The Sum Volume #6: Diverging from Freedom

“The first responsibility of leadership is the creation of meaning.”—Warren Bennis.

Welcome to the Sum, where I share my take on the meaning of sum of the week’s parts. I want your voice too. Leave comments here or @GloriaFeldt.

Word of the week is, as you would guess, freedom.

And it’s also divergence. As in how the country often diverges from the principles of freedom that we celebrate on July 4th.

I’m a sappy patriot. All four of my grandparents immigrated to this country to escape persecution and enjoy the blessings of a free society. I tear up at the sight of the Statue of Liberty even though I’ve seen it thousands of times, and I grew up believing in the words of Emma Lazarus’s poem at its base: “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

So I was especially moved by this commentary by Maria Harper-Marinick, Chancellor of the Maricopa Community Colleges. She sees the US from the perspective of an immigrant who grew up in a dictatorship. “I have a profound appreciation for what the Fourth of July represents. It is a reminder of how an open and inclusive society can thrive when it embraces the diversity of its people and promotes respect and responsibility.”

Continue reading “The Sum Volume #6: Diverging from Freedom”


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

What’s the Best Language: Choice, Freedom, Human Rights, or???

Really, really, I wasn’t going to write about this. It was a conversation on Twitter with @lynncorrine, @kcecilia, and @jendeaderick that made me do it.

You see, after 35 years, I’m tired of arguing about what is the most persuasive language to bring the most people into what we have for some decades now been referring to as the pro-choice fold. And frankly, I have moved on–or outward, as I prefer to say–to the bigger canvas of women’s equality and power, not just between the navel and the knees but also in politics, at work, and at home.

However, thanks to the perpetual obsession about women and sex by those who want to outlaw abortion, I find myself drawn in once more to the fray over the rhetoric of–well, whatever you want to call it. Historian Nancy L. Cohen started the latest public discussion of the terminology in her Los Angeles Times op ed proposing that we switch from “choice” to “freedom.”

Seems to me a historian would have taken a longer view and realized that the language has morphed many times since the turn of the 20th century, from family limitation to birth control to family planning to reproductive health and rights to reproductive justice, with “pro-choice” becoming the short code word for a worldview predicated on the notion that women deserve to be able to make love without making babies: the right to choose whether, when, and with whom to have children.

Lynn Harris aka @lynncorrinne wrote this excellent, sassy piece in Salon expanding on the questions Cohen raised. Well, OK, she quoted me, so i will brazenly self-aggrandize by quoting her quoting me responding to Cohen’s theory that “freedom” would be the silver bullet to end so-called abortion wars:

Ooh, good one? Right? “Freedom”? That’s better than “choice,” right? (As we’ve learned, it’s also better than “French.”) Speaking of which, it kind of sticks it to ’em, stealing “freedom” back from those who invoke and champion it with their fingers crossed behind their backs. (And who attach it to the prefix “hates.”) Shades of Roosevelt, Bill of Rights; nice. Right?

Well, Gloria Feldt, for one, isn’t quite ready to start rewriting our signs. “I like ‘freedom’ fine,” says the activist, writer, former Planned Parenthood prez, and author of the forthcoming “No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.” “But I’m a realist from experience, both with using the rhetoric and studying public opinion polls. Freedom is a strong American value but it doesn’t move the dial of public opinion because in the rhetorical wars, ‘life’ still trumps ‘freedom.'” (Goddammit!) “Anti-choicers easily turn ‘freedom’ into ‘license.’ Especially when it pertains to women and sex. There are limits to freedom, legally and ethically,” she continues. “Frankly, if choice weren’t a good word, the anti-choice people wouldn’t be co-opting it at every turn. I agree that it has become so diffuse as to lose its meaning. Still, in the end what is morality but choosing?”

Where does that leave us? “I think the only answer is to turn the tables and put the spotlight back on women,” Feldt says. “Our right to life, our human rights.” Well, OK. That doesn’t give us a new catchword, but — more importantly — it reaffirms the moral core of our fight. (Perhaps especially as the forced-pregnancy establishment has shifted strategies from pretending they don’t hate women to telling the truth.) Certain words are potent weapons, yes, but they’re not the war itself. And, as the polls suggest, we can win the war without them. Perhaps we should choose other battles after all.

“Choosing other battles” is a good way to put it. Because the biggest challenge for what in the interest of brevity i will call the pro-choice movement isn’t with those who oppose women’s human right to decide about childbearing, it’s with ourselves.

More than new language, we need a new surge of moral certitude about the rightness of our cause. That, much more than changing the rhetoric based on the latest poll, would solidify the amazing gains we have made for women during the last century and enable us to continue forging ahead to a more just and infinitely healthier future for women, men, and children.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

Does Access to Birth Control Give Women Freedom?

Uh, yeahhhh!


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

What Does Choice Mean to Me?

RHRealityCheck asked me to answer this question for the 1/22 anniversary of Roe v Wade. What does choice mean to you?

What does choice mean to me? Forget about Roe v Wade and legalities for a moment. Just a few minutes ago I received this message via e-mail from a professional colleague:

I saw my granddaughter born last March and it is because I value life that I value choice.  I think we should speak out for ourselves – perhaps even as grandmothers who know a thing or two.

So speaking as another grandmother who knows a thing or two (ahem), I’ll be happy to tell you what choice means to me.

Even though I worked within Planned Parenthood for over 30 years, in roles ranging from local volunteer to national CEO, I’ve never diminished the passion for what I believe is women’s human right to make their own childbearing decisions, and I still get goosebumps when someone says to me–as happens almost every day even though I’ve been on my own as a writer for four years now–“You saved my life.” I know what they mean. It isn’t me they are talking about but about things like the birth control pill that allowed me as a 20-year-old mother of three in 1962 to realize I could plan my own life. About being able to get the honest information about sexuality they needed and basic women’s health care they could afford. About having the freedom to consider all their imperfect options when faced with unintended pregnancy and be respected to make their own moral choices without judgment or shame. To be able to welcome their babies into the world with unbridled joy when it is right for them, and to say “not now” when they know it’s not.

Reproductive choice is our right and also our responsibility, an awesome responsibility. But in an even more profound sense, choice is the human condition. It defines us as humans, and we are in turn defined by the choices we make.  Choice is the basis of morality after all, and it is sacrifice as much as it is freedom.

So this grandmother of 12 dedicates Roe’s 37th anniversary to changing the conversation about abortion from a debate about the limits of privacy to an unwavering affirmation that reproductive choice is a fundamental human and civil right and as a result, a health care service that should be covered for all women in any health reform plan regardless of who is paying the premium.

Because if we want our beautiful, wonderful, precious granddaughters to have an equal place in this world, then our society must value their choices as much as we grandmothers value their lives.


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.