is in their own circumstances, or in their friends’ circumstances, they may see things very differently.” Feldt also pointed to the media as the main promoter of such shame. “I think that sort of zeal and harassment of anti-choice groups has been so huge and that’s what gets reported in the media,” she said. “Regular, normal human beings of all ages who are simply going about their lives trying to be responsible get no attention. And that is a real problem.”
But this shame is more than a societal issue, Feldt argues. It may actually negatively impact our health. “When you feel ashamed of something, you can’t own it. And the thing that will prevent an appropriate behavior, that will prevent unintended pregnancy, that will prevent STDs, that will build healthier relationships, is to actually have knowledge. To actually know who you are and what your body is like – to own your sexuality. Then you can be responsible. But if you have been told ‘no, you can’t be responsible because you don’t know what yes means,’ then you can’t own your choices.”
Feldt indicates that programs like abstinence-only sex education are the main source telling us that we don’t know “what yes means.” “I think abstinence only over the long haul will prove to be one of the most outrageously negative things that has been done to young people in the last generation,” Feldt asserts. Truly, she assures, teens need accurate information about sex – they can handle it and access to it would make all the difference. “I think that young people hopefully use the resources of the internet to find good information when they need it,” she qualifies, “but even that information still can’t overcome this negative cultural attitude. It [abstinence-only education] is going to have negative consequences for a long time.” Spreading education and awareness about sex and health was one of Feldt’s main goals at, and is a continuing goal of, Planned Parenthood.
Ms. Feldt’s analysis of sex education really struck a chord with me, personally. I’m a junior this year, and technically my “sexual health” education as taught by my school was over in eighth grade, and yet I don’t remember any mention of even a condom. Worse, my school is technically not on an “abstinence-only” sex education model. We were taught in depth about the effects of STDs, but not the causes, or basic safe sex practices. Truly, I think the shame of the whole topic as felt by my school’s administration prohibited the comprehensive education they promised and may one day affect the health of their students. If this is what is occurring in a school purportedly not affected by abstinence only, I fear for those that are.
But Gloria has a lot of respect and hope for our generation. When asked about our generation, Feldt described us “being more engaged in politics and society and social issue and causes and movements than the next older generation. I’ve decided it must be a grandparent/grandchild thing,” she concludes. But there are still present problems we must overcome. Some of Gloria’s concerns include the fact that, “there’s almost a 1:10 ratio of girls versus boys that say they’d be interested in entering politics.” Our problem, Feldt feels, is rooted in, “the socialization of very young girls that leaves girls feeling less worthy, sort of less capable of doing those things. I think that there is also not a full sense of ownership of the world, to see life with intention. It’s a huge problem and I think the education system needs to be looked at from pre-kindergarten on. And there are probably some very small tweaks that would just make the difference.”
But despite the issues our generation has yet to face, Ms. Feldt ultimately believes in our generation. “Just be proud of yourself and know that you’re doing great important work and that you are not the future, you’re the present,” she said with a smile. “And I’m extremely grateful.”
More articles in WMC FBomb by Category: Education, Feminism, Health
More articles in WMC FBomb by Tag: Abortion, Sex education, Reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood, Activism and advocacy, Women's leadership, Books, Sexuality