The Feministing Five: Sally Kohn

Sally Kohn is fighting the good fight from the other side.

As Fox’s newest feminist, progressive commentator, she challenges many of Fox’s staunchest right-wing zealots with fervor. Her hire is unique in many ways and not just because she’s a liberal. Her background is in community organizing, not media or party politics. She’s spent 15 years as a grassroots organizer with ties to Occupy Wall Street.

Previously, Kohn was Senior Campaign Strategist with the Center for Community Change. She also served as Executive Director of the Third Wave Foundation and was a distinguished Vaid Fellow at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute. Kohn has consulted at organizations such as the Urban Justice Center and the Social Justice Infrastructure Funders. Needless to say, she has her liberal credentials.

In addition, as a young, out lesbian far to the left of most other Fox liberal voices, she’s definitely a different breed for Fox.

And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, with Sally Kohn.

Anna Sterling: What kind of challenges do you face as a liberal contributor at Fox?

Sally Kohn: I can’t think of one! There are a lot of liberal folks who don’t want to go on Fox news. There was some intense debate among my friends and colleagues and larger community I’m connected to about the value of being a part of Fox so this is an extension of that larger conversation.

If anything, I find most liberals who are critical of Fox news don’t watch it. They have a perspective informed by clips they see on The Daily Show, or the most outrageous thing that they’ve ever seen passed around that Sean Hannity said, but they’re not watching the day-to-day news coverage which is really thoughtful and the probing debates on some of the hot topics of the day. In truth, I get to go on and fight hard for what I believe in. No one tells me what to say. Frankly, I feel like I get to fight harder on Fox than I did on other networks because at Fox they like their punches pulled. If people really tuned in and watched they would be impressed by how engaging, interesting and provocative the shows are.

AS: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?

SK: Norma Ray. I still cry, what can I say? I cry in part because her character is a perfect example of heroism in the face of all kinds of structural obstacles. She not only organized her workplace and not only was the political system and economic system in her workplace keeping thumb on her, but I’ve always found the film to speak a little more quietly to what can be the sexism on the left as well as the right, that it was this sort of male union, and she asserted herself in that dynamic. The environment is largely white but, similarly, speaks to the way the left can often unintentionally replicate sexism or racism even supposedly purporting to eliminate it. But, again she is one of the many examples, though I wish there were more in film, books, and television, of women finding their voice, finding their power, and regular people standing up for themselves.

Real life heroine is my daughter. My daughter is three-and-a-half. I watch her and the sense of possibility around her and the fact that in her lifetime, hopefully before she graduates high school she will have a female president. She can look up and down her block, around her family and see women in strong roles, see men in nurturing roles, she can see two men who have kids—the whole spectrum. I look at her as a constant reminder both of how far we’ve come. Also, for her, she will take it for granted and I hope she does. I hope that when she’s a teenager I have to wag my finger at her and take her to see Gloria Steinem and say you better appreciate this! That’s the gift we give to the next generation: their ability to take for granted how far we’ve come and also be outraged that we haven’t gone further. In that sense, she’s pushed my vision for what is needed and possibly further than anyone I’ve ever known.

AS: What recent news story made you want to scream?

SK: The contraception thing. First of all, it’s fucking contraception. The people who say they’re so concerned about preventing unintended pregnancies are going to moralize and get all high and mighty about contraception? I mean, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for contraception. The professional women I know who were able to be successful in their chosen careers and be independent is because of contraception. Nevermind the fact that in the United States of America of all places I thought we let people do what they want as long as they don’t hurt others! I don’t understand this “We want to get government out of our lives and into your bedroom mentality” in general. I’m so frustrated about it I could scream.

What drove me even battier is I go and talk about this or write about this and I get my sort of usual haters who would say, “Well, you’re a lesbian. How can you comment on contraception?” I say, “You don’t seem to mind when non-gunowners want to defend the right for people to have guns.” Just because I don’t use contraception doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. This is about fundamental values of who we are as Americans. I’m livid. And don’t even get me started on Virginia!

AS: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?

SK: The interstitial space between recognizing how far we’ve come and being frustrated righteously and impatient about how far we still have to go. It’s very similar to the challenges facing racial justice in our country. Which is, as you progress you start to have more symbols of success that are visible publicly and the overtness of bias, hate, etc. tends to go underground. A classic example: we elected Barack Obama, so we reached a post-racial society. Its like, “Errrrr, what?” That is wonderful and of course without the civil rights movement it couldn’t have happened. But it doesn’t mean we’re done. It doesn’t mean his experience is emblematic of the experiences of most people of color in America. Same thing for women. There are more women CEOs, great. It doesn’t mean there’s not still a pay gap.

AS: You’re going to a desert island, and you’re allowed to take one food, one drink and one feminist. What do you pick?

SK: I’m going to bring birthday cake. It is my favorite food. Secondly, nothing goes with birthday cake like a giant glass of whole milk. It’s a desert island, its hot. That’ll be refreshing. I’m going with McGyver’s little sister. I hope she’s a feminist. Because I wanna get off the island. We still have things to fix in the world!

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