If you watch TV, read the news, or follow politics, you’ve seen or read or heard Katrina vanden Heuvel, a true icon for the progressive movement and media. Vanden Heuvel is the editor and publisher of The Nation, the oldest continuously published weekly magazine in the United States, founded in 1865. Vanden Heuvel’s blog “Editor’s Cut,” appears at thenation.com and she writes a weekly online column for The Washington Post. She is a frequent commentator on American and international politics on ABC, MSNBC, CNN and PBS. Her articles have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Foreign Policy magazine and The Boston Globe. Vanden Heuvel is a member of The Council on Foreign Relations, and serves on the board of The Institute for Women’s Policy Research, The Institute for Policy Studies, The World Policy Institute, The Correctional Association of New York, The Women’s Media Center and The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. She received Planned Parenthood’s Maggie Award for her article, Right-to-Lifers Hit Russia, the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Callaway Prize for the Defense of the Right of Privacy, The American- Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s 2003 “Voices of Peace” award, and the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s 2006 “Justice in Action” award. Vanden Heuvel is the author of several books including Taking Back America – And Taking Down the Radical Right, Dictionary of Republicanisms: The Indispensable Guide to What They Really Mean When They Say What They Think You Want to Hear (2005) and The Change I Believe In: Fighting for Progress in the Age of Obama.
And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five with Katrina vanden Heuvel.
Katie Halper: What recent news story made you want to scream?
Katrina vanden Heuvel: It made me scream to see that even while austerity’s theoretical underpinnings have been exposed as flimflam, constructed out of spreadsheet error and goofy logic, austerity’s reign of misery continues– just the other day, unemployment in Greece soared to 60%, 20 million in our country remain unemployed or underemployed, our growth is imperiled, yet Wall Street, which blew up our economy, grows more concentrated and powerful. Could we break up the big banks, build coops and community banks and move from shareholder to stakeholder capitalism that prizes the three “p”s….planet, people and profitability?
KH: What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge facing feminism today?
KV: How do we ensure women control their own bodies — and thereby their own destiny. In the US and globally, if women control their own bodies, fates and future — whether it’s through access to birth control, education or economic independence, and by living in peaceful cultures, free of militarism and military occupation, all people are lifted up and it will be a healthier, more secure and just country and world. I think that we should pay a lot of attention to the rollback of reproductive rights, of women’s health. My good friend Ilyse Hogue, Nation blogger, now head of NARAL, has called it, “death by a thousand cuts” –of women’s rights to control their own bodies, which is so central to a democratic society.
KH: Who is your favorite fictional heroine, and who are your heroines in real life?
KV: I’ve watched a lot of TV. I liked Mary Richards, the character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was a single woman, which in the 70′s was a radical image of a woman for TV. And you can see Lena Dunham and her character on Girls in some crazy zigzag evolutionary way emerge from that. Others have spoken to this but I do like Lisbeth Salander of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo just because she’s a survivor, a survivor of many things. We’re witnessing an attack on not just whistle blowers but hackers and she speaks to the power of an independent media fighting corporate media, fighting corruption, which in my mind, along with inequality, is probably the greatest stain on our world, society, and country. In real life, going back a little, I think about Frances Perkins, the first Secretary of Labor in the Franklin Roosevelt’s administration. What I really admire about her is that she was so moved and galvanized by the 1913 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory that she investigated, got involved in hearings and fights, to really make reforms to improve the conditions of women workers’ lives in the most brutal industries. To me Perkins is what politics is all about.
I also admire someone like Gloria Steinem. She’s a survivor. She continues in these days to speak to the best of different waves of feminism. I admire the way she’s connected to a younger generation of feminists. She doesn’t preach, doesn’t lecture but has the ability to listen, to engage, to learn and has never lost that capacity. It’s so important to feminism to build those bridges, which she does with such grace and power. I also admire Elizabeth Warren. There’s a lot of cynicism about electoral politics, but I think she’s someone who has brought her moral compass to bear inside politics. I’ve always believed in an inside/outside kind of strategy. You need the people outside, the organizers and those pushing against a hard-wired, rigged system. But it’s good to have her voice inside. And she certainly speaks for women. Because so many woman have been preyed upon by rapacious corporations and financial institutions.
KH: You’re going to a desert island and get to take one food, one drink, and one feminist. What do you pick?
KV: I pick a dirty martini. I’d bring along the olives as my food. And for a feminist, Eve Ensler. She is someone who I find endlessly fascinating. She is someone who could delight, entertain, provoke, amuse and be a partner in trying to survive on that island.
KH: How did you become a feminist?
KV: I became a feminist because of my long-time connection with Russia. I’ve been going to Moscow for 30 years. I went there first in 1978 but it was really in 1985 until about ’92, when I lived there three or four months a year, that I experienced what I think I had not experienced as a woman coming of age. I saw a contempt for women’s voices, for women’s power, a power that had been inscribed on paper in their country’s system but had not been given a reality. So I got involved with the Gender Studies Center in Moscow. Along with a colleague, I started publishing a Russian language feminist newsletter, called “You and We.” I helped get Our Bodies Ourselves translated and published in Moscow. And I got Simone de Beauvoir and this wonderful anthology of feminist writings published. So it was there that I began to write about women’s issues, engage with some of the growing movement that is still fragile there. But it’s there. If you strip Pussy Riot of the sensationalistic kind of Western coverage, these are women who are very serious about their feminism and very serious about knowing the literature, in a way that wasn’t fully possible in the early period before Gorbachev opened up Russia with glasnost. That’s what moved me and I still stay involved with a lot of women there.
KH: Could you talk about The Nation in relation to feminism today?
KV: Katha Pollitt has been our great columnist for many, many years. She’s like the Meryl Streep of columnists. She just got nominated for the fifth time for a National Magazine Award. What I think she’s done so brilliantly is make The Nation a place where younger feminists want to write and I’ve been very proud in the last couple of years. You’ve written for us. Jessica Valenti, is now sitting in while Katha’s on leave. I think of Allison Kilkenny, I think of Bryce Covert, I think of Leslie Savan, Aura Bogado, Melissa Harris-Perry and Patricia Williams. Naomi Klein had an extraordinary piece about the climate divestment movement. I take pride as an editor is trying to bring in more women and allowing them to speak out and have a voice on a whole range of issues. Often more traditional places have consigned women to certain issues. But not at The Nation. The piece we had by Deborah Kogan, which was really taking on the literary establishment and the media establishment for consigning women to silos, was our most discussed most shared piece. We want women to write about war, write about peace, about divestment, about the economy.