What is feminism?
That was the first question ask by Oakland County National Organization for Women (NOW) President Kim Beebe and the 20 or so women at the organization’s first discussion group, held September 27, 2011.
Known as “Love Your Mind,” the group plans on meeting every other month at various locations throughout Oakland County. The best way to keep up with the latest topic and location is to follow them on Facebook or sign up for email reminders through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Beebe is a Ferndale resident and a fashion consultant who used to hold her own in what she calls “the tough man’s world” of construction management. While she enjoyed working on large building projects, her passion comes from helping women look and feel beautiful. Her journey into being an activist for women’s issues began when she was taking classes at Michigan State and made the choice to go into building. “I took a class and loved it, but due to comments I received and the male dominated field I was very hesitant to pursue the degree. After a year of trying to find another major I was interested in and not succeeding, I decided to push forward with the degree and fight the battle,” she said. Beebe enjoyed her building career despite the “angry contractors,” “inappropriate comments,” and “trying to work honestly when there is a lot of old boys club mentality.” She is happier doing fashion, yet remains passionate about continuing to fight the battles necessary for women to get equal treatment and respect on the job. Beebe has been President of Oakland County NOW for about a year.
She and NOW Social Media Coordinator Kate Morgan of Rochester Hills planned the group discussions as a way to get members connected in an intellectual way. “We have our events hat you do a fun activity or learn stuff, but we don’t get to connect and have more in-depth discussions,” Morgan said.
The Love Your Mind discussion centered around a Huffington Post article called “Gloria to Liz Lemon: How Pop Culture is Producing Today’s Feminist Icons.” The article praised the author’s picks for contemporary feminist icons – including Tina Fey, Christina Aguilera, Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer, Gwen Stefani, Portia de Rossi and Ellen DeGeneres and Michelle Obama. NOW members and guests debated the writer’s choices.
Alie Albert, a Ferndale resident and gender studies major at Wayne State, felt Aguilera was not the best choice. “To me it’s an honor to be on the list. She’s a pop star,” Albert said. “She may not be anti-feminist, but she doesn’t belong on the list.”
Besty Carmado of Ferndale took the definition more broadly. “We can’t define how a woman defines being a feminist,” she said. “It’s different for everybody depending on what situation they are in.” Carmado even presented the argument that Howard Stern might be considered a feminist because he belittles men just as much as women, and used humor to shame men who abuse or disrespect women. Others at the table disagreed, and tried to narrow down what being a feminist truly means to them.
Beebe explained that the NOW has a set of issues that they look at as priority women’s issues. Since its founding in 1966, NOW’s goal has been to take action to bring about equality for all women. According to their website, NOW “works to eliminate discrimination and harassment in the workplace, schools, the justice system, and all other sectors of society; secure abortion, birth control and reproductive rights for all women; end all forms of violence against women; eradicate racism, sexism and homophobia; and promote equality and justice in our society.”
The group discussed whether Republican icon Sarah Palin would be considered a feminist or not. Some argued that because she holds fundamental believes contrary to women’s rights – particularly her insistence on conservative family values and her beliefs about contraception and abortion – that she cannot be a feminist. While others claimed that by advancing to a position of power in a traditionally male-dominated world, that she could make the claim.
Michelle Obama was a popular choice on the list. “I went and I saw her [Obama]at Wayne State talking to high school students. She went all around the country talking to young people about peer pressure and trying to help them succeed,” said Beebe. “I think she really takes seriously her role of encouraging young women.”
The discussion group had women of all ages, and each had their own view of what it means to be a feminist. Kathleen Law, who said she would add Darryl Hanna and Princess Diana to her list of feminists, said “Any woman that steps up to the plate and stays true to herself should be recognized.”
The Love Your Mind discussion groups are open to everyone, and men are especially welcome to attend. “Men can be feminists too. They can be some of our strongest advocates,” Beebe said. “Men should not be afraid to be feminists. We’re not like a lot of men think. Just because I’m a feminist doesn’t mean I don’t want a man to open a door for me. It doesn’t mean I can’t wear make-up or look pretty. And we don’t hate men. No one is going to be castrated if they come to a meeting,” Beebe said.
In addition to the Love Your Mind discussion group, NOW has several events to spread their message about Women’s rights.
On October 10 there will be a volunteer night at Beebe’s home. Anyone considering getting involved is welcome to attend. Contact Oaklandcountynow@gmail.com for more information.
On October 12 Oakland County NOW will be one of many groups coming together for Stand Up Oakland County, and event in support of Planned Parenthood. This event starts at 6pm at the Crofoot in Pontiac (1 S. Saginaw Street, Pontiac).
On October 19 there will be a Love Your Body presentation at Birmingham Unitarian Church at 6pm. This free event explores how corporate media exploits women and creates stumbling blocks to equality.
Oakland County NOW has also announced that they will be merging with Macomb County NOW, due to declining involvement in the Macomb County group. The new group is expected to be called Oakland Macomb NOW. For more information contact email@example.com. Their blog is at http://oaklandcountynow.blogspot.com/.