Joanne Forster Interview: Feminism 2020
Joanne Forster, 53, is from San Clemente, California, USA. She has three grown children, whom she mainly raised as a single parent. With the youngest of her children off to college, Joanne decided to take a break from work and family responsibilities to travel solo around Mexico, South and Central America. During her 4-month journey, she is learning Spanish and volunteering for various nonprofits. Using her extensive experience in social impact marketing and fundraising she joined Trama Textiles to help launch a new initiative -- a program that will provide healthcare and education services, and professional development to the indegenous Mayan women and their families who work in the Trama Textiles cooperative.
“Joan of Arc was such a badass! If I could have dinner with anybody, it would be her! She led a whole movement….because of her passion and the way she spoke she was able to mobilize an entire army at the age of 17. She communicated to women that they could be leaders too.”
What made you want to volunteer for Trama Textiles?
I’ve always been passionate about textiles, and have travelled extensively to places like India and Bali collecting textiles. Being able to help women textile weavers and their families, and learn about Guatemalan weaving traditions resonated with me. It’s been an incredible experience!
Do you consider yourself to be a ‘Feminist’, and what does feminism mean to you?
Definitely! It means supporting and advocating for women’s rights and women’s empowerment. I’ve worked for many nonprofits related to women’s issues, such as domestic violence, girl empowerment and women’s health, and I'm passionate about empowering women in these areas.
My views on feminism have evolved over the years. When I was in my 30’s, I had a big stressful job that took me away from home 40% of the time. Basically, my full-time nanny was raising my kids for me. I was always stressed out and exhausted. At that time, I remember feeling that the brand of ‘feminism’ which prevailed then, kind of screwed everything up for my generation. It was built on the notion that women could ‘have it all’ -- the career, the family, the perfect house -- and you can, but it’s SO hard! The pressure to achieve perfection and to keep climbing the career ladder was crazy. Most of my girlfriends were feeling the same and we all longed for a simpler life. I remember blaming the feminist movement for the pressure to be uber successful in every aspect of my life. Today, my approach to feminism is about helping to empower girls and women in any way I can and helping women achieve balance in their lives.
How do yo see the global feminist movement evolving in 2020?
It’s heading in the right direction for sure, with the ‘#MeToo’ movement and girl’s empowerment around the world. I love seeing all kinds of girls and women standing up for their rights -- girls like Malala and Greta who are making history by standing up for what they believe in. It’s a snowball effect that is helping the level the playing field in so many ways for women. But there is still so much work to be done, especially in developing countries.
What sort of issues do you see women in Guatemala struggling with, which are different to the sorts of issues women in the USA face?
Family planning and sex education is still very taboo here, which is just one of the many reasons its difficult to break the cycle of poverty. Malnutrition is rampant in Guatemala and infant mortality rates are extremely high. The indegenous Mayan women are largely illiterate, do not have access to basic healthcare services, and do not have opportunities to better their economic situations. Girls are kept at home because they are needed for household chores, which perpetuates the cycle of illiteracy and poverty.
How would you like your daughter’s experience of being a young woman in the world be different to yours?
I was fortunate to have a mother who really believed in me, supported me and encouraged me, and that’s exactly how I have raised my daughter, Molly. I’ve always encouraged her to make her own decisions in life. When I first started my career in advertising and public relations in the early 90’s there was a lot of sexual predatory behaviour towards women in the workplace. My male bosses would use me and my appearance to nurture client relationships. I don’t think my daughter will have to put up with any of that, and I don’t think she’ll have to deal with the existence of a ‘glass ceiling’ that my generation did.
How do you see the feminist movement intersecting with other movements such as the LGBTQI movement and Black Lives Matter?
Each of these respective movements is about equality. In the US, the women’s movement has gained real momentum since Trump was elected. That’s the one good thing about Trump -- his election mobilized and fired-up the women's movement. Unfortunately, I fear that he is perpetuating racism, which will hinder movements like Black Lives Matter.
What aspects of ‘conditioning’ do you think have limited your perception of what is possible for you as a woman?
I don’t feel limited in what I can achieve as a woman at all! I never have. My parents were awesome in raising me to do anything boys can do and better!
To what extent do you see yourself as an empowered woman?
I can do whatever I want! I don’t feel I have any constraints at all. I compete athletically in endurance sports which has made me very strong physically and mentally, and it's very empowering to feel strong. I got in a canoe for the first time last spring at age 53 and paddled 34 miles! One can always change, evolve, and improve their lives.
What makes you feel most attractive?
Being healthy in mind, body and spirit. I'm very passionate about health, fitness and mindfulness.
If there was no such thing as a glass ceiling, what would you do?
What glass ceiling?
In which ways do you see societal expectations of men and women being different?
Globally, in most areas, it’s still very traditional, in the sense that a woman’s place is considered to be in the home, and I’m sure there are also places within the US where this is applicable. But I do feel that slowly but surely we are starting to overcome this in less economically developed areas.
Who is your female icon and why?
Joan of Arc was such a badass! If I could sit down to dinner with anybody, it would be her! She led a whole movement….because of her passion and the way she spoke she was able to mobilize a whole army -- at the age of 17. She communicated to women that they could be leaders too.
I have 3 pet tortoises. Their names are Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Roosevelt and Joan of Arc! That should give an idea about my female icons!