“Despite all of the myths of women’s competitiveness, we know how to stick together,” said Robin Morgan. To Morgan, this is one of the things that make women so special. “Solidarity is not just an abstraction to women,” she continued, “it’s a practical reality, day in and day out.” It is this unique element, according to Morgan, that keeps the women’s movement going strong in the 21st century.
Morgan stated, “I am extremely proud of the fact that I have had the opportunity to be a political activist in what is the most important social and political movement on the planet, at this point in history.”
Forging Her Own Path in Activism
Morgan explained, “I had been active in the antiwar movement and in the Civil Rights movement during the sixties and seventies, and like many young women I assumed we were all fighting for equality for everyone. I thought we were going to march with our brothers, arm-in-arm, toward this great revolutionary transformation– only to find that it didn’t include women.”
She continued, “Women were expected to make coffee, not policy. It was a complete mirror image of the patriarchy we were supposed to be fighting.” This realization was a radicalizing experience for Morgan, and influenced her involvement in founding the first feminist caucus in the Civil Rights organization SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), together with now-Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Morgan and women in other feminist caucuses of New Left groups faced staunch opposition from men, who pelted them with tomatoes, eggs, and even rocks when they tried to speak in meetings. This backlash was a major catalyst for Morgan’s decision to distance herself from what she came to refer to as the “male left.”
Another key moment for Morgan occurred in 1968, when the Democratic National Convention was being held in Chicago, and was expected to draw (and did) a significant amount of protest activity from radical groups. Instead of joining these protests, Morgan had already decided to organize what would become a historical protest at the annual Miss America Pageant. Here, during this nationally televised event, Morgan and other members of New York Radical Women brought attention to the Women’s Movement by outwardly protesting against symbols of female oppression.
In her final public display of separation from the male left, Morgan published a piece in an underground newspaper, entitled, “Goodbye to All That,” in which she named popular male leaders of the left and called them out for their degradation of women being no different than men of the odious right. “Being a writer, first and foremost, the pen was my most powerful tool. Depending on how you look at it, this piece became very famous–or infamous,” said Morgan.
“That shut the door,” she recalled. From here, Morgan went on to publish Sisterhood Is Powerful, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed books of the 20th century. Many people credit this collection of women’s essays with starting contemporary American feminism.
Empowering the Modern Women’s Movement
“There is a vast global women’s movement backing up women today,” noted Morgan, “and there is progress today that did not exist thirty or forty years ago. But just because things have advanced does not mean that women today don’t still encounter huge obstacles, opposition, and challenges.”
Morgan advised women today to continue to fight for their rights and stand on the shoulders of the women who have built such a strong foundation for the women’s movement. “Start from where you are. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and know that it’s not your fault, and that you are not crazy,” said Morgan.
She continued, “Get in touch with other women who can share their stories and give advice. This politics called Feminism comes from women’s experience, from the subversive act of comparing notes, and from passing it on.” Morgan indicated a lot of power can be derived from what she called the “You too?” moment, in which women recognize that they are not alone in their experiences. These moments uncover a system of power and shift the gravity, according to Morgan. “This gives you the energy to be intrepid,” said Morgan.
Being a political activist as well as a writer has given Morgan a unique vantage point from which to view the contemporary women’s movement. “I get to see and hear what women are doing all over the globe, and it is incredibly encouraging,” Morgan said. What is equally encouraging is that women’s rights have finally entered the general discourse, according to Morgan.
To some degree Morgan thinks that the current women’s movement is more challenging than ever because now we know the depth of the problem. “Because communications globally are so much more accessible, and because women are using technology to communicate rapidly, we learn horrific stories,” explained Morgan. “It’s impossible not to grieve for the extraordinary suffering women endure all over the planet.”
But Morgan added that it’s crucial to remember that “We are not a minority group. Women are the numerical majority of the human species. We make up the majority of the populations of most countries. This is a global and political force that is coming to power.”
Morgan argued that young people, especially young women, do care about activism. “Recent events have radicalized them considerably,” said Morgan, “and they are on the move.” She encouraged young activists to stick with it because even though there will be moments of exhaustion and despair, the reward is extraordinary.
Advancing the Global Women’s Movement
Morgan acknowledged that in all cultures, there is still deep-rooted misogyny. However, she sees a mobilization occurring that is encouraging. “There are women’s movements everywhere,” said Morgan, “and they are not new and they are not imported from America. They are not ‘imported, Western notions.’ They’re indigenous and organic.”
She continued, “We are still working on a whole lot of issues on a whole lot of fronts. And these overlap with issues of war and peace, racism, class, and ageism. But the progress is staggering.”
Currently, the work Morgan does with The Sisterhood is Global Institute, which she founded with Simone de Beauvoir in the 1980s, continues to drive her efforts in this cause. Morgan said, “It’s an international feminist think tank that gives women a platform to do the one thing we are not supposed to do, which is think, plan, and strategize.”
She continued, “Closer to home, Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and I founded The Women’s Media Center, where a lot of my time, energy, and delight goes. What The Women’s Media Center does is vitally important, not only to women but to democracy—so that the whole story—not just half—gets told. The model is to make women visible and powerful in media. If we are visible and powerful there, then we are visible and powerful everywhere.”
“What I try to do on the radio program is, for an hour a week, show a woman’s alternate reality to the world,” explained Morgan. One of her favorite interviews on the show was with a group of Muslim and Jewish women who got together to talk about the common weight problems all women deal with. “There are now 200 of these groups –called Slim Peace – in the Middle East, where Israeli and Palestinian women get together once a week to talk about dieting and getting fit. They share their stories and they laugh,” said Morgan. “The next thing you know, they don’t see each other as Arab and Israeli. They see each other just as women.” This is a brilliant example of the power of solidarity that Morgan practices in her life and in her work with women.
Influences in Her Life
Morgan mentioned a few influential sources of inspiration that have helped to shape her throughout her life as a political activist and writer. “The late congresswoman Bella Abzug, was a political mother to me,” recalled Morgan. “If ‘intrepid’ didn’t exist as a word before, they would have invented it for her.”
Morgan identifies first and foremost as a serious poet. Her poetry is her lifeblood, her bedrock. But she writes fiction as well. She has drawn inspiration from Ursula K. Le Guin, a friend whom she admires for her mastery of storytelling. She also named Toni Morrison as another writer who has influenced her work. “Your mentors and your influencers come from so many different realms,” explained Morgan. “There are illiterate women in refugee camps who have been major influences for me.”
In her personal life, Morgan said her son has influenced her immensely, in a very good way. She said, “When you have been a feminist fighting the good fight for this long, you can have your bitter days in which you almost consider the mass eradication of males as a great idea. But I am so grateful for my son, the person he has grown to be; knowing and loving him has helped keep me honest.”
In Her Spare Time
At her home in New York City, Morgan loves to tend to her outdoor garden, which she joked is larger than her indoor living space! She said, “It is just heaven out there. You are in the middle of New York City, but you would never know it.” Morgan also loves to cook and entertain friends, especially in the summer months when she hosts dinner parties in her urban garden oasis.
“Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan” begins its new season on September 14 featuring Morgan’s incendiary commentaries, plus interviews with Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and political analyst, Dee Dee Myers.