The conversation about feminism grows larger every day. Some women identify as feminist, while others feel there’s no need for the movement. Here’s what five Collin County women think about it.
We live in a time where Wonder Woman is the number one superhero movie in the world, more women are attending college and going into the workforce than ever before, and for the first time a woman, Ulysha Renee Hall, is the Police Chief of Dallas.
We also live in an era where women still get paid less than men for the same job, less than 20 percent of the US Congress is made up of women, and politicians get away with crude and sexist comments.
Feminism is the theory that men and women should be equal politically, economically and socially. According to a 2016 poll by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, 60 percent of women and 33 percent of men consider themselves a feminist or a strong feminist. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of Americans view the movement as angry and say it unfairly blames men for women’s challenges.
This new wave of feminism is empowering for some women, but others don’t see a need for it. I sat down with women across Collin County to to ask what feminism means to them.
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Catherine Gibb is an active member of the Plano Republican Women’s Club, and was introduced to politics at an early age by her father. She attended Mississippi State during the late ‘60s. There were eight men to every woman on campus which she found “kind of interesting, but that’s just the way things were.” Back then she also considered herself a democrat, but she “didn’t leave the party; the party left [her].”
Her maternal grandmother was a businesswoman back when women weren’t supposed to be in business. She ran a boarding house, and believed education was key, insisting that Catherine’s mother graduate from Delta State. On the day she died, all the men on the square closed their shops in her honor. Catherine’s father died when she was nine, so her mother went back to work in order to support their family.
“They were strong women. It never occurred to me that women didn’t have all the rights of anybody else.
“When I worked for the IRS, there was an obnoxious gentleman. We got into it on an issue, and he just hauled off saying, ‘Women really just belong home barefoot and pregnant.’ I replied, ‘I’m not married, so how would you suggest I support myself if I’m not in the business world?’ Long story short, I won the argument, but that was a rare instance. I didn’t go whining to my boss. I handled it myself. I have a problem with people who can’t stand up for themselves. If you’re going to be in the workplace, you need to be able to do that.
“I have other instances where I felt like I was being treated differently, but it was by the women not the men. It was [my female bosses] who gave me more problems. If I find something offensive I will either walk away, or tell them I think that’s offensive. Everyone has a right to say what they wanna say. I can walk away from it—I don’t have to let it affect me.
“New feminism has demonized men and that’s wrong. I like men, I really do. I don’t see any reason to make them feel less than; I really want a man to be a man, and a woman to be a woman. … I watched the march with all the women in their stupid pink hats. I really thought that was disgusting. What I see today seems like hatred and bitterness. Hate destroys. Unfortunately, I feel like we’re deeply divided today, and it was purposeful because we are weaker divided.
“I think women should be able to do whatever they want to do, but you have to have the capability to do it. Not every man can be a fireman, and I don’t think the firemen, police or military should change any standard. Any woman who can pass those standards, more power to them. But if you can’t pass, don’t modify the test.”
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Kathy Ward is a former teacher at Plano East Senior High School, a business owner and a member of Plano Republican Women’s Club. Kathy started volunteering for political campaigns because she wanted to be part of something bigger than herself and to “leave the world a better place kind of thing.” She’s held various positions within city government and is a mom to three kids.
Kathy’s grandmother immigrated from Czechoslovakia alone when she was 19. She made a name for herself in Galveston with three businesses. Kathy’s mom stayed at home to raise her kids. Kathy has always seen her mom and grandmother as “very strong, resilient, self sustaining, independent women.”
“We’re really lucky as women [in the US]. We’ve had the right to vote for 97 years now, which is amazing. We can own property. We can carry a gun. You can choose your religion, your political field, you can raise kids. I feel blessed in this country because you read about women being stoned in other places for showing skin. They’re treated like less than animals. But in America? I’ve never seen that here.
“[Women] can be our own glass ceiling. I see an awesome, energetic woman, and I think, that’s awesome, go her! Especially in Republican circles, I’m hanging out with women who build me up. Life is hard, stuff happens, why not uplift people? I’ve probably been knocked down more by women than I have by men.
“I don’t get [this new wave a feminism]. I have this conversation with my daughter. I think today, young women think feminism is about one thing. ‘Oh it’s just about women being strong,’ Well no, women are strong. Women have all the rights. The feminism I see today strikes me … I would have to put myself in a victim mentality, like I’m held back because I’m a woman. My entire life, I’ve never found that to be true. I’ve held elected positions, I’ve been in education, I’ve been in the private sector … I’ve never had someone say, ‘Oh, you’re a woman, you can’t do that.’
“I work hard for what I have and what I get. That’s where it doesn’t connect for me. Is it just because you want to be angry? I’m one of those: let’s look for the positive in people and situations. I’m not saying the world or our country is perfect. But if there’s a problem then work with people to solve it instead of blaming everybody else.”
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Hazel Weathers was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio with three sisters. She worked in sales and management at IBM which led her to Plano. Hazel’s lived here for over 30 years and since retiring she’s been an active member of North Texas’s Women Organizing Women (WOW) Democrats.
Her father had great aspirations for himself but left college due to lack of financial support. Because of this, he ingrained in Hazel and her three other sisters the importance of college, just like the boys. Her mother held the family together; she was strong and independent but with traditional tendencies. Once, while visiting Hazel and her now ex-husband, she scolded her for not fixing his dinner plate, to which Hazel responded, “I work, too!”
“Feminism, part of it is doing what you want for work, saying what you want and to be paid as well as men. Even at IBM—it was a fair company, and you might start out the same, but there’s a little gap in the next raise and the one after that. Next thing you know, you both perform about the same and have the same appraisal, but somehow he’s making more because ‘Jill’ has [a husband] to help her out. That was the attitude. It was so subtle people weren’t even aware they were doing it. The first house I bought, I had to sign everything, ‘Hazel Weathers Single Woman’. But the [single] men didn’t have to …
“Feminism is equal rights for women; like sitting in a meeting and saying what you need to say like the men do. I remember sitting around the table at work with all men. I would say something, it would get a nod and they kept going. Ten minutes later, ‘Joe’ would say the same thing. All of the sudden, it was a great idea! I cannot tell you how many times that happened.
“I can be as direct as men, but if I am, I’m labeled shrill and bitchy. I have to put 50 words around what I’m actually trying to say. It’s exhausting! I throw in some question marks, too. Have you considered? Is it possible that? I yearn for the day when women are toe-to-toe equal to men.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but how frustrating is it that women are still facing the same struggle I did back in the day? We have women CEOs in large companies, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t women sitting in a room somewhere having what they say completely dismissed. People who say you should be satisfied with what you’ve got … nine times out of 10 that’s going to be the privileged class talking—the male that doesn’t have to fight as hard for anything.
“I think women have a much greater tendency to work together for a solution. We have to change the way [sexism] is taught; we can’t wait for ideas to die out. And we have to activate men to fight [for us]. If it’s only us, we’re just some whiny women.”
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New to Plano, Kavita Khandekar Chopra grew up with her parents and little brother in Folsom; she calls it “the most Texas town in California.” Kativa attended UC Berkeley and The University of Texas at Austin earning a BA and Master’s in social work, respectively. Currently, she works at the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas which helps immigrants who have been victims of a violent crime or other human rights abuses.
Growing up, Kavita’s mother, one of five sisters and a brother, told her stories about the Indian tradition of a woman’s family paying her future husband a dowry, signifying their appreciation for “taking [the daughter] off their hands.” Because of this pressure, her mother married at 26 (considered old in India) and made sure Kavita got to do what she wanted to do and that she never felt different from her brother.
“Feminism is funny because people use it as a slur now. It’s very clear, feminism is the belief that men and women deserve to be treated equally in the eyes of the law, of your supervisor at work or the larger entity that is your business.
“I think looking at the goals of feminism as things [or rights] that we can obtain is wrong. That’s not what feminism is about. That’s great I can get a degree and a job, but if I get paid 77 cents on the dollar to a man with the same job—we’re still not making progress if we’re not changing the way people think and what they believe. I always go back to how exhausting it is being a woman compared to a man. Every day I have to listen to men talk over me, not listen to my ideas, be aware that some man is staring at me because I’m dressed a certain way, and it’s freaking exhausting!
“I think it’s so important when we talk about the future of feminism to include men. We can’t ignore them. When people make friends with me, [an Indian woman], they ask me what’s that like and [our conversation] expands their views. The same can be done with men. I helped my husband, who is very feminist, understand the day-to-day microaggressions that happen to women. After explaining that he said, ‘I had no idea you were dealing with that.’
“I get frustrated that women should look to women for role models. We should urge young men to look at women as role models, and then you’d really start changing things. Talking to a young boy saying look at the CEO of Yahoo, isn’t she amazing? I want you to be like her! I would love to see how that boy grows up.”
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Prissy Wisnewski describes herself at the “traditional type.” She grew up in Burnet, Texas and her mother was a “stay-at-home mom and the Mad Men type.” Once Prissy was older, her mother went back to college with strong encouragement from Prissy’s father. Her mother became a teacher, and Prissy followed in her footsteps going into special education. Today, Prissy has two grown sons and is an active member of WOW Democrats.
“I look at [feminism] now like a soft feminism. In the early 1900s—when were fighting for the right to vote—those women were brutalized. They were thrown in jail trying to get the right to vote! And then it took these old white men a year and almost two months to ratify the 19th amendment. They didn’t say, ‘Okay, you can go out and vote!’ It took them that long to think about it. Then there was a new wave [of feminism] while I was growing up like burning your bra. And they fought for your right to not be fired for being pregnant, to own property in your own name. Texas was one of the last states in the late 1960’s to allow women to get a bank loan in her own name without her husband.
“Growing up the one thing that influenced me was The Mary Tyler Moore Show. There she was past the age of getting married young, a working career single woman. And That Girl with Marlo Thomas. Single girl trying to be an actress and afterwards she wrote a book, Free to Be You and Me. It was a picture book for little girls saying you can be anything you want to be. As someone who wanted to go into education, I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s what we need to be telling girls! That they can be whatever they choose.’
“I’m hoping people will learn about the history [of feminism]. When I told my sons this they were shocked. [While I attended college] women who lived in a dorm had a curfew. We had to be in on the weeknights by 10:45, there was someone at the door waiting for us and then we had bed check. This wasn’t a conservative college, it was a state college. But the boys, they had no curfew. We had curfew weeknights and weekends. People don’t know how far we’ve come in so many things, especially in women’s rights and equal rights.
“My dad always said, ‘People won’t change until it affects them personally.’ Whether it’s race or gay issues, it will take one person at a time. That’s a long time, but we cannot give up. We have to keep passing the stories down the younger generations know.
“Equal opportunities is the big thing right now. So many men, college men, even growing up they have more opportunities than girls. We lose girls in middle school for math and science. We need to give girls opportunities and role models. There are some people who don’t have good role models at home.”
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Gail Wolin Stevens is a consultant for a commercial energy business and an active member of the Junior League of Collin County. Raised in Flint, Michigan, she’s the youngest of three daughters. Her parents were partners of a wholesale meat company, and when Gail’s father died, her mother took over the business. Her mother was an immigrant from Europe and taught her daughters the value of democracy, voting and community from a young age.
“I think feminism is recognizing the equality of women socially, economically and politically in all phases of life especially in today’s world where women are much more involved, active and engaged. Women play a powerful role in the world. What women bring to the table is very significant. We bring qualities that complement what men have, but they are not necessarily tuned in to the nuances of life, the intuition women have and the voice we can give to important issues of the day.
“One of the key dynamics of human behavior is looking for areas that you agree on. We’re all part of this community, we all want our children to succeed, we all want quality education, we need safe communities, good roads, etc. Now we have all this divisiveness. People who tend to go to the more conservative agenda, the more wholesome—they don’t own those values. We have to be able to identify and agree on the values we share.
“If we focus on the positive and the commonalities we share, we can play a role in how our world moves forward. Our one-on-one [conversations] are important. We have to treat each other with respect.
“I know some men who do stand up for women and will call out a male counterpart. We need more of them. We need to have more purposeful conversations to address these things for the good of everybody. As business people at special functions we need conversations there now. Junior League of Collin County, Women’s Auxiliary of Children’s Medical Center, these are the kinds of things that help our community be stronger.”
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Feelings about feminism and the role of women in today’s society are scattered across the spectrum. While there are many differences between women, our line of work, religion, education, economic status—despite such a divisive atmosphere in our country—there is common ground. Women should uplift other women, and men should lift us up and we should uplift men. There has been tremendous gains on the path to equality; we should celebrate that. But not all women have seen or experienced such equality, and some of those women live in this country.
After speaking with all of these strong, outspoken women, I learned a lot. I learned their personal stories, their beliefs, and their laughs—I laughed with all of them. I also learned that they all possess a commonality which has been vital to their success: strong female figures. Every single one had a strong woman in their life that empowered them.
But one person’s experience is not everyone’s experience. Some girls and women look up to celebrities and social media, some are negatively influenced by people in their immediate family, and some have been taught that they are not as worthy as the boys.
We are not living in a postfeminist society—yet. But if we can set aside our differences in order to find common ground, there’s a lot more we can achieve together.