“The two things women need are control over their bodies and access to money,” says Gloria Feldt, former CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and author of No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power.
Speaking on VOA’s Press Conference USA, Gloria tells host Carol Castiel and Ayesha Tanzeem of VOA’s Urdu Service that control over fertility and financial autonomy are universal pre-requisites for access to power and independence, regardless of culture or country.
Access to affordable contraception has become a hot issue in the current US presidential campaign. Feldt says “it’s downright embarrassing” that we would even consider not providing affordable birth control to women in this day and age. She says contraception has been one of the biggest steps forward for women because it enables them to plan and space their families, giving them greater freedom and control over their lives. Feldt notes ironically that “it doesn’t seem quite fair for women to pay out of pocket for birth control when men can get Viagra covered by their insurance plans.”
Although every country and culture has unique challenges, Feldt explains that women around the globe are connected to each other through physical similarities. Regardless of culture, all women face the same basic reproductive issues. Feldt is inspired by women in developing countries because some are still fighting for basic access to birth control, a right that many American women take for granted. She says, “We in the United States have had it a little too easy for too long.”
According to Feldt, “barefoot and pregnant” a term used by some men to indicate their preferred status for women is but a thinly veiled pretext for keeping women dependent and out of the halls of power. She says that those who subscribe to this maxim are in fact expressing a deep-seated fear of women and their potential in the workplace.
Therefore, in her book, No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, Gloria Feldt provides several power tools that women can employ to combat chauvinistic attitudes and overcome inner barriers to success. Among the most salient is “define your own terms before someone defines you.” Feldt says that women need to speak up early and often, especially when negotiating salaries. For example, over a lifetime women make half-a-million dollars less than men simply because they do not negotiate entry-level salaries or promotions as aggressively as men do. Feldt acknowledges that this is often due to internalized cultural barriers and attitudes which are difficult to overcome. However, she says knowing one’s rights and standing up for them is a first, crucial step.
“Embrace controversy” is another power tool that can help catapult women to positions of power. Feldt’s research shows that women often do not run for public office not because they can’t get elected nor because they can’t raise the funds, but because “women don’t like the idea of conflict.” Women are conditioned to “back away from controversy.” Feldt believes that even if it’s uncomfortable, women must embrace controversy and conflict because “controversy is a teacher; it gives you a platform and it means people are paying attention to you.”