National Organization for Women president addresses presidential election, intersectional feminism


Colin Boyle/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern alumna Terry O’Neill and dean of libraries Sarah Pritchard address gender equality in the McCormick Foundation Center. O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, discussed intersectional feminism and president-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday evening.

Fathma Rahman, Development and Recruitment Editor

National Organization for Women president and Northwestern alumna Terry O’Neill said those who don’t find the normalization of President-elect Donald Trump to be a problem should think again.

“There is no sugarcoating what 63 percent of white men and 53 percent of white women just did,” O’Neill (Weinberg ‘74) said. “We’ve got the U.S. Congress and White House in the hands of white nationalists — and when you lie down with dogs, you get fleas.”

O’Neill also discussed the gender equality movement’s push toward intersectionality at the McCormick Foundation Center on Wednesday evening. Roughly 90 people attended.

She was elected NOW president in 2009 and also serves as president of the NOW Foundation and chair of the NOW Political Action Committee. O’Neill is an attorney, professor and a social justice activist whose focuses include reproductive rights, racial justice and ending violence against women.

When NOW first formed in 1966, its statement of purpose was “to take action to bring women into full participation in American society — in the political, economic and social sphere — and to bring women to equality,” O’Neill said.

In light of its 50th anniversary, O’Neill said NOW overhauled its bylaws, modernized its structure and changed its statement of purpose to reflect the times: “to take action through intersectional grassroots organizing — to lead societal change.”

Intersectionality refers to the connectedness of race, class and gender in describing and understanding discrimination and oppression. O’Neill said the altered statement was most influenced by millennial leaders in NOW. The new bylaws require everything to be addressed with intersectionality in mind to consider the most “vulnerable” people affected by every policy.

She said the nationwide wage gap, for example, is more than just a conflict of gender, but also of race.

“Once you understand the lived reality of a non-white woman and wonder what that does to your policy and why are women of color paid less, you’ll understand that it’s because they are so badly overrepresented in the lower wage gaps,” O’Neill said.

Emeritus Weinberg Prof. Sylvie Romanowski, who attended the event, said O’Neill’s words were exactly what she needed to hear and hopes it will enable attendees to move forward and “do something.” She said the idea of finding something to do personally, with a group or community, was very important to her.

Bob Perlman, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, also attended the event and said the country is in “hard times” right now and needs a reality check.

“It is easy to try and minimize the problem and say this is going to go away and that we can work with Trump,” Perlman said. “But this talk was a good kick in the pants to say that’s not the way the world is, and we have to recognize and work for that recognition.”

An attendee asked what they should do to cope and further promote feminism in light of the results of the election, to which O’Neill said everyone must find their own outlet for effective activism.

“This work is personal; it is emotional; it is spiritual,” O’Neill said. “You have to find the thing that actually works for you best and then be dedicated to it and be good to one another within that group. Self-care is going to be extremely important, and it’s a long road ahead of us.”

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