The Babblery
The Babblery
Riding the waves of feminism: A conversation with scholar Bettina Aptheker

“We need to get away from the violence in our speech and try to develop one filled with loving kindness, filled with compassion, filled with a vision of justice that’s not vengeful.”

These are the words of Bettina Aptheker, noted feminist scholar who is often described as a “radical” feminist. In conversation about her life, Bettina has clearly had a radically different one from most of us. She was born to a well-known communist father, and grew up in a household filled with the leftist thinkers of their time. Her family was surveilled by the FBI and Bettina felt she had to keep silent about her father’s abuse and her sexuality. A leader in the Free Speech Movement as a student at UC Berkeley, her communist upbringing taught her to despise feminism as “bourgeois.” Eventually, her growing awareness of the world, of her sexuality, and of the political realities of women led her to break with her past and become a noted feminist scholar, one of the women who built Third Wave Feminism.

But let’s get back to that word, “radical”: Bettina as an older woman looking back sounds less radical than practical. She’s seen a lot of movements, given and attended a lot of speeches, and has seen our political progress only “inch” forward.

“We don’t change the balance of power,” Bettina says of the struggle for social justice. “We win temporary victories because we change public opinion or by the sheer force of numbers.”

In this episode, we explore Bettina’s life reflected in the mirror of feminism: Her upbringing during the latter years of First Wave Feminism, her late feminist consciousness dawning near the close of the Second Wave, and her contributions to the development of a more inclusive and socially conscious Third Wave.

“I don’t know if optimism is exactly the right word,” Bettina sums up. “But I have a belief in the potential, the potential for a basic goodness of people and the basic humanity of people.”

Bettina warns us that our goodness “gets obscured by attachment to fierce ideologies” as she looks forward to the lives of young women coming of age now.

Books by Bettina Aptheker

Topics mentioned in this episode


About The Babblery:

The Babblery features conversations with and about women in the 21st century. In each episode, we explore how our physical and social gender informs our experiences at work, at home, and in the wider world. Rather than focusing on issues, we focus on lives: working, parenting, playing, voting, advocating, and creating as women. Visit The Babblery at The Babblery is produced by Suki Wessling with support from KSQD.

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