A Q&A With Gloria Feldt
Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood® Federation of America, has traveled far from her birth place in Temple, Texas.
IN HER NEW BOOK, Behind Every Choice Is a Story, Gloria Feldt describes her journey from being a young girl in Texas to becoming the leader she is today. Feldt talks with us about Texas, women, and being a woman from Texas.
texasmonthly.com: Where did you get the inspiration to pursue higher education?
Gloria Feldt: In my family it was always assumed that I would get a college degree. After my third child was born, I was just barely twenty, and it occurred to me that if I had to support these children, I would have no employable skills. So that fear and sense of responsibility were good motivators, as well.
texasmonthly.com: In your new book, Behind Every Choice Is a Story, you mention living in several different Texas cities. What were some similarities you saw in the way of life? Any major differences?
GF: I was born in Temple, where the culture was formal, slow-paced and very segregated, very akin to the Deep South. Odessa was rougher and more like the Western “rugged individualist” culture. Stamford, where I went to high school, is a small farming community where everyone knows everyone else. It was very similar to the town portrayed in “The Last Picture Show.” I’ve often said the movie was a documentary of my life, that I was Cybill Shepherd but with dark hair.
texasmonthly.com: What do you remember about the landscape of West Texas?
GF: Hmmmm… There were brown, flat, long vistas and more pump jacks than trees.
texasmonthly.com: As a young girl, where did you find your self-confidence?
GF My father always told me, “You can do anything your pretty little head desires.” But, as a typical adolescent, I turned into what I call in my book “Jelly Woman.”
texasmonthly.com: Currently, do you visit Texas for pleasure?
GF: The greatest pleasure—visiting my grandchildren.
texasmonthly.com: Are Texas women different from other American women?
GF: I like to think we’re special. Actually, I do think Texas women are very resourceful and tend to have a great sense of humor. Like Texas men, they are expansive and make very good friends. But like women everywhere, it often happens that their voices are silenced, their health destroyed, and their lives lost simply because their stories are not valued—stories about some of the most important parts of their lives: being in love, having sex, their pregnancies, their families. By telling my story, I want to open the door to the power of storytelling, and empower others to tell theirs.
texasmonthly.com: As your career developed, was there any one obstacle that you felt stood in your way because you are a woman?
GF: When I started my career, I could not get a bank loan or a credit card without my husband’s signature. Birth control was illegal in some states and unobtainable in most. Abortion was illegal, and women too often died as a result. The advent of the birth control pill in the early 1960s literally saved my life, and it enabled me to begin my education, enter the workforce, and choose the life that I wanted to have with my family. That’s when I came to understand that reproductive rights are the most fundamental human rights and, without them, women cannot possibly control their own destinies, let alone have careers.
texasmonthly.com: Any words of wisdom for girls of all ages, as they pursue their life dreams?
GF: You have the wonderful power of choice. Treasure it and use it to make your dreams come true. Nurture it and protect it and make sure it’s there for all women and girls. And, by the way, what my father told me was absolutely true: “You can do anything your pretty little head desires.”
texasmonthly.com: Tell us about your book, what inspired it, and your experience writing it.
It’s not a typical memoir. I was inspired by Margaret Sanger’s book Motherhood and Bondage but Behind Every Choice Is a Story differs significantly from her book. Sanger commented on the letters she published from women seeking help. But she did not reveal her own personal story. My story—growing up in West Texas, becoming a wife and mother at fifteen, having three children by the age of twenty, being toughened up and radicalized by the civil rights movement, going to college for twelve years while helping to support my family, and finally working my way up through the ranks of Planned Parenthood—is woven in where it is relevant. In writing this book, I realize that my own story gives me empathy with the women, men, and young people who have told me in letters, email, and face-to-face conversations about their most important choices. And that’s the centerpiece of this book.
texasmonthly.com: Who did you imagine your reader to be?
Everyone, I hope! Behind Every Choice Is a Story features stories about mother and grandmother, fathers and teenagers—even my own children are heard from. I believe that people from all walks of life can relate to the stories contained here – and can learn from them.
What do you want people to take away from Behind Every Choice Is a Story?
I want people to read these stories, listen to these voices, and to see themselves in its pages. I want people to realize that by telling our stories and listening to others, that together we can change the way that Americans talk about reproductive rights and health care. I want them to heed my clarion call: act now or you will lose your cherished human right to make your own childbearing choices.
To read more about Behind Every Choice Is a Story, visit: www.behindeverychoice.com
Gloria Feldt will be appearing Friday, February 7, 6-8 p.m. at BookWoman (512-472-2785), 918 West 12th Street (12th and Lamar, Austin), for a reading/discussion/signing.