Abigail Goldberg and Tienya B. Smith want to establish a sisterhood in the Long Island City and Sunnyside, Queens communities. No, they won’t be swapping pants like that other sisterhood. Instead this group, called the Strong Women’s Group, plans to have monthly gatherings where women from these two communities can come together to talk about women’s issues.
After the group’s first official meeting at the Long Island City Library, the two ladies sat down with me to talk about strength, the dreaded double standard and why we need more Mary Tyler Moores on TV.
You use the word “strong” in the name of this group. What to you symbolizes a strong woman?
Tienya B. Smith: A woman that’s taking care of herself, that’s taking a stand in her own life.
Abigail Goldberg: For me, I think women don’t think of labeling themselves as strong women. So just by calling ourselves a group of strong women makes us stronger.
Who to you is an example of a strong woman?
Abigail: The other day we were talking about Vanessa Williams. She overcame adversity and she just continues to be composed and continues to know herself and embrace herself and her fame.
You brought up adversity; do you think that is a necessary component of strength?
Tienya: Most definitely. With everything that’s going on in the economy you definitely have to step up and be a strong person. Women who are talking about being unemployed and divorced, you have to be a strong woman to get through that
In 2010, women are being told they can do everything, but then there’s always that question of can the woman really handle it. Do you think that’s true?
Abigail: We’re seeing it in the campaigns for certain political positions. Like Hillary Clinton, she was very criticized for being aggressive. Was she going to be able to take care of her home? I just don’t think those are fair criticisms. Male candidates are never criticized for that.
Why do you think there is that double standard?
Tienya: The woman is looked upon as being the docile nurturer. When she steps out of that role she gets the B-label. I think that it’s time to say that we can be more than that. That’s why I like Hillary Clinton and what she’s doing. She’s stepping out of that role and not allowing them to limit her. Remember, when she was in a press conference and they kept referring to her husband and she said, “No, I’m the Clinton here.” So she’s challenging that every day. I think that’s what women need to do to break that stereotype.
She was in a position where it might be a little easier to be powerful. What about your average woman, what does she have to do?
Tienya: They have to talk about things that are important to them. When they’re working on the issues that prevent them from speaking out and saying, “No, I’m not this little thing, I’m more than that. I’m more than mommy. I’m more than your wife.” They have to find a place where they can practice that before they can do it.
Obviously in the late ’60s women fought for equality and were given more rights. Today though women are still a minority. Do you think it is time for another Women’s Lib movement?
Abigail: I think there was a huge backlash to feminism years ago. Now it’s going in the reverse direction where women are really coming into their own. Maybe it’s because the economy is so bad. I think maybe women who’ve lost their jobs have more time to reassess and reevaluate their lives.
Would you consider yourself a feminist?
Abigail: Now I would, when I was younger I didn’t. I didn’t want to be perceived as too liberal. It has an intolerant connotation. Now I’m proud to consider myself a feminist because it also suggests I’m strong with men as well.
As a kid was there someone who inspired you to be a strong woman?
Tienya: Interestingly, it was my father. I grew up with my dad. When my parents separated I got to live with my father and he said, “You know you really have to learn how to do these things on your own.” He showed me how to change the oil in my car and the tire. I had a mouse in my apartment in college and he said, “You have to take care of that. It’s not fair for you to put that responsibility on your boyfriend.” And he said, “How would you feel if you went over to his apartment and he showed you a sink full of dishes?” That made me think of things differently.
Abigail: Probably, Mary Tyler Moore because she wasn’t the wife of. She wasn’t the daughter of. She wasn’t the mother of. She had her own job, her own career and the sitcom revolved around the workplace. She had her weaknesses and she had her strengths. Certainly that’s not a role model I saw on other TV shows so it influenced me a lot.
There’s not a lot of Mary Tyler Moore’s out there anymore. Now it’s more about reality TV…
Abigail: On the dating reality shows, the women act submissive just to win the man and they lose their whole identity. The entire object is to win the man and they don’t even evaluate who he is or if they want him, they just want to win the prize.
Do you think there are any strong female characters on TV now?
Abigail: I think we have more fantasy figures like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I think women are more comfortable seeing strong women in fantasy roles, then every day real roles.
Tienya: [Every day women] don’t fit in everyday reality. We have Hilary Clinton, but when she steps out of the box, we throw eggs at her.
Obviously these stereotypes have a huge effect on teenage girls. How can we empower them?
Tienya: Once this group matures, we want to pull in the young adults. Once we have role models here, then we can mentor them. That’s what we need. We need mentorship.
What is the overall goal for the Strong Women’s Group?
Abigail: Sharing and finding solutions. Even if the feeling is sadness, if at the end of the workshop there’s a bit more feeling of comfort, than the workshop was a success.