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Q&A with Deborah Siegel

Interview with a feminist

What is your current occupation?

I’m a writer and I’m also a coach. I work with primarily women, but people who want to have expertise and who want a more public voice. I call it thought leadership coaching.

How did you first become a feminist?

I would watch as my dad was invited to speak and participate in some professional activities that my mom didn’t and I would see her quietly disgruntled about that because she was also highly educated, and a talented therapist. And so I started to identify with the idea that women, through my mom, should have access to the same equal opportunities (as men).

Why did you decide to invest much of your time in the feminist cause? What was the turning point?

I started working for a National Women’s Research Organization where I was hired to write a report that synthesized research and resources, and what we needed to know about sexual harassment. It ended up being sent to members of Congress and it was a very heady time for me because I started to feel a part of a movement of researchers (and) writers, but also people speaking out in public about injustices.

Did you ever demonstrate?

I went to pro-choice rallies in the late ‘80s. I think I was less of an activist and more of a writer. I still see writing as a form of activism. I also remember my University of Michigan graduation, which was in 1991, when George Bush was president and there were demonstrations at the graduation because he was the speaker. There were people who had coathangers sketched out and masking tape on their graduation cap to protest anti-choice legislation, and I thought that was pretty cool.

Why did you decide to do your “Born that way?” TEDx Talk?

I decided to do the Tedx Talk because I really wanted challenge the way we put pink and blue labels on girls and boys from before they’re even here. These pre-set labels are unhealthy, ultimately, for our culture and society and as human beings.

What is a gender binary zone?

Gender binary zones are kind of a jargon term of the idea that there are only two genders and that they are diametrically opposed. What that means is that you either fall into the bucket called masculine or you fall into the bucket called feminine, and never the two shall meet. There is very early on division that is made and these expectations and judgment that get made that can really dampen a human being’s growth, development and their ability to participate and contribute to the world along the full range of expression and opportunity.

How can we recognize gender binary zones?

I think we can recognize it anytime we go to a toy store and where there’s a pink aisle and there’s a blue aisle. I think that this is starting to change very slowly, but it took a lot of activism to make that happen.

In your perspective, is gender conforming okay?

Yes, I think because I have two gender conforming kids, which is kind of funny because I am a scholar writing about it all. I think that the important thing is to love your kids for who they are. Gender conforming behavior, if it’s truly who you are from the inside out, then of course that’s OK. I think that it’s more about accepting the wider range of who we are, which includes conforming to a gender. I don’t think one thing is better than the other.

How is feminism different today from when you first started?

My parents are in similar fields, professionally. As a kid, I watched them build careers and I saw inequities in the way that they were treated in their respective professions. It made me mad that my mother didn’t seem to have access, for whatever reasons, to the same opportunities as did my dad. Now the issues are less just about fighting for women’s equals right and more about fighting for gender equity, which is the term I like because its right to a wider range of expression and opportunity for both women and men.

Have you achieved your goals?

There are so many different arenas in which the basic goal of political and social and economic equality is not achieved. At the same time a lot of progress and momentum is going in the right direction and the current generation of women and men are continuing to fight for a lot of the same things.

What is the most important thing you have learned? Why?

(Feminism has) made me a different kind of parent, in that I want as broad an access for my daughter as I do for my son. What that looks like is I want him to be in touch with his softness and his desire when it pops up — to go against what he thinks is acceptable for a boy and for my girl to do the same. I want full-on freedom for both of them and I think that I learned that in part of watching them and watching the culture close in around them.

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