Making Change Together

Ms. Magazine founder and feminist icon Letty Cottin Pogrebin discusses her new book Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate and why solidarity is so important to social change.

Rollins College hosted a discussion this month with feminist author Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine, and former congresswoman Pat Schroeder.

Rollins President Emerita Rita Bornstein ’04H introduced the guests and the program sponsored by the Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies program, the Jewish studies program, and the League of Women Voters.

Pogrebin and Schroeder led a discussion with the audience about Judaism, feminism, and Pogrebin’s novel Single Jewish Male Seeking Soul Mate.

Pogrebin’s own cultural background influenced the themes of her novel, which follows the stories of Zach Levy, the son of Holocaust survivors, and Cleo Scott, an African-American activist, as they fall in love and struggle with preserving their own heritages.

“The issue of intermarriage is a painful one, and in the [Jewish] community, it is front and center,” Pogrebin explained. This issue, she continued, involves a “curious duality” in which Jewish people have been accepted into American culture but are still expected to marry someone of the same faith.

Her new novel explores this pressure within the Jewish community for young people to keep their familial branch alive and maintain their Jewish identity. It’s a story of both cultural struggles and feminism, which led the discussion to the women’s rights movement.

Active since the 1960s, both Pogrebin and Schroeder have seen the feminist movement evolve and grow. Schroeder was the first woman to represent Colorado in Congress and also to serve on the House Armed Services Committee, making her an icon of feminist leadership.

“I have a uterus and a brain, and I use them both,” Schroeder said during the event, inspiring applause.

Addressing Rollins students, Schroeder and Pogrebin had advice for the young women at the forefront of the modern movement. “We had meetings, we put up index cards, we slipped each other notes under the doors,” Pogrebin said. “Don’t agonize, organize.”

Pogrebin also urged the next generation to learn from their predecessors and to embrace intersectionality, a feminist concept that acknowledges the oppression of all women—regardless of their backgrounds or cultural or sexual identities. 

“Pay attention to what happened in the past and build on it,” Pogrebin advised. “To learn to see the world through the eyes of the other is life-changing. …Solidarity is the only time when progress ever happens.”

Though much progress has been achieved, women’s rights is still a controversial subject, as is the word “feminist.” The speakers addressed this negative connotation at the prompting of an audience member’s question about how to “de-vilify” the word.

“As soon as women are too independent, they are seen as threatening,” Pogrebin said, explaining the stigma.

“Let’s not get caught up in a label—let’s go for the content,” Schroeder said.

Looking toward the future, Pogrebin and Schroeder both stressed the importance of taking to the voting booth, encouraging all women to vote in the upcoming presidential elections.

“No woman should not show up for the ballot box,” Pogrebin said, mentioning The League of Women Voters’ work to promote taking political action and protecting the rights granted by the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920.

Voting was a major topic of the conversation, but the speakers also emphasized the importance of getting involved in feminism and other social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter, in any way possible. They cited consciousness raising and building connections with others as effective ways to further change in our technology-driven society.

Pogrebin asserted that getting involved is the first step to achieving change, but also warned that it won’t always be easy because there will always be opposition to change. “Backlash is a measurement of effectiveness,” she said.