Feministing Five: Martha Plimpton (Part Two)

Martha_crop1We brought you part one of our Feministing Five with the amazing Martha Plimpton. In case you missed it, you’ll want to read about Martha and her A is For organization. And now, without further ado, the Feministing Five, part two, with Martha Plimpton.

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

Martha Plimpton: Hahahaha. This is really hard. Let’s see. If I’m on a desert island. I mean how desert is it? Does it have coconut trees? Because then I can have coconut water and I don’t have to bring coconut water with me.

KH: Sure. Coconut trees galore.

MP: For food, probably some type of soy based protein, like tofu or something.

KH: Wow. Healthy choices.

MP:  I’m just being practical here. But it’s hard to keep tofu fresh. That’s a major drawback. Maybe just soybeans? I’m never good at these desert island questions. Never, ever good. And then one drink. Well I guess I would bring, well, you know, vodka.

KH: Does that mix well with coconut water?

MP: I can mix that with the coconut water.

And one feminist, this is really tough. Oh man. It’s hard to say that I want to bring Bella Abzug. I mean, she’s an amazingbella-abzug woman and I really wish I had ever gotten to meet her. But I could really see how she could get on your nerves after a while. On the other hand, she’s a pretty self-motivated human being and could probably protect me against predators. And she’d be really good at taking charge and knowing what to do.

KH: And the hat would provide shade from the sun.

MP: And the hat, exactly, would provide shade. Possibly for both of us. So, I’m gonna go with Bella. But I would need some quiet time, some alone time for a couple of hours a day. But I don’t think she’d mind that.

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

MP: I’m not an expert on feminism and I wouldn’t claim to be one. I think there are certain other civil rights movements that have a clarity of focus to them that feminism doesn’t really have. Equality for women means different things for different women. Marriage equality is very clear, very focused on a single goal, which is the right of every human being in the country to be able to get married. Very clear, very straightforward. If you believe in equality for all you believe in marriage equality. Cut and dry. The end. Which, I think, is what has contributed to the success of that movement in the last 5-10 years and had helped it become such a central focus as a cultural issue in the country. I also think that there’s still a shame and a stigma attached to being a feminist that is becoming more pronounced even as the country is reawakening to the inequalities for women. You still hear a lot of young women, and even a lot of women my age, saying “I mean, I’m not a feminist.”

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

MP: I really love the movie Gloria with Gena Rowlands. I love that role. It always gives me pleasure when I watch that movie. It gives me energy when I watch that movie. And I think it’s one of the best roles for women I’ve ever seen. She’s this very tough former girlfriend of  a mafia boss. And she’s left the life and she’s trying to get along and live a quiet life with her cat. And she ends up having to take care of her neighbor’s kid and keep him safe from her ex-boyfriend. And she’s really tough and she’s a good shot. It’s almost like a Western, with this action heroine and tough-talking broad. But she doesn’t need all the Lara Croft leather and bondage shit. She just walks around in these fantastic Ungaro satin skirts, looking fabulous.

And then for real life heroines, Aung San Suu Kyi is an extraordinary example of incredible bravery and fortitude. Harriett Tubman is a fascinating figure and I’ve always been captivated by her since I was a kid learning about her in school. I think it’s impossible for us in this day and age in this country to imagine the kind of bravery of what she did. I’m interested in women who fight political battles but in new ways.

[A few days after we spoke, Martha e-mailed me to ask if we could talk again, since something was "bugging" her. She took time out of her very busy schedule talking about abortion rights in Washington DC and preparing for an A is For fundraiser to talk to me again. Here is what she said.]

MP: I had been thinking about my answer about heroines and it’s still true, what I said last time [about Harriett Tubman and Aung San Suu Kyi]. But I think sometimes we hear the word heroes or heroines and we forget about those people who affected us in our daily lives and who are parts of our family. And those women may have not made huge contributions on a global level but they really shape who we are in a much more profound way. And I was thinking heroines for me are the women who raised me. I was raised pretty much entirely by women. My mother was raised by a single mother, her mother was raised by a single mother. I come from a long line of single mothers. It’s something I have no small amount of pride in. And a hero of mine is my nana, who was a single mother as well, a widow. Her name was Beatrice Spier. Her daughter was my babysitter. We had no blood relation and she was raising two daughters of her own. But she took my mother and me in when I was a baby and my mother was struggling and had nothing. She brought us into her apartment on the Upper West Side and gave us a home and a sense of family and a sense of place. And she was not, by any means, a wealthy woman. She remained like another grandmother to me for the rest of her life.

I see her as one of the biggest heroes of my world. She was very political, she was very erudite, she was extremely well-read. I don’t think she let her New Yorker subscription lapse once in 50 years. She was an activist. She was vocal and brash and blunt and she didn’t take shit from anyone. But she was also considered intelligent and not reactionary. Bella Abzug tried to get my nana into politics. She tried to get her to run for city council. And she served as a template for the kind of woman, the kind of citizen, the kind of activist that I want to be, that I hope I can be.  She passed last May, a year ago. When I thought of who my heroines are, she came into my mind but i didn’t say anything. I don’t know why. You hear the word heroine, you don’t think of family. You think of Betsy Ross or something. And I wanted to call you back and talk because I’d like to be better at that.


Born and raised on the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side, Katie Halper is a comic, writer, blogger, satirist and filmmaker based in New York. Katie graduated from The Dalton School (where she teaches history) and Wesleyan University (where she learned that labels are for jars.) A director of Living Liberally and co-founder/performer in Laughing Liberally, Katie has performed at Town Hall, Symphony Space, The Culture Project, D.C. Comedy Festival, all five Netroots Nations, and The Nation Magazine Cruise, where she made Howard Dean laugh! and has appeared with Lizz Winstead, Markos Moulitsas, The Yes Men, Cynthia Nixon and Jim Hightower. Her writing and videos have appeared in The New York Times, Comedy Central, The Nation Magazine, Gawker, Nerve, Jezebel, the Huffington Post, Alternet and Katie has been featured in/on NY Magazine, LA Times, In These Times, Gawker,Jezebel, MSNBC, Air America, GritTV, the Alan Colmes Show, Sirius radio (which hung up on her once) and the National Review, which called Katie “cute and some what brainy.” Katie co-produced Tim Robbins’s film Embedded, (Venice Film Festival, Sundance Channel); Estela Bravo’s Free to Fly (Havana Film Festival, LA Latino Film Festival); was outreach director for The Take, Naomi Klein/Avi Lewis documentary about Argentine workers (Toronto & Venice Film Festivals, Film Forum); co-directed New Yorkers Remember the Spanish Civil War, a video for Museum of the City of NY exhibit, and wrote/directed viral satiric videos including Jews/ Women/ Gays for McCain.

Katie is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, and New Yorker.

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