The fight for equality for women has been a long and tumultuous battle. From the suffrage movement of the early 20th century to the current battle for equal pay for equal work. The movement has achieved many victories yet there are still many hurdles to cross. At the forefront of the fight for equality is the Ms. Foundation for Women. This organization was founded by women’s rights pioneer Gloria Steinem. In May of 2014, the Ms. Foundation named Teresa C. Younger their newest CEO, she officially took office in June of that year.
Advocate and activist Teresa Younger has long been at the forefront of the women’s rights movement. From campaigning legislature to working to strengthen sexual assault protections to making sure women earn a living wage. After working for years on important battles for women’s health, safety and economic security Younger now guides the 40-year-old organization in fulfilling its mission of “building women’s collective power to realize a nation of justice for all.”
Her Agenda was able to speak with Ms. Younger about taking on such a huge legacy and where millennial women fit into the feminist movement of the tomorrow.
Her Agenda: What is your personal motto?
Teresa Younger: I would probably say celebrate today for change for tomorrow.
Her Agenda: What is the greatest challenge facing women in this year?
Teresa Younger: The greatest challenge is the intersection of all the issues. Issues like living wages, health care, and reproductive rights. Especially the value of care giving in society. The role that women are playing and the changing role that women are playing.
Her Agenda: Bell Hooks famously wrote the following in ‘Ain’t I Woman’: “It is obvious that many women have appropriated feminism to serve their own ends, especially those white women who have been at the forefront of the movement; but rather than resigning myself to this appropriation I choose to re-appropriate the term “feminism,” to focus on the fact that to be “feminist” in any authentic sense of the term is to want for all people, female and male, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression.” Some view feminism as the movement of middle of aged white women, where do women of color fit into the feminism movement of today?
TY: Women of color are essential to the feminist movement of today. We are the changing face of the electorate. We are in more diversified roles in life than we have ever been before. The feminist movement would not be where it is today if it were not for the women of the civil rights movement. It is young women and women of color who will continue to spurn the conversation for a call to action around inclusion and equality.
Her Agenda: Becoming CEO of the Ms. Foundation means taking leadership of a very monumental legacy. Do you find the gravity of this legacy to be overwhelming? How do you hope to enhance this legacy?
TY: The legacy is breath taking. I am standing on the shoulders of so many women. Not just the women that we know of like Gloria Steinem but all the way back to Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth who are the founding mothers of the feminist movement. I am sometimes a little taken aback that I have been given a voice and [a chance to be] a leader in this movement. That doesn’t come with just me. I believe in having more people at the table. I value women’s voices. Women know the answers and need to be supported in determining the values of our society and valuing all the voices at the table.
Her Agenda: When you look back over your first year as CEO of the Ms. Foundation what is one short term goal you hope to have accomplished?
TY: I would like to meet all of our grantees in their communities. Being on the ground across the country. Meeting all the amazing women who are doing the work. Being apart of the energy and impact that they are having their community.
Her Agenda: Are there male lead organizations that you would consider allies in improving the lives of all women?
TY: I won’t identify any male organizations, but I will say the day that we have full equality for all women, we will have full equality for all men. When we address the issues of sexism and inequality it will mean that will address the issues of a patriarchal society that does not allow men to fully embrace themselves.
Her Agenda: The Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations may deny health insurance coverage for contraceptives on the grounds of religious reasons. One of the focus issues of the Ms. Foundation is reproductive rights, how can young millennial women join in this fight
TY: One of the key parts of Ms. Foundation’s work is to fund organizations that are on the ground. It is essential for millennial women to be working with organizations within your community. Bring as many of your friends and family to the table So when we have opportunities to change things on the state level we can already have people in place to take action. It is going to take millennials in every single state to build a movement to make the changes we want to have. One day millennials will be in the leadership roles and they will be the ones influencing the policy at the top after they’ve learned to influence policy from the bottom up.