I have a hard time dealing with my two kids and managing my freelance writing career, so I was incredibly psyched to get the opportunity to interview Glora Feldt, who was not only the former CEO and president of Planned Parenthood, but she was also a teen mom herself.
I got a copy of Feldt’s new book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change the Way We Think About Power. I have to admit, before I picked up the book I hadn’t really given a lot of thought about my own power. Was I powerful? Did I even have a sense of what that meant?
If I didn’t before, I certainly do now. Feldt pounds the idea into your head in every sentence, every paragraph, every page, every chapter. The takeaway is simple: YOU ARE POWERFUL. Believe it. Own it.
Feldt explains some of the invisible barriers women place upon ourselves and reminds us that we didn’t come this far to shrink back now. One of my favorite passages in the book comes in part one.
So here women are today, at this moment of unlimited possibility, ours for the taking. If we choose to take it, that is. If we choose to break the patterns of the past. There are challenges, yes. Roadblocks, yes. Impediments, yes. Injustices and unfairness, yes. But there are no limits to what we can dream and achieve. And with each door one woman walks through it is incumbent upon her to bring another woman through it with her.”
I walked away with a deeper understanding of the (both overt and covert) power struggles women still face, in the workplace and in relationships. When I spoke with Feldt, she was as every bit as knowledgeable and inviting as her words on the page.
In your book you talk about women need to be unafraid to grab the power that is rightfully theirs. But to a teen mom, they might feel powerless over every area of their life. As a former teen mom yourself, what is your one piece of advice to get them on the path of seeing themselves as powerful?
This is an easy one for me because I’ve been in their shoes. The biggest piece of advice is simple: Remember that there is no choice that you make in life that you can’t unchoose. No matter what happens, you can choose a new path.
You learn a lot from being a teen mom. It wakes you up. It makes you responsible. You can take those new strengths and choose intentionally what you want to do with the rest of your life. We all make choices that put us in difficult situations, but we can always make a new choice.
You’ve probably heard some of the negative reactions about MTV’s teen programming, 16 & Pregnant and its spin-off Teen Mom. Have you seen the shows and if so, what are your thoughts?
I’ve seen a little bit of 16 & Pregnant and I try to keep up some of the storylines. I do think the media fails to give young people the full knowledge of what they’re getting themselves into. Often the picture they paint is unrealistic. At the root of this is America’s very difficult relationship with sex and sensuality. You can’t just say to teens, ”Just say no.” You have to be able to talk to young people about sexual choices, sexual pleasure. Give them a full picture of the responsibility that comes along with sexual activity.
When you were a teen mom back in the 50s, what messages were you hearing in the media about teen parents – or was that even a public conversation?
No, there wasn’t a discussion about it. If a girl got pregnant, she was usually sent away to live with her aunt or she got married. That’s what I did. So it was all very hush-hush. In some ways we’re a little bit better off now because I think the pain and shame was so immense back then. There was no discussion about it, no recognition – nothing.
Today it’s more recognized that there are two people involved. When I was younger, boys got off the hook. It was expected that guys would be sexually experienced when they got married and girls would be virgins.
One of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written was about my doctor’s refusal to tie my tubes after I had my second child (at 23). His reasoning was that I was too young to make that type of decision and it isn’t easily reversible. So many other moms chimed in with similar stories, and then subsequent pregnancies that followed. And I believe this speaks to the theme of reproductive choice and economic independence that you address in your book.
It absolutely ties into those two things. If you can support yourself and you have the ability to control your fertility, then you can do almost anything else. But you are so vulnerable if you aren’t able to choose when you give birth. The first thing a mother wants to do is take care of her children and part of that is being able to plan for them.
Not having that reproductive choice (in addition to the economic independence) can make women vulnerable for domestic violence, or unhealthy relationships. If you’re not able to provide for yourself, you might cling to a relationship that otherwise would have run its course.
You were a mom of three by the time you were 21 – and you worked your way up to being president of Planned Parenthood. If you had to name the two greatest factors that helped you get where you wanted to be, what were they?
Of course, the number one factor was my children. I wanted them to have a decent life. I took my first Planned Parenthood job as executive director because it paid (slightly) more than the entry-level teaching job I was also contemplated. My kids were teenagers and I was looking college in the face. I really wanted to make sure I could support my kids through college. I knew how hard it had been for me without anyone else’s support. My kids were absolutely the biggest motivator.
The second factor was probably growing up and being involved in and aware of the civil rights movement. There were so many social justice issues that needed to be dealt with in our society and I wanted to be part of that. I felt like I could be doing something that helped people.
Do you have any general advice for young mothers trying to make the most out of life, for themselves and for their kids?
My favorite piece of advice? “This too shall pass.” You will survive. Have a sense of humor. There will be really tough days, but you’ll be really proud once your children are grown. You’ll be able to step back and marvel at what you’ve been able to do.
To read more about Feldt and her book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, visit her website at www.gloriafeldt.com.