Interview with Sheila Tobias2020-01-08T08:08:24+00:00

THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT

Sheila Tobias

Faces of Feminism,” March 1997, Arizona Illustrated

Interviewed by Bill Buckmaster

BB:  Good evening, everybody. I’m Bill Buckmaster. Thank you for joining us tonight for another edition of Arizona Illustrated, southern Arizona’s news magazine…

Helping crystallize the debate [on the women’s movement] is a new book. It’s called Faces of Feminism: An Activist’s Reflection on the Women’s Movement. Published by Westview press and authored by Tucsonan Sheila Tobias, co-creator of the first Women’s Studies course at Cornell University and former board member of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund. The author of the bestselling Overcoming Math Anxiety, Ms. Tobias works as a consultant to universities on math and science education equality issues and women’s studies.

Ms. Tobias, good to see you again. What would you say is at the central core right now of the feminist movement? How has it changed definitely from when you got into it in the 60s?

ST:  Well there’s not the thrill of unanimity that we once felt when the sexual politics analysis first came out. The sense that all women whatever their races, their different occupational status, their marital status were the same and had the same issues to forward. And so, there’s division and there’s splintering and fractionalization that there wasn’t before. And part of the reason I wrote the book was to remind us of the centrality of gender in our lives and that the face of patriarchy may change but some of the essential issues are still there and need our effort.

BB:  It’s your contention that if feminism, if the movement is to survive in the coming decades it must change and change dramatically. How so?

ST:  Well for one thing we need to recognize that we have a lot of allies among men. One of the mistakes of the feminist movement – but it’s an understandable one – was to assume that all women, once enlightened, would be feminist. Phyllis Schlafly and her followers in the 80s taught us differently. That some women really are opposed to our issues. And that all men – that was our second mistake – would be opposed; would be our enemy. And that really isn’t the case.

So, I’m writing a book that I hope men will read and feel comfortable reading and get informed about because we need them as allies. These are progressive issues that impinge on men’s lives as well as women’s. And why should they not be with us?

BB:  And many men, and they probably wouldn’t admit it publicly, but to them, that certain segment of the public feminism is to this day is a dirty word.  

ST:  To some. Worst of all to younger women who will say publicly I’m not a feminist, but I enjoy equal rights, I will fight for equal pay, I value myself as an independent person. And we have to fight the message that somehow feminism is a radical, extreme movement. That it requires a change of lifestyle. It’s really not a lifestyle issue. It’s a political issue. It always was but it got misrepresented along the way.

BB:  And the forms of discrimination are certainly so much different than the 60s for women. They are so much more subtle.

ST:  In the beginning if you said you were married you wouldn’t get a job. And they would write in a formal letter we are not giving you the job because you’re married or because you’re female or because you’re too young or too old and those things are gone. But what remains is a sense that women are somehow divided in their loyalties that you can’t trust them on the job as professionals because their hearts inevitably will be with their families. Well where is it written that one has a heart that gets divided in the middle?  One can have lots of energy, lots of commitment to all parts of one’s life. Men have hobbies. It’s not held against them and women have families.

BB:  You talk about the third wave of the feminist movement. Where is that right now?

ST:  There is a group of young women made up of daughters of some second wave feminists. We call ourselves the second wave because the first wave was the suffrage movement, and these third wavists claim to be carrying on the mantle of the movement and we’re happy to see them but they’re very small. If there’s a third wave it’s probably going to be, I hope a wave of males and females young and old, who will join together to fight rampant sexism in employment or poverty among women – particularly older women – residual racism among feminists and others, and also have an eye on the world. Many women around the world are not nearly as privileged as we are. I think Hillary Clinton is finding that out on her trip and [they] deserve our support.

BB:  As far as women occupying the CEO positions across the country still there are a very small number.

ST:  We have to remember there are a very small number of men who occupy those positions and we think it has something to do with habit and tradition. The experience of having a woman boss is still new for a lot of people and they’re not sure they’re going to be able to work with them. But I predict that the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company will be appointed within the year. I even think I know who she is. And don’t forget we have a woman Secretary of State. We have a woman Attorney General. We’ve broken so many barriers.

They talk about the glass ceiling as a stop where many women can’t proceed. And some women in a survey by the Women’s Bureau said the glass ceiling isn’t even in view. We find that women like working. That’s what the surveys tell us. But they still feel they’re not given the opportunities that men are given for on the job training for example, for promotion and for new challenges. Women are often rewarded for what they’ve already done not for their potential. And so, we’ve got to work on that one very hard.

BB:   In Faces of Feminism did you design it for both sexes to enjoy the book?

ST:  Absolutely and I say that upfront.

BB:  You didn’t target it just for women?

ST:   Nor for older women only women who lived it. Although women who did live it will find a lot of nostalgia, a lot of memory and a lot of clarification. You know in our day we would take one issue, many of us and fight it through to the end but we didn’t see the larger picture. The purpose of writing history I think is to paint that larger picture. But men too were part of our movement and deserved to be informed and to be invited back in.

BB:  Sheila Tobias thank you very much for being with us. The book is called Faces of Feminism. It’s published by Westview Press.  It’s in all the Tucson bookstores and there’s an excellent review of Faces of Feminism in the Sunday New York Times book section. Thanks for being with us.