Conversations for Change: NCWIT Summit: The New Women’s Movement by Frances Fox Piven

BOBBY SCHNABEL: Good morning. I’m afraid that I don’t have any Photoshopped family pictures to show you. I can report to you, however, that the trails outside the resort are wonderful, and I didn’t encounter any javelinas this morning but as the investment people tend to say, your results may vary. Now I’d like to turn a little bit more serious. This is the first Joanne Cohoon Memorial Plenary Session, and so I’d like to say a few words about Joanne before introducing our speaker. How many of you in the audience knew Joanne? Lots, yeah. Joanne, as you know, was a real stalwart of our community. She was a distinguished researcher in social science issues about computing. She was a long time NC with senior social scientists. I suspect every one of you who raised your hands has memories of Joanne. What I tend to think of first when I think of Joanne is a session at the Snowbird meeting, that’s the meeting that happens every two years of the heads of academic and industrial research organizations in computing in North America. It was a large session where Joanne was presenting recent results about women in computing education, and it was vintage Joanne. She commanded everybody’s attention, she commanded everybody’s respect. She had this fun and engaging way of speaking to us that brought us all in and yet at the same time challenged our thinking in very effective ways. Now as you know, we lost Joanne to cancer just over a year ago, and so nothing seemed more fitting than to honor her by having a series of plenary talks at NCWIT meetings, where we would hear from eminent social scientists who would also challenge our thinking in effective ways. And in that vein, it’s my great honor to introduce Dr. Frances Fox Piven, who is the Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the Graduate Center of the University of New York. As many of you know, Dr. Piven is a very noted scholar of social movements, and the author and co-author of far too many really influential books and articles for me to start reciting here. Many of these have the uniting theme that disruption and noncooperation drive social change, and I suspect we’ll hear some about that today. Dr. Piven’s career includes work as an advocate, advisor, organizer, writer, speaker, and fundraiser for many community and nonprofit organizations, government agencies, labor unions, political groups, and social protest movements. She is the recipient of many distinguished awards, two of the real big ones include the Honorable Shirley Chisholm Lights of Freedom Award and the Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology from the American Sociological Association. Dr. Piven’s career of scholarly and political engagement with social movements helps us all challenge our assumptions about how social change happens and will enable us to be better social change agents ourselves. So please join me in welcoming Dr. Frances Fox Piven. Thank you.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: How is the sound, is it working? Good. I’m very glad to be here because it’s a strange new world for me. I am a technophobe. I kind of wish computers had never been invented. I use a flip phone. Although I’m very impressed by the description of the achievements of the young women who came up to this platform to receive their awards. They can help to make this a better society. But many other forces are working to make us a more retrograde, backward society, and I want to say something about them today. But let me begin by talking about that great movement that emerged in the middle of the 20th century, second-wave feminism. It emerged at about the same time that I came into public life, by which I mean I finished school finally and I got a job. And this movement, which we now call feminism, this movement was a great movement, especially in its early phases. It paralleled the movement of the Black Freedom movement, for example, or the great student movement that emerged to protest the war in Vietnam. And it both energized those movements and it derived energy from those movements. It was emancipatory, and it thrust itself out in many directions exuberantly, creatively. It fought against the constraints of domesticity which had chained women, and it fought also against the kind of biological determinism in our thought which undergirded the constraints of domesticity. Women had to be what they were, wives and mothers and care workers if they worked. They had to be that way because of their genes. Well, the women’s movement, second-wave feminism changed that. They insisted that women belonged in public life, that meant they belonged in the market, in occupations, and it meant also they belonged in politics. They wanted careers. Many of us who were part of and beneficiaries of that movement had benefited from it, as have younger people who came after us. We have careers, and we also moved into politics, where the hope was that we would have a humanizing influence on American politics, and therefore on American public policy, which is shaped by politics. In that regard, I think the women’s movement has been less successful. We did make a difference in the disciplines and in the professions. I don’t think social science will ever be the same again because of the influence of the women’s movement that insisted that women’s lives deserved equal attention by social scientists, women’s psychology deserved equal attention by social scientists, and even in the natural sciences, women philosophers of science who insisted that until now, natural science has been dominated by a kind of male-based metaphor. It even goes down to the electricians, we have female electrical parts and male electrical parts. Well, we changed academia, we changed the social sciences, we changed the natural sciences, and we changed practice as well. Women’s health now is a familiar concern and a familiar area of practice, and before the women’s movement, women’s health received short shrift. So especially in the professional, managerial, academic worlds, the second-wave feminist movement was a great success. And it was especially a success in its early years. But movements change over time. Some people would say they mature, but that change is the result of the interaction of the movement, its assertiveness, its disruptiveness, its loudness, its exuberance. The interaction with those movement tendencies with the stable institutions and the forces that undergird those institutions of the society. That’s what we call maturing. The flamboyant demonstrations of the early years, you’ve heard of the bra burning for example, give way to advocacy organizations. They can become big organizations. They are present in Washington DC, in the beltway, they are present in the state capitals, they are present in all the major institutions of the society. These advocacy organizations, or in academia it’s frequently caucuses. The women’s caucus in political science, for example. They take on a different stance than the movement exuberance, the movement disruption, the movement loudness, the movement noise. We see a kind of fading of the unpredictable emancipatory tendencies of the movement, and also of the class consciousness that the women’s movement did have in its early years, the awareness of the privilege of some of us in contrast to the needs of most of us, which led in the early years to some alliances. I for example worked for a very long time with a movement called the welfare rights movement, which was a movement of the poorest women in the country who depended mainly on a program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and who fought for liberal, inclusive, less punitive arrangements in that program, who fought for higher benefits benefits were extremely low, and who fought for rights in the processes which determined whether women got access to these small benefits or whether they could hold onto them after the investigators barged into their homes to look for signs of a male partner, for example. It was pretty horrible. The welfare rights movement fought against that. We considered ourselves part of second-wave feminism, but as the movement phase faded and as a kind of organizational and advocacy stance took over, this cross-class connection also faded. Cross-class, cross-racial, the welfare rights movement was a black and Hispanic movement, it was not a white movement in the main, excepting in places like West Virginia. The women’s movement, I think, lost the consciousness of the privilege of the educated women who could take advantage of the lowering of barriers to entrance to the professions, to entrance to the academy. Nevertheless, when we look back on the women’s movement, as a vehicle for the advancement and for gains, for well-positioned, well-educated women, it has to be judged as a great success. That’s why you are here, that’s why I am here. I am a beneficiary of second-wave feminism. Meanwhile, however, other changes were underway in the larger society beyond the movement that were very big, and for many people very devastating. There were changes in the economy, for example, that began in the 1970’s that included the phenomenon we call de-industrialization. De-industrialization meant that the big mass production factories that had nourished the rise of a largely male working class, unionized working class, those big plants were moving elsewhere, they were moving to Mexico, they were moving to Bangladesh, they were moving to places where labor was cheap and unorganized, and where production could therefore compete very successfully with production in the United States. So we have the phenomenon of de-industrialization and globalization, which left entire cities like Detroit absolutely devastated. Not only Detroit, but Rochester, Buffalo, Camden, New Jersey, large parts of Philadelphia, Baltimore. A kind of pestilence across the country, as workers, most of them men who had finally achieved dignity and self-sufficiency of a kind in the 1930’s and ’40’s with the rise of a workers’ movement, largely male, they had fought for good wages, they had fought for unions, and they had won. And they had also fought for protective programs, like social security, like Medicare, like Medicaid. Now, that was gone, and in its wake, you saw dead cities, poisoned water systems, and devastated people, devastated communities, devastated families. And meantime, globalization also meant that American or American-owned products like corn were invading Mexico and putting millions of small farmers in Mexico into despair because they could not compete with the imports of subsidized American corn. Well that meant that many of these people from first Puerto Rico but Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, they came to the United States. So we have the phenomenon of another wave of mass immigration. Into what, but not into good industrial jobs. Into a service economy where wages were falling. So the women’s movement is unfolding in the midst of these big changes. We who are in a way at the center of this women’s movement because we are well-educated, we are well-positioned, we’re taking advantage of the liberatory idea that women have a right to be everywhere in the professional, academic, managerial world. But meantime, the country around us is becoming increasingly unequal, increasingly polarized. Industry is gone, the service sector is where most of the jobs are. We did well, it’s true, there are people like Sheryl Sandberg, who is at Facebook for example, the women who are now heads of universities. True, they’re not doing as well as the men but that’s not our big problem. The big problem is the great masses of women and men who really have fallen way behind. They have not benefited from the women’s movement. So how do we assess what happened? Well it’s true that, in a certain way, we succeeded, or the world has succeeded, in emancipating many women from the confines of domesticity, which was a kind of prison which limited the horizons of women, which bound them to the needs of family members, which made them dependent for their well-being on male earners. In fact, women now participate in the labor market equally with men, but they’re participating not in the labor market of the 1940’s and ’50’s and ’60’s. They’re participating in a labor market which is overwhelmingly service-centered jobs, where unions have been greatly weakened or maybe they’re nonexistent. Unions were a kind of protection and vehicle, a weapon for these men in retaining their self respect, and in getting a share of the wealth produced by industrial production. We’ve been emancipated from the family, but we’re now working as retail workers. Not you and I, but other women, many other women. They’re working for an average wage of $10.60 an hour in the retail sector. Or they’re working as home health aides, where they earn on average $10.50 an hour. Or they’re working in food and beverages, where they make on average $9 an hour. Moreover, not only do they not earn enough to bring them over the poverty level, and maybe it means to bring their children over the poverty level as well, but they’re subject to the indignities and the impossibilities of irregular schedules. It’s called flexibility in the workforce, but it’s hell in the lives of working women, especially if they have children. And people being people, they have children. So what do you do when you don’t know in advance when you’re going to be called to work? How do you arrange childcare? I remember I was a single mom in the ’60’s and I had to arrange childcare, and it was pretty hard because there was no regular childcare. You had to find a family with kids who was willing to take in your kid for the working day, but maybe one of those kids had a cold, or maybe your kid was getting chicken pox, and then what did you do? The whole thing collapsed. It was just hair-raising, that’s why I finally got myself an academic job. But these women are in a similar if not worse situation. You can’t arrange childcare if you don’t know when you’re going to work. Moreover, it’s become a practice not to give people enough work to make them economically secure. Irregular schedules, on-call employment, but less than 30 hours a week is now the practice in food and beverage, in retail, in caring work. And then there’s a kind of irony in this. A lot of the women, like us, who benefited from the gains, the enormous and historic gains of the women’s movement, I’m not denying that, I’m just asking us to look at something else that’s also very big if not bigger. A lot of us were able to do what we did because there were lots of women who had to become our domestic workers, had to become our nannies, had to become our maids. Well, that’s a kind of irony, isn’t it? Because we began as a movement that was inclusive, that embraced all women, and that considered the fate of all women as the moral obligation of the movement. And now, some of us are very successful, maybe not as successful as the men in our fields and that has to be addressed. Those of us who are successful are also in a certain way the beneficiaries of the hardship of the women who could not take advantage of the opening up of professional, managerial employment. For these women, we considered domesticity as our realm and our fate, decreed by our biology. We considered that a prison. But for the women who are worried about whether they’re going to get called to work and then worried about whether they can get childcare when they’re called to work, and also suffer the new instabilities, the additional instabilities of the family itself, guys are unreliable after all, for these women, maybe domesticity is not just a prison, but is also a haven. Consider that possibility, that from the perspective of a mom trying to earn enough in this unstable labor market, to feed her two kids and to pay the rent, and where’s she going to get childcare when we gets called to employment, for her, maybe the idea of that awful world of yesteryear where men strutted around and women took care of them, brought them their slippers when they came home from work, if they were middle class, brought them a drink, if they weren’t middle class, brought them a beer, and then played games. You know, the games that women play in that situation. Appealing to men, using their sex as a using it to get stuff out of the guys. Those are the games that people in subordinate roles play. It’s not nothing. And then you draw on the almost ethereal celebration of motherhood, at least on Mother’s Day. Was that worse? For these women, was that worse than the circumstances that they confront today? Maybe not. I say that because I want to look for a moment at the election of 2016. This is such a momentous election in American historical development. On the election of 2008, 2012, that was nice, I celebrated it myself. We finally had a black president. But it’s not clear that he was the president of all black people by any means. The election of 2016 was a kind of shock, was it not? It’s true that Hillary won the popular vote, and that had to do with ancient, archaic arrangements in American electoral politics which distort our democracy, in this case the Electoral College, but that’s not my subject today. I could talk about that for a long time. We thought Hillary would win, it was a shock. Donald Trump won, this is so unbelievable. And you know what? White women who are not college educated voted for Donald Trump by a very large margin. I think in a way that’s the fruit of the developments that I’ve been describing. Only better educated women supported Hillary Clinton, who I didn’t like either but, of course I voted for her, I’m not crazy. I don’t think that those white women who were not better educated, who supported Trump, supported Trump because he was a groper. I think it was that, for the vast majority of these women, in a way, Hillary, both her symbolism and her record, had failed them. In a sense, the Democratic Party had failed them. That was also true of a lot of these white working class men. Think about Hillary’s biography, Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton in a way began her political life as a part of second-wave feminism. Exemplary early record. She worked as a lawyer for the Children’s Defense Fund, defending the rights of poor children. Marian Wright Edelman, a great black woman, was head of the Children’s Defense Fund, and she was a buddy of Hillary’s. They broke later and I’ll say a little bit about why. Well that’s how Hillary began, she began like second-wave feminism began. And then she and her husband Bill Clinton became part of the so-called reform effort in the Democratic Party known as the Democratic Leadership Council. It was an effort to move the Democratic Party to the right, basically to gain campaign finance support from the new oligarchs, that was what that was about. And as part of that movement, the Democratic leadership, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton included, tried to unshackle themselves from the connection that Democrats had formed with the Black Freedom movement. And by 1993, with Bill Clinton as president, Hillary as first lady, and certainly first in the cabinet that surrounded Bill Clinton, Hillary was supporting the 1993 Crime Act, which led to the horrific incarceration of huge numbers of young black and Hispanic men. A higher proportion, much higher proportion of people incarcerated than in any other country in the world, including Russia or Cuba or wherever else you want to point. The incarceration of so many young black and Hispanic men was very hard on the communities from which they came, and very hard also on the young families that were forming in these communities. And that meant it was hard for the women, the mothers in these families. The millions of black and Hispanic men are now in the claws of the criminal justice system, and that’s not only a burden for these men, it’s also a burden for the women to whom they are related and for the children that they inevitably, because people are people, for the children that they inevitably give birth to. But then it got worse, this is Hillary’s career. Hillary became one of two people in Bill Clinton’s cabinet that supported welfare reform, or the Personal Responsibility Act of 1996. The other person was Dick Morris. Some of you may recall him as the public relations guru for the Clintons, who eventually got into trouble with the law. It had something to do with a fetish for sucking the toes of prostitutes, I believe. Hillary didn’t get into that kind of trouble. But Hillary did support the Personal Responsibility Act, she did support welfare reform. She had gone from being a legal advocate for the rights of poor children and their families in the 1960’s to supporting legislation which had the consequences, and she knew it would, of kicking millions of women and children off the welfare rolls where they were receiving minimal benefits in favor of something called workfare. The consequences were dramatic for these families. They resulted in, for example, the phenomenon that Kathryn Eden and others have recently demonstrated of millions of American families living on less than $2 a day. Hillary’s biography, in other words, her biographical journey, took her from being an advocate for poor children to supporting the legislation which did incredible harm to poor families, and eventually to becoming a favorite speaker at Goldman Sachs. The Clintons got very rich after Bill Clinton left office. They are multi-millionaires now. This, only in the course of 16 years, big, big money. When Madeleine Albright said, during the election, that there’s a special place in hell for women who did not support Hillary, she was committing a very ugly lie. There were reasons for not supporting Hillary, there were reasons these women did not. It’s true that black women were loyal to the democrats for historic reasons, but there were reasons that all of us should have pressed Hillary and other politicians to pay attention to the plight of the millions of working women who did not succeed as a result of the women’s movement. Maybe there’s a new day, just maybe. Donald Trump won, he took office, the inauguration was a kind of shambles, all those empty spaces in the aerial photographs. But the great thing that began was, it’s now got capital letters, The Resistance. The Resistance. And what kicked off The Resistance was the Women’s March. Isn’t that wonderful? I thought it was so great. It brought back the spirit of the women’s movement of the 1960’s, it brought back the inclusive spirit of the women’s movement of the 1960’s, where inclusiveness wasn’t that front and center to that movement, it was not just about getting ahead as a financial advisor. It was about all women, healthcare for all women. Childcare for everyone, we are the only advanced rich nation that doesn’t have a childcare system. Can you imagine what we did? In 1996, we passed legislation which cut millions of women off welfare so that they should go to work, and we did not provide for any childcare. How can a responsible nation do something like that? We have to build a new women’s movement which puts public, good childcare front and center. And elder care too! We have to build a women’s movement that thinks that paid maternity leave should be a right of all women. We have to build a women’s movement that pays attention, not only to the glass ceiling that affects women in the financial world, but a women’s movement that absolutely insists on a $15 an hour minimum wage for all people! And we have to build a women’s movement that understands that union rights, the union rights which have been dismantled over the last 35 years in the United States, are in fact women’s rights, because women are workers and they need unions for minimal protection for their earnings and for their self respect. In other words, those of us who are the comfortable beneficiaries of the 20th century women’s movement have to lead women into The Resistance and have to become front and center to the great Resistance movement, which may save our country and may save the world from the depredations of Donald Trump and his thieving cronies, thank you.

BOBBY SCHNABEL: Thank you very much, Dr. Piven. I think we promised you that this would be a talk that would challenge some of our notions, and as you could see, this particularly challenged our notions of economic class, of social class in ways that I think are very valuable to all of us. We do have time for questions. There are some runners in the audience, so if you’ll raise your hands if you’d like to ask questions. Up front,

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you very much for a wonderful speech. I just wanted to say, if we don’t continue to pay attention on women’s ability to go through the glass ceiling, we’re not going to have enough women with a voice to make the decisions they need to make to make the difference in the areas that you are advocating.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: I’m sorry, I really didn’t get the question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I thought one of your messages was that it’s not about going through the glass ceiling that’s most important, it’s about the plight of the women in the services or in the lower income brackets. My statement is that, if we don’t really continue to focus on breaking that glass ceiling, we’ll never have the women with the power and the voice to make a difference and make the decisions that need to be made to make the difference, it will not depend on one woman because we’ll have–

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: That’s very true.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: –enough women in places of power.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: That’s very true. I think some of you in the audience may have been a little nonplussed at the comment I made about Barack Obama. I remember the election of 2008. I was thrilled, I went to an election party with my friends. It was so wonderful, and then I went home. I live on 120th Street in Manhattan. So I went to 125th Street, to Harlem, and everybody was in the streets, everybody was hugging, the jubilation was enormous. But Barack Obama brought into his administration the financial advisors who presided over a recovery program that featured bailouts to the big banks. People like Larry Summers, for example. And the reason he could do that is because the Black Freedom movement had really declined. There wasn’t pressure from below. So one of the things that we, as sophisticated, educated people who understand some of the dynamics of movements, we represent the better of, it’s true, but we should be very keenly aware of the dangers, not only of one leader representing tens of millions of people, but the dangers of leadership that is untethered from an activated mass base.

BOBBY SCHNABEL: We’re going to try to move around the room with questions. So another side of the room next. Got a question up front here, can we get a mic up? Great, thank you.


DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: You can come up and use my mic.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: This mic’s, okay, that’s good. My name Loretta Cheeks, I recently graduated from Arizona State University. I also support black women in computing as a part of a national organization. My concern, this is my first time at NCWIT. You all are beautiful women, so this is no knock on one woman, but to your point in terms of inclusion and making sure that we are empathetic to all sisters, wherever they are and wherever they fall, I think we, and maybe you can help to put some language toward this, need to be more intentionally inclusive on the messages that we send. In terms of age, the way that we enter the area of IT, congratulate all the women that just came here. I am a non-traditional student, and the PhD, I was in industry for many years. But we have to be very intentional on the message. What career would any woman ever want to pick, and their life in the career is only 20 years? And when we celebrate only young women, that’s the message that we send. So I don’t know what you can say toward that, that we’re more inclusive on making sure that there’s diversity or inclusion from every spectrum, from the woman who has to care for her elderly, the woman who has to care for the disabled community. We enter from all different spaces, so our Jerusalem needs to start at home. When we start talking about Barack Obama and everyone else, let us start here.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Thank you for those comments. They provoke me to make a comment of my own. A lot of what I see here, and which I am thrilled to see here, I was thrilled by the lineup of young women who received those awards, made me think about a kind of warning. We are not going to solve the problems of women in general in American society by making them into IT experts. That is not going to happen. There are not enough jobs. And that solution is always being proposed, when the questions of inequality and the hardship that ensues are brought up. Well, they should get an education, they should go to college, they should get training. I want to see more women of all kinds, of all colors, of all sexual dispositions, I want to see more women at the top. But we have to improve the circumstances of women at the bottom and in the middle, because they can’t all be at the top. It’s not going to happen.

BOBBY SCHNABEL: Okay, questions here. Okay.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you, first of all, for your words. If I knew how to Twitter, I would have a hashtag that says, #Iwastheretoo. But I wanted to disagree with one statement you made at the very end, where you said that people of our generation have to be at the front of the new Resistance movement. I really think that we should be supporting them, but I think the young women that came this morning, I think the previous speaker should be at the very front.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: The great thing about The Resistance so far, there are several great things about The Resistance. One is that it is springing up everywhere in tiny little hamlets, in upstate New York, there are chapters of Indivisible. There are churches offering sanctuary in the most unexpected places. So that’s great about it. The other great thing about it Is the fellowship, sisterhood, brotherhood that characterizes all parts of The Resistance movement. Some of you are old enough to have gone through the nasty phases of movement in-fighting, in which you had to be the right color, you had to be correct, and you had to gain acceptance even as one of the troops in a movement. The Resistance now is characterized by good feeling and inclusiveness that should be treasured. So when I say we have to be front and center, I think we should all be front and center, all parts of the movement have to be front and center. There’s a feature of the movement which may not last, which makes that possible, and that is that nobody is saying you have to join my group in order to join the movement. Different groups can take their own stance, and in a way, emphasize their own thing because the threat, really, is so huge and so sweeping, and occurs on every front, that there’s space for all of us to be leaders.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Is this on, okay. So I have a question for you, we’re in an interesting place as a society right now, where disruption is everywhere. We see it, and technology is driving much of it. We could go sector by sector, we could talk about Uber disrupting transportation and Tesla disrupting transportation, and all of these different disruptions. So my question for you is, we’ve got a group of folks here that are in technology, many of them, and I think technology will be a disruptor in bigger ways than maybe anything we’ve even seen so far. And so, from my perspective, I think the question for this room is what are we doing to be leaders in that technology evolution, whether it’s a government service or whether it’s a transportation service, so that we’re playing a key role? Because to me, the way you play a key role in the future is you help build it.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Well that’s really interesting. The possibility that you raise is very interesting. Let me put it this way. In late 19th and through the middle of the 20th century, workers discovered and built and acted on their ability to disrupt production. It caused troubles in the larger society and it certainly caused troubles for the owners of mass production industry, but just think, in the 1930’s, thousands of workers, tens of thousands of workers discovered that they could strike, and not only could they strike and shut down production, but they could sit down, and that meant they occupied the factories in which production took place so that production could not proceed without them. Now that was a very hair-raising form of power that workers had discovered and were acting on, and of course there were many laws passed to try to make it illegal. But the sit-down strike was so illuminating because it showed working people that they played a role on which the economy depended. Well you guys also play a role on which the contemporary economy depends. That should make you wide-eyed, excited, scared, a little crazy. Because you and your partners out there are at the center of an economic system which you can bring down. This should alarm you, but it should make you also wide eyed and excited with its possibilities. I don’t know how you feel about that. But just think about the role that hacking, for example, plays in current politics. In the old labor stories, mythologies, there always was a special place of honor given to dock workers. And that was because dock workers were at the center of a system of production and exchange. Nothing moved without them, they could stop it. So can you. I’m not telling you what to do or how to do it.

BOBBY SCHNABEL: We have time for a couple more questions. Go ahead.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay. Hello, okay, so thanks for being here, first of all. It takes a lot of guts in this day and age for somebody to speak candidly as you did, so thanks. My observation and a question or a challenge for all of us is I notice this over and over and over years and years with women in general. If you hear a lot of the comments and questions and concerns thrown at you, it’s almost as if we’re looking for a 100% situation where there’s a 100% resolution. If you look at the male population, a lot of times we’ve heard research after research and men would apply for a job, even if he had about 40% of what is required of the job. For women, we want to have 90% or 100% before we apply for it. I see the same thing happening in this room. We know we have a problem, we know there’s a solution, but we want to have a 100% solution with 100% inclusiveness before we will act. You can never move a mountain by thinking that way. So we all have to challenge ourself and start thinking, where can we start? Start off with one little step and see how many mountains you can move and how many people you can get along the way. It will never be 100%. This is why we’re in the situation we are right now. There are more women in the world than men, but the men somehow have been able to figure out how to resolve things and move things, so let’s start off that way. If we have researchers here, can somebody help us figure out what is in our DNA that’s making us think we have to be 100% in order to make any movement go the way it’s supposed to. So thank you, and it’s a challenge for all of us.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: And thank you for that comment!

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Anyway, oh, hi. So my question is, you said you’re not going to tell us what to do, but what can the average person in this room do to make a difference to the movement? I know we can march, do you have any other suggestions on how to make a difference?

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: I didn’t get that comment, I’m sorry.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: My question is, do you have any suggestions on how to make a difference in this movement for the average person in this room?

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: I still don’t get it.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: How does the average person in this room make a difference?

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Oh. Well the persons in this room are not average. And in fact, all of you, as I tried to indicate, you play a very important role in contemporary economy and contemporary society. And I think it’s obligatory on all of us to figure out how the everyday role that we play, which is circumscribed by strong norms and strong rules, how by playing that role, we contribute to processes that are very hard for so many people in our society and in the world. But in a way, you’re in a great position. You’re going to have a good life, you’re going to have enough money, you’re going have standing, social respect, but you also have power. It’s the kind of power that is not talked about in textbooks on American politics. It’s the power that comes from the fact that you play a role which is absolutely essential to the functioning of many institutions. What you do matters. Actually, we live in a very densely interdependent world, society, world, so that almost everything that everyday ordinary people do reflects this kind of power. Think for example, some of you either are or you’re going to grow up to be important executives or important professors. The role that you play as an executive or as a professor matters in the functioning of the institution in which you work. Other people, other processes depend on your playing that role the way you’re expected to play it. So you have a kind of strike power. You could refuse to play it that way, but here’s the great part of modern integrated society. Those of you who become managers or professors like me and have kids, you probably have a nanny who comes and takes care of the kids, and you know that nanny now has power too. Because if she doesn’t show up, you’re not going to be able to go to your job as the financial officer for something or other. Everything is interconnected. That means we have to discover those kinds of power, because they’re not written about, they’re not talked about, they’re the power of all of us in a highly interdependent society. We have to begin to discover, organize, and act on our power in order to save democracy, you know that? We have to join The Resistance with our so-far hidden sources of power. Thank you.

BOBBY SCHNABEL: We have one person waiting.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Oh I thought that was the last one, but fine, we’ll have another one.

BOBBY SCHNABEL: We have one person waiting so we’ll do one more.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay, one of the things that you did mention was taking care of the elderly, and for me, I look at that as being a role model. Our children follow our steps, and what we do, and same with the teachers. I work with the healthcare, and the other thing you said was, not only should we break the glass ceiling, what I look at is also spreading our roots deep, standing well-rooted, and for that I want to thank NCWIT because I think they give us the support that we need. What I’m looking at is also The Resistance that you talk about, but when I try to work with other groups, a lot of people try to fight back or stop the conversation with The Resistance, so I’m trying to figure out how to engage people in a conversation so we can flip their minds. So if anyone has suggestions, let me know because I’m working with the healthcare and The Resistance movement also. So anyone who has tips, things that have worked, I would be happy to take that and go back and work with our state and the different departments, and across the state too. Thank you.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Some things are easy to talk to people about. We recently had a kind of progressive tea party phenomenon in the United States in response to the Trump regime’s effort to dismantle Obamacare. Lots of people came out because they could see the threat that the Trump healthcare measure represented. 24 million people were going to lose healthcare coverage, and they may still, they may still. But some things I think that you can’t really persuade people about. So the way I look at it is there has always been in the United States a strong strand of right-wing, racist, xenophobic authoritarianism which has fueled a series of movements, the John Birch Society, the Patriots, the Tea Party. It’s the excited animus behind Trump as well. I don’t think we try to talk to those people.


DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: I don’t think so. I think we find the people who are not part of that movement or are only half-heartedly going along with that movement, who are confused because nobody is speaking to them about their experiences and their urgent needs. That’s who we speak to. Not everybody is persuadable, which is, I suppose, as it should be. But we have to help give voice to the overwhelming numbers of people in the United States and in the world whose voices have not been heard.

BOBBY SCHNABEL: We’re going to do one more from one of our students.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Okay hello, hi, thank you so much. I’m a graduate student at MIT and I’ve been working very closely with gender biases, and it makes me feel very proud that in this room today with more than hundreds of people, we’re all talking today about this topic of gender biases, a women’s issue, so openly and we all have thoughts about this. I’m sure that the crowd can go out and do amazing stuff by just talking to another woman about this, and I feel that coming from a different country, I’m really proud that the United States is representing a problem like this and is talking about it. It gives me more positiveness in this area, and I feel that if we go out and spread this to other women, we’re going to bring about a huge change, and we’ve already started with it by being here. So thank you so much, thank you for your talk, and thank you for everyone being here. It’s very inspirational, thank you.

BOBBY SCHNABEL: So let me thank our speaker once more for doing something that is pretty special to do, to both inspire us and challenge us at the same time. You’ve done that very, very well. And I have to tell you that with all great foresight we have a small gift for you, and it is not a techie gift. I’ll have to reach under here, it’s actually as old-fashioned as it comes. It’s a deck of playing cards that features women technologists.

DR. FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Thank you, thank you!

BOBBY SCHNABEL: Thank you very much.


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