Rebecca Walker, Arianna Huffington, and Naomi Wolf debated on The Future of Feminism in last Wednesday’s Class of 1971 Public Affairs Forum. The one and a half hour event in Chapin Hall consisted of remarks by each of the three distinguished guests followed by a panelists’ discussion of the speeches and a question and answer session. Sanford Ungar, former co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered, was the moderator.
Wolf received an undergraduate degree from Yale University and a graduate degree from the New College in Oxford. Her first book is entitled Beauty Myth, and she has a regular column for George magazine. She is currently president of the Wood Hall Institute.
Huffington heads the Center for Effective Compassion. Originally from Greece, she moved to England and received an undergraduate degree from Cambridge University. Her latest book is called The Female Woman, and she has currently begun a career as a comedienne.
Walker graduated from Yale University in 1992 and soon after founded Third Wave Direct Action Corporation, an organization that provides advice to women in reproduction and business and assists women in continuing education. She has won the Feminist of the Year award from the Fund for Feminist Society and is currently a writer.
Wolf began the evening speaking about women’s progress in the past few decades and commented on how “we are in a time of renaissance.” She spoke about the number of high positions that women have risen to and their responsibility “to step into this opportunistic moment. . . [and] change our consciousness.”
In contrast to Wolf’s speech, Huffington said, “We are not flying the plane, [women are not represented well enough], and thank God.” She emphasized the difficulty to change consciousness through political means and proposed that a better way to carry out feminist ideals is through the community. Huffington expressed her belief that the energies of both women and men would be better spent through a change in culture outside the political system rather than a constant focus on legislation and other means of action where feminist representation is desperately needed.
Walker’s central point was that ideals can carry on from generation to generation, but the current issue is the way in which women can create real change from those ideals. Like her fellow debaters, she spoke about the need to raise consciousness about past prejudices and constraints against women, but also called for real solutions to women’s suffering.
A discussion period followed the panelists’ speeches.
In response to Walker’s speech, Huffington again expressed her belief that there is little real change possible through legislation. Naomi Wolf quickly broke in and insisted that laws are the necessary framework in which to further feminist beliefs. Whereas Huffington believed in community as a starting block, Wolf and Walker saw laws as an essential beginning.
The discussion later shifted to the issue of underpaid women and why this practice is still allowed to continue. Wolf suggested that males, currently in most of the high positions, look out for one another and that women tend to settle for whatever wage they can get. She did not believe that lack of education was a valid argument in this generation, but thought that the main causes were lack of child care and stay-at-home parents.
Walker pointed to a Constitutional amendment to solve the problem, but Huffington disagreed saying that we should change culture through the community before we make any amendments.
During the question and answer session, Jon Wiener ’02 asked how other world issues relate to feminism. Walker responded for the panel by stating, “Women’s issues are human issues. . . and vice versa.”
Elizabeth Wall ’01 expressed her concern about the education of girls. She explained that at about the age of twelve, girls become increasingly reticent in school. Wolf emphatically said that girls sports is the answer. Walker said that the consciousness of teachers and an awareness that such a problem exists can solve the problem. Huffington pointed towards community: service and family.
Diane Williams ’02 asked why the United States does not pass the Equal Rights Amendment. Huffington said that the energies of the nation are best spent working to better the community, and that effort put into an amendment would be effort not put into the community. Both Walker and Wolf disagreed and said that an effort to make men and women legally and explicitly equal would be worthwhile and good.
After the debate, Benjamin Cannon ’02 offered his reactions: “I thought there were some interesting arguments on all sides of the debate, but I didn’t think that any of the sides gave a conclusive argument. . . They attempted to label and categorize each other in a way that doesn’t really apply to the ‘new feminism.”
Crystal Baik ’02 said, “I thought Rebecca Walker and Huffington were powerful speakers because their arguments seemed so solid. Wolf seemed more opinionated.”
The Future of Feminism was recorded for a later broadcast on National Public Radio.