Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Former governor speaks on state of today’s feminist movement

Former Vermont governor Madeleine Kunin spoke to a full room in Gordon Hall on feminism and family values Tuesday night, beginning with an excerpt from her new book, “The New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family,” in which she expressed her frustration with the current position of the feminist movement and where she thought it should be.

Stephen Treat/Collegian

Kunin’s concerns lie in the fact that even with 60 percent of undergraduates being female and making up nearly half of the medical field, women are still vastly underrepresented in positions of power in government. The United States ranks low on a list of countries with policies that help foster positive environments for families, she said.

In order to reach full gender equality, Kunin believes that there needs to be a closer look at the social climate of families.

“We have to get into underlying policies that affect our families,” she said, urging those in the room to take active roles in getting these issues in front of legislatures.

Kunin placed an emphasis on the importance of balancing expectations of the modern woman to have a job and be a caregiver, as well as the importance of medical leave programs for pregnant women.

“The Second Area Medical Leave Act was a good first step, but it’s not adequate for today’s world,” said Kunin, who served as ambassador to Lichtenstein under the Clinton administration.

In today’s two income family or single parent family, there often isn’t an option of taking an unpaid maternity leave. This leads to a workplace culture where many women quit their jobs during pregnancy, Kunin said, adding that the solution is to create work environments that support this new style of family. She said that offering paid maternity leave can result in a much slower turnover rate where companies are more likely to retain their employees.

In addition to paid leave, Kunin feels that flexible work environments are essential in the fight to reach gender equality.

“It pays to treat your employees well,” Kunin said. “We cannot run this country by looking at the immediate bottom line.”

She said the United States has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to workplace policies, and that the changes that need to be made can’t be looked at as getting something for nothing.

“It’s not a handout, it’s an investment,” she said.

Kunin also stressed the need to demand politicians to take action about the issues that affect women in the workplace, a potent reminder for the upcoming election.  Kunin said that people can influence these needed changes with their votes.  She reminded the audience not to underestimate the power of the individual and grassroots politics.

The majority of the speech seriously talked of the necessity of change in the feminist movement to improve structural changes that would have long term effects on society.

Despite gender equality being far from ideal, according to Kunin, her speech did incorporate points of optimism.

“You have to believe that it’s worth it, that if you take the risk, something good will happen,” Kunin said. “The United States is still a land of possibility, but we have to use it.”

Micah Levine can be reached at [email protected].

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  • S

    Sherry WeddleSep 20, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    Such a clearly written article, an ongoing issue that cannot be ignored, however much so many (often male) politicians try. I wish I could’ve heard the whole speech, but thank you, Ms. Levine for bringing this to my attention.

  • M

    MJBresslerSep 19, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Good article. I thought the feminist movement had been put to sleep. Nice to hear someone is championing it again. We need more woman in power, maybe then we could get on with the business of cleaning up this country.