“Go for the Whole Thing”: In Conversation with Paula Giddings and Gloria Steinem
Culture, Equity, Power, Safety
Last week, TIME’S UP Foundation brought together two legends, Paula Giddings and Gloria Steinem, for a virtual conversation moderated by Jurnee Smollett. Over several decades Giddings and Steinem have fought – often together – for gender justice and to center the voices and experiences of Black women.
Check out a recap of the conversation and the full video below.
Go for the whole thing. Giddings urged that this is the moment for fundamental change – not just progress. Throughout the conversation, Giddings and Steinem acknowledged the opportunity we have to fight for the most expansive vision of gender equity possible. The spirit of the TIME’S UP movement lies in working with survivors, allies, and partners to unapologetically call out the structures, policies, and culture that perpetuate sexism and racism and boldly reimagine workplaces that allow women to reach their fullest potential.
Take an intersectional approach. In the wake of the twin health and economic crisis and calls for racial justice, Steinem underscored how economically polarized women stand to become. Black women are experiencing the highest unemployment rates and, as the economy rebounds, white workers are being hired back at twice the rate of Black workers.
An intersectional framework to gender equity must contend with how race, gender, class, and other identities harm Black women and devise solutions that don’t, as Steinem put it, “treat Black women as though they are women on some days of the week and Black on others.” Because of their intersecting identities, Black women have stood at the frontlines of change. Borrowing from the words of Toni Morrison, Giddings notes that Black women are both the ship and the harbor.
Black women set out on a voyage to fight for change and also serve as the nurturing retreat, caring for our communities in the face of injustice.
Practice Allyship. As collaborators and co-conspirators, Giddings and Steinem shared that allyship is not easy – and tensions will inevitably arise. Allyship takes work, building trust, constant negotiation, and listening. For white women, Steinem noted that white women have the obligation to use their power to dismantle racism and sexism – whether that’s refusing to spend your money with a company that has racist practices or not engaging in spaces that don’t reflect true diversity.
You don’t learn from sameness; you learn from difference. We don’t learn while we’re talking, we learn while we’re listening.
Be ready for fierce backlash. Whether in the workplace or across social justice movements, we can only win if we work together. Invoking the words of Margaret Mead, Steinem stated that a few people gathering together is all that could ever change the world. Steinem encouraged advocates to build power in numbers, to gather often and organize together, avoid hierarchical structures to maximize the flow of information, and to work outside of racist and sexist structures to create new systems for change. And Giddings told us to be ready for one thing that means change is happening: backlash. Fierce backlash is a statement of how effective the movement is. We must be ready to respond together we can build strong and trusting coalitions, develop structures that respond to conflict – both internal and external, and plan ahead.
Build an anti-racist and anti-sexist practice. As Giddings explained, anti-racism and anti-sexism is a whole discourse – we have to read about it to understand the issues in a deeper way. Below are some places to start:
Learn about the women who inspire Paula Giddings
- Hear Giddings reflect on the life of author Toni Morrison on NPR’s 1A.
- Read Giddings’ biography of journalist and civil rights leader, Ida B. Wells entitled Ida: A Sword Among Lions.
- Learn about the inspiring leadership of Winnie Mandela in this 1985 New York Times feature by Giddings.
Read a book from Gloria Steinem’s list
- When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America by Paula Giddings
- Trauma and Recovery. The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Lewis Herman
- Surviving the White Gaze: A Memoir by Rebecca Carroll
- Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly by the Guerrilla Girls
- Cultural Memory: Resistance, Faith, and Identity by Jeanette Rodriguez and Ted Fortier
Promise me that you’re going to do at least one outrageous thing in the cause of social justice a day — whether it’s simple or complicated.