Wednesday, February 13, 2013

BELIEFNET blows it. Feminism is NOT a dirty word

Seriously, is the F-word offensive? I'm proud to call myself a feminist

Kristine Holmgren

 As a playwright and pastor, I was delighted to be offered a new blog on a faith site – but not at the expense of my beliefs

Let me be clear: I'm a feminist playwright and proud of it. I'm also a Presbyterian pastor. I've built a successful career marrying these peculiar, male-defined vocations.

When the faith and spirituality site Beliefnet invited me to blog for them, I was delighted. In my circles, Beliefnet is a well-known resource. Writing for them would add national scope to my own website and blog.

Blending my unique expertise, I suggested the title: "Notes From a Feminist Pastor". But before the ink was dry on the contract, Beliefnet asked me to delete the word "feminist". A Beliefnet representative wrote to me:
"(We're) concerned about the negative connotation that our readers may associate with the word. We'll want this blog to focus more on Christianity/spirituality as opposed to issues related to feminism. What do you think of … 'Sweet Truths with Kristine Holmgren'?"
I told them to take a hike. I can't work where feminism is not celebrated. I'm proud to call myself a feminist.

And why shouldn't I be? Feminism proclaims all people are created equal, irrespective of our gender. It is the simple belief that women are people, entitled to respect, protection and equity under the law.

I'm old enough to remember pre-feminism, and the bad old days before feminism saved us. I remember when newspapers listed employment opportunities under two categories; "help wanted-male" and "help wanted-female".

"Administrative assistants" were men; "secretaries" were women. "Custodians" were men; "maids" were women. Never mind that they did the same tasks. Equal pay for equal work was never a consideration.

I remember my first job interview: the hiring manager asked if I was married, if I planned to marry, my boyfriend's name, his age, his occupation and when I planned to have children. Every question was legal. Not one was asked of the men interviewed.

And I remember when all girls were expected to find a good guy, marry after high school, take their husbands' names, get pregnant and disappear. But my generation of women had other plans for our futures. We were not about to march, lockstep, into motherhood. Nor would we settle for the dead-end, low-paying jobs our older sisters hated and suffered.

Instead, we raised a royal, riotous ruckus. We marched, we yelled, we shut down businesses. We fought for equal rights in the workplace, equal funding for education, for athletics. We fought for abortion rights, equal pay for equal work, protection against sexual and domestic violence.

We did so because it was the right thing to do. We were feminists. And we still are.

Make no mistake, the work we did to bring about social change was done so at great personal sacrifice. Every time a woman rose to speak for freedom of choice a personal reputation was ruined. Even so, my generation of women thought nothing of defending the rights of other women at the price of our own futures.  We measured the loss and found it worthy of the gain.
Feminism made us sisters. Individually, we were impotent females. Together, we were a social force.
Historians call us the "second wave" of the women's movement. We were born after women gained the voting franchise. In some ways, our call to action was more difficult than our mother's. Once achieved, the vote will never disappear.

Not so with our accomplishments, apparently. For example, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, released in January, found that over the past two decades, the further we get from the ruling on Roe v Wade, the less young people appear to know about it. Among those younger than 30, only 44% polled knew the case was about abortion; 16% thought it had to do with school desegregation.

Beliefnet, and its staffers, do not understand the stake in forgetting our history, and trivializing the sacrifice of previous generations. Here's what they told me:
"I agree with the ideals of feminism. But our readers are offended by feminism. And we can't risk offending our readers."
Consider the many titles that offend: "liberal", "environmentalist", "progressive", "humanist" … It's time, I think, to reclaim them all. Time to start calling ourselves who and what we are, with pride and purpose.

Think of how hopeful the world would be if every progressive was proud of the title, eager to find likeminded folks. Imagine your local city council confronting a room full of people calling themselves liberals, without apology. Do you think our common life would be changed if corporations had to contend with outspoken, strong environmentalists, committed to securing a healthy, prosperous planet?

Imagine a world where men, women and children were proud to say who they are and what they believe. It is time to reclaim freedom of thought, freedom of choice, freedom of self-definition.

And it's time to be proud to be feminist.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cranky no more

For almost ten years, I sat in this same chair in this cafe, writing my opinions for the Star Tribune.

In those days, I never ran short of criticism.

Trained by cranky immigrant Swedes, I grew up watching the world with a wary eye.

When I needed to write social criticism, I had little difficulty.

Inconsistencies were everywhere.  Lies, failures, shortcomings, and the ever-present flaws of humanity were ready for the picking.  I sat in this little chair and cherry-plucked from the vast and infinite flaws of my little world.

Today, I sit in the same little chair in the same little cafe.  I'm sure I'm wearing the same jeans, same sweater I wore fifteen years ago.

What I see, however, is far different from what I saw in those early days.

Art changes everything

Today, my world has no edges.  All the sharp contrasts from the past - the things that inspired me to  charge into righteous indignation - are muted into common effort.

Writing for the theater changed me from a comely curmudgeon to a near-obnoxious optimist. 

Instead of aligning myself with the great, ink-stained wretches of my former career and calling, I align with the bright, careless, lovely and lonely beauties and freaks who affiliate with the stage.

The beautiful people of theatre

When I pick up my pen, I think of the young, beautiful, globe-trotting actor  known for her scarves; so much, her friends assume that every lost piece of cloth belongs to her.

I think of the playwright who can only pen what she knows through her long experience as an actor.  She writes for those who deliver the goods - and not those who review them.

I think of the director who only works with young people; not because he enjoys them - quite the opposite.  He works with the young because if he didn't do so, no one would.  And he understands the importance of creativity.

These, and others, came into my life when I stopped criticizing.

And when I started creating.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

BeliefNet tells me to not use the "F" word!!

Beliefnet tells writer: Don’t use the word ‘feminist’ on your blog

“Guess which Minnesota Playwright was invited to BLOG for Beliefnet?” Kristine Holmgren wrote on Facebook in early January. “Yup! Your favorite cupcake, me!!! I’m negotiating “terms” right now…!” beliefnet
Beliefnet staffers “were very excited about me” blogging for them,” Holmgren told me on Wednesday, a day after negotiations broke down over use of the word “feminist.” The editors and marketing people “gushed” over her portfolio, which included columns that Holmgren says had been picked up by the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore Sun.
“I said to them [during a group interview], ‘You’ve got to know that I’m a Presbyterian pastor, but I come to the world as a feminist.’ They said, ‘That’s fabulous. We want a wide range of views on the site.’” (Beliefnet, which was briefly a News Corp. property, was acquired by BN Media in 2010. It calls itself “the leading website for spirituality, inspiration and emotional wellness.”)
Two days ago, Holmgren got this email from Beliefnet marketing and business analyst Sharon Kirk:
We’re ready to get started on the header for your blog however first we need the title of your blog and any creative direction you may have (i.e. colors you want to include, any themes, a headshot, etc.). I believe you and Jana previously tossed around a few title possibilities including “Feminist Pulpit Notes.”
While I agree that title is certainly straight forward, I think it would resonate with our readers more if the title was a bit “softer.” Our readers are looking for editorial that’s uplifting, motivational, inspirational, etc. and I think your blog will perform better if the title speaks to that aspect of your blog. Do you have any ideas along those lines?
Holmgren replied: “How about – “Sweet Truth – Thoughts of a Faithful Feminist” – ?”
Kirk had problems with that, too.
I love “Sweet Truth” however I would suggest changing the tag line or deleting all together as I’m concerned about the negative connotation that our readers may associate with the word feminism. In addition, we’ll want this blog to focus more on Christianity/spirituality as opposed to issues related to feminism. What do you think of simply “Sweet Truths with Kristine Holmgren”?
“I think we need a conversation about this,” Holmgren told Kirk. “Please phone me.”
The pastor/writer says she asked Kirk over the phone why she had a problem with “feminist.” The Beliefnet marketer said she didn’t, but that “we know our readers are offended by the word.”
Holmgren tells me: “I asked, Why did you contract with me? I made it very clear who I am. I said, I’m afraid this is a dealbreaker. I said was I stunned. I felt like I was talking to somebody from 1955.” (I emailed and called Kirk for comment, but have not heard back from her. I did the same with Beliefnet marketing vice president Brandy Grenier, who hasn’t replied.)
Holmgren announced to her Facebook friends Wednesday that the Beliefnet deal was off:
I spoke a few moments ago with the contact at BeliefNet. She told me – not only can I not use the word “feminist” in my title, I cannot use it on the blog.
Kristine Holmgren
Kristine Holmgren
“The word offends so many people,” she said. She said I should come up with a word that was “softer.” I told her I didn’t think there was anything “softer” than feminism; a word that denotes equality for men and women and respect for children and families. She said “I agree, but. . . ” so I told her their inflexibility on this was a “deal breaker.” She regretted my “feeling” on this (by the way – - this isn’t a “feeling.” It’s a “thought system.” Some people’s kids!!! ) and said, “We can conclude this without rancor.” I said, “Oh, no we can’t.” I’m writing about this one.



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