Center for Brooklyn History discusses the Future of Feminism

From left: Moderator Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, with panelists Irin Carmon, Shawnda Chapman, and Joanne N. Smith, all seated on stage during the Brooklyn Public Library's Center for Brooklyn History (BPL-CBH) talk on Sept. 20.
From left: Moderator Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, with panelists Irin Carmon, Shawnda Chapman, and Joanne N. Smith, all seated on stage during the Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History (BPL-CBH) talk on Sept. 20.
Photo by Milette Millington

On Sept. 20, the Brooklyn Public Library’s Center for Brooklyn History (BPL-CBH) hosted an in-person and virtual conversation about the future of feminism, while also celebrating 50 years of the Ms. Foundation for Women and Ms. magazine.

Panelists were Irin Carmon, Shawnda Chapman, and Joanne Smith, with moderator Jennifer Weiss-Wolf. Carmon is an Israeli-American journalist and commentator. Chapman is the director of innovative grant-making and research at the Ms. Foundation. Smith, a queer Haitian-American social worker born in New York, is the founding president & CEO of Girls for Gender Equity (GGE).

The conversation began with the panelists sharing their first time encountering the magazine and what it meant to them as young women. Weiss-Wolf shared details of her first encounter with the magazine, at 13 or 14 years old.

“I found it in my public library. It was my vacation, my laboratory, my everything. I would just go to the library and read Ms. magazine. I think I started subscribing to it when I was a young adult and had friends of my own,” she said.

The magazine started out as a sample insert in New York magazine in December 1971, with the first issue launching in July 1972. Its 300,000 test copies sold out nationally in eight days, ultimately being the first national magazine to listen to feminist voices, while making feminist journalism feel real and a feminist worldview available to the public.

“I really took Ms. magazine and the feminist majority at that time, for granted. I remember for a long time keeping the 2012 issue of Wonder Woman on the cover. I remember like in 2012, coloring it, I think I was just doodling, coloring it black, and really seeing myself on the cover of Miss magazine in that issue,” Smith said.

She added that early on at GGE, there would be stacks of Ms. magazine in the office, which really inspired young people to be creative.

Next, they discussed the future of feminism, and how the lessons learned can help our country move forward. Chapman stated that modern feminism must defy structures and narratives of oppression, while reclaiming the legacies of those who are forgotten and left behind.

“I think ultimately, to get to The liberation that we say we want, we’re going to have to rely on the knowledge of people who have different ways of knowing this world, especially those who we were once willing to throw away: people with differing mental and physical abilities, poor people, fat people, queer folk, trans folk, formerly incarcerated people, and the list goes on,” she said.

Corman shared an experience from her freshman year of college, and how it helped her discover her purpose as a journalist.

“I was just thinking back to how when I was a freshman in college and I introduced myself at a dorm meeting, already getting a reputation for being a radical feminist and being okay with that and the level of

puzzlement, sexual harassment, bullying, rape threats that I got,” she said.

For Corman, the future of feminism means not being scared to challenge things surrounding it.

It’s essential for her “to use whatever platform that I have as a journalist to tell stories or give platforms to other people’s stories,” which is the way that she sees the intersection of her feminism and her journalism.

Then, they discussed the Ms. Foundation and its work. The Foundation builds women’s collective power in the U.S. by investing in, and strengthening, the capacity of women-led movements to advance meaningful social, cultural, and economic change.

To stay updated on the work of the BPL-CBH, those interested can sign up for the newsletter here:*5c2hq0*_gcl_au*MTE1NDk3MjI4NS4xNjk1NjUxOTcw.

They can also follow the Center on social media, and find upcoming programs here: