THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT
“I Live, Breathe, Talk, Dream Gender Justice”
I’m Ellen Snortland. I was active in the Women’s Movement primarily in California, although I participated in the Beijing conference, the United Nations Fourth World Conference, and I have traveled to the U.N. campus to participate in the NGO corollaries to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in the last two weeks of March several times.
I started in serious feminist activism as soon as I got out of college, which would be around 1972. I got involved because I was pissed off at the way I was treated. It was like I got involved because even when I was 5 and I was told I couldn’t do certain things because I wasn’t a boy, it was like “what?!” It didn’t make any sense. It was not logical.
What I Had Blamed Myself for was Really Systemic
I did get involved primarily however because of Robin Morgan’s book “Sisterhood Is Powerful” when I was 14. It was like mindblowing. I suddenly saw that what I had blamed myself for was really systemic and a legacy that was handed down from my parents because their parents and back and back and back and back, and that it would be up to me to revolutionize gender so I took that on personally.
Plus I saw Gloria Steinem and Florynce Kennedy speak in Billings Montana in 1971 and that really blew my mind. Those women? Whoa… they broke the mold, they were funny, they were kind, they were smart. And I thought – those two women they’re exactly who would like to be and my version obviously.
And they also warned that the mainstream would pit white women against black women. Gloria and Florynce were this team, that saw that this systemic injustice of sexism and racism were hand in hand. And in fact they were prescient and they saw this way before it happened — what was going to come down the pike — and they were talking about that in 1971.
I have been mostly independent and responding to clinic defense fund and clinic defense lines where I actually defended clinics. So I’ve been active with the Feminist Majority, I’ve been active with Planned Parenthood, not in any kind of official status but as a volunteer for the most part.
Where my real active feminism has come forward is with the United Nations Association and making sure that the empowerment of women was on our top priority list, far before most people were talking about that. I went to the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and I’ve been active with the NGOs that are part of the U.N. system.
My Greatest Concern
What is of greatest concern to me is violence against women because we make so many assumptions about men being willing and/or able to guard and protect women which I think is such retro thinking. I’ve devoted my entire life to turning that idea upside down.
And I’ve studied enough women’s history to know that the argument against women doing anything has always been based in religion and/or biology. “Oh, women are small” and “women are weak and we need to depend on men” and it’s like … I don’t buy it. I don’t think so, although it doesn’t have to be either/or. Yeah, I’d like to change how men relate to women so they stop thinking that we’re easy marks and I’d like to teach women all over the world to set boundaries. And I think it’s – I think it’s feasible, I think it’s doable and that’s what my mission is all about.
If You Can’t Say No, You Can’t Really Say Yes
My book “Beauty Bites Beast” … I’m finishing a documentary also called “Beauty Bites Beast.” I’m traveling all over the world with my feminist husband talking about setting boundaries, setting boundaries. If you can’t say no, you can’t really say yes. And there are a lot of women who don’t have any kind of relationship with “No.” And rightly so. It’s not like they should, because I think they should change overnight. We raise girls — we raise women — we support women in being inconsequential, so that if a man or anyone (it can be a woman, too) crosses her boundaries, there are no consequences.
And the more power women have, the more there’s a consequence to trying to cross her boundaries — whether those are emotional boundaries, physical boundaries, verbal boundaries. And it’s not something that people just pick up. You’ve got to teach people how to set boundaries. It doesn’t just happen naturally, although yes it does. It’s a very complicated topic and I spent most of my intellectual life going into that.
I think one [of those “happenings”] was when we showed “Beauty Bites Beast” in Islamabad at the Islamic University. There was a woman in the front-most, center-most seat, veiled and completely revered as one of the most important intellectuals in Pakistan. And I was nervous. I didn’t know how she’d react to our movie and when it was done she stood up and she said, “This has been one of the most intellectually stimulating and spiritual and entertaining movies I’ve ever seen in my life.”
And that was a very high moment. I live … breathe … talk … dream … gender justice. I don’t separate my personal and my professional life. It’s who I am. Gender justice, equality, racial justice, equality. I can’t imagine not doing that until I’m six feet under, and might do that then, too — I don’t know.