Gloria Steinem And Chelsea Handler Said The One Thing Most White Feminists Are Reluctant To Hear

by kathy iandoli

On April 3rd, the New York Times hosted their famed #TimesTalks series at New York’s BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center. The series pairs famed public figures and celebrities alike with renowned NYT writers, covering both broad topics and personal stories. April 3rd’s event included Gloria Steinem, Chelsea Handler, and NYT economics writer Patricia Cohen. The talk was also live webcasted via the Times Talks website.

If you’ve ever caught an interview between Chelsea Handler and Gloria Steinem (Steinem was featured on Handler’s E! nighttime talk show Chelsea Lately as well as on Handler’s Netflix series Chelsea alongside Sarah Silverman), you know the dynamic is strong. Gloria Steinem has always maintained the air of an unapologetic badass throughout her reign as a feminist icon. Chelsea Handler’s feminist icon status is consistently growing, with her latest run with Netflix being perhaps the greatest catalyst in moving her into more politically-driven territory. Together they’re a force, and the talk was continued proof of that.

The talk was described by Patricia Cohen as a “talking circle,” a gesture highlighted by Steinem in her previous works centered on various trips to India. Of course, the dialogue opened with the state of the country in a Post-Trump America. However, the conversation delved deeper into what that exactly means. Sure, the easy part is poking fun at Donald Trump’s ridiculousness, punctuated with the notion that he doesn’t truly accept anyone but the rich. The idea that most Trump supporters will never see an eighth of his net income is the greatest irony, combined with the fact that he almost successfully removed their access to real healthcare. But it’s bigger than that, and the talk fueled a dialogue that is seemingly uncomfortable for many feminists and women in general.

We’ve read the stats: 53% of white women voters voted for Trump, while 94% of Black women voters voted for Hillary Clinton. It arguably furthered the growing rift between Black feminists and white feminists as of late. On one hand, Black feminists rightfully argue they did their due diligence. It wasn’t necessarily about having Hillary Clinton in office, or even a woman in general; it was not voting in a man who is so vile in his beliefs on race and gender. On the other hand, white feminists maintain the “not all white women” mantra, pointing to stats that show most of that 53% were Midwestern housewives probably strong-armed by their husbands into voting for Trump for fear that their household and societal white privilege would be revoked. And it’s that same duality of mentalities that flooded the Women’s March earlier in the year, as many white women wanted to march in favor of Planned Parenthood without the burden of being reminded that perhaps the most destructive to that platform look just like them. And when that bitter truth is revealed by women of color, many white women turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to it. So, both Steinem and Handler reiterated it to the predominantly white female room.

When Cohen presented Steinem with a Facebook Live question about inclusiveness in the women’s movement, Steinem replied, “What we forget is that disproportionately, women of color invented feminism.” She accented that sentiment with stats from her Ms. Magazine 1972 national poll, where over 60% of women of color supported feminism and women’s equality issues, while only thirty-something percent of white women supported it. “That’s why people were wrongly surprised by the vote in this election,” she added. “It’s condescending to say to make the movement inclusive; women of color are the movement and have always been the movement.” Understanding that, for lack of a better word, rationalizes how so many white women in the country voted for Donald Trump, when the obvious majority of white women are reliant on their husband’s income and societal status. But once again, for those white women who didn’t vote for Trump, the kneejerk reaction is to be combative and even helpless as to how to convey the opposing message to these women who are so-called ruining their feminist reputation. That’s where Chelsea jumped in. “My experience is that I’ve always been celebrated by Black women and men,” Handler tells. “The only people I have ever had problems with were white women.” Here’s her solution: “I make it a practice to be friends with a different white girl a month that I normally wouldn’t want to hang out with and I forge a friendship because I saw what it did to this election and the stats that [Steinem] just spoke about.” Her suggestion was met with giggles, but there was truth to Handler’s sarcasm.

Of all the advice given during Gloria Steinem and Chelsea Handler’s Times Talks — from Chelsea urging calls and petitions to Senators to Steinem’s uncanny knack for speaking in inspirational memes — the greatest gem was accountability. It’s not about chanting how inclusive you are; it’s about reaching those who are not and conveying the message that just because their rights aren’t totally attacked doesn’t mean the rights of other women aren’t. It was something the majority of white women needed to hear from two pillars of white feminism. Perhaps now we will listen.

To view the Gloria Steinem and Chelsea Handler Times Talk in its entirety, click here.

This post was published on April 5, 2017

Kathy Iandoli is a critically acclaimed journalist and author. Her work has appeared in Bust, Pitchfork, VICE, Maxim, O, Cosmopolitan, The Village Voice, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and many others. Kathy co-authored the book Commissary Kitchen with Mobb Deep’s Albert ‘Prodigy’ Johnson, highlighting injustices within the prison complex. She is also a professor of Music Business at select universities in New York and New Jersey.

Top photo via TimesTalks

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