We Heart: Katherine Fenton for Bringing Women’s Rights to the Debate Stage

Last night, 24-year-old pre-K teacher Katherine Fenton asked a question that (finally) instigated a discussion on women’s rights between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama:

In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 [it’s actually 77] percent of what their male counterparts earn?

Fenton’s question got both candidates talking about measures they have taken to work toward equal pay for women, with Pres. Obama bringing up the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act he signed into law in 2009 and Gov. Romney discussing the measures he took to involve more women in his cabinet as governor of Massachusetts (which instigated the evening’s most viralized meme).

Though the question centered on pay equity, it served as a catalyst for a broader acknowledgement of women’s issues. Romney further elaborated on ways to improve women’s standing in the workforce; Obama linked women’s economic inequality with contraception and women’s health care, arguing that they are not just women’s issues but issues that affect whole families.

We find out today that Fenton doesn’t call herself a feminist, but is “very protective of my reproductive rights” and supports Obamacare because it’s allowed her to stay on her parents’ health insurance. Nonetheless, even though she needs some schooling in feminist history, her question was certainly a feminist act and stimulated much-needed discussion in the presidential race.

Fenton wasn’t the only woman who made her voice heard last night. After promising to be more than a debate spectator, moderator Candy Crowley did just that by asking follow-ups to audience members’ questions and pressing for specifics from both candidates. Though she spent a substantial amount of time struggling to reign in both candidates, who frequently ignored time limits (why isn’t there just a microphone cut-off mechanism?), Crowley proved herself an effective and assertive member of last night’s debate. Candy Crowley, we heart you, too.

Screen shot of Katherine Fenton from YouTube via PBSNewsHour.


  1. I just wanted to comment on her choice to not call herself a feminist. I do consider myself a feminist, but I have not always labeled myself with that term. Not because I did not believe, appreciate or value all the achievements that women in the last hundred plus years have tirelessly fought so hard for; but because In my younger years I did not want a label, any label because a label creates an immediate divide between one and those around them. Granted ten plus years later my views on how I label myself has changed, but I have grown and expanded my views through experiences gained. Ms Fenton is 24 and may still be trying to figure out who she is and how she wants to see herself.

    In the end does it really matter what someone labels themselves? Isn’t a major part of feminism a woman’s right of choice? and to criticize someones current choice by making a rather snide comment about not knowing her history, doesn’t help our common cause. it pits women against other women over trivial details instead of focusing on important issues like healthcare and equal pay.

    Besides this, great job! I look forward to next issue of Ms. ūüėÄ

    • Marie, I completely agree with you. However, if you read the Slate interview this article links to, you’ll see her full response to the “Are you a feminist?” question: ‚ÄúAbsolutely not,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm a 24-year-old woman that lives in the United States and feels like I should be treated the same as anyone else. That makes me a normal human being.‚ÄĚ

      You and I both know the definition of feminism is exactly that, equal rights for all sexes and genders. Perhaps that’s what this article’s snide comment alluded to.

  2. If you believe that women deserve the same rights as men, equal pay for equal work and the right to choose when they reproduce then you are a feminist, whether you are male or female, whether you like ‘labels’ or not. Why this fear of feminism? It’s because you are more worried about what other people think that what you think! It’s what Jane Fonda calls ‘the disease to please’ and ironically, it’s at the core of how a patriarchal society oppresses women…by making them fear disapproval of the men in charge.
    Wake up people! Grow a backbone! Any woman who says she is not a feminist simply hasn’t done the required reading. Why would anyone choose to be treater as a lesser human being?
    “The rights and roles of women and girls is the great unfinished work of the 21st century” ~Hilary Clinton

  3. J√ļl√≠ana Bj√∂rnsd√≥ttir says:

    To me, all that counts is that she asked the right question, one of many. She may not identify with the feminist course yet, but neither did I at the age of 24. Like Marie says above, it’s something that came later, in my late twenties and now in my early thirties, I am a passionate feminist who is very concerned for the conservative streak in US politics.

    In Europe, Romney is a bit of a joke to many people. His and Ryan’s views on contraception and abortion are outdated and sadly, misogynistic.

    I have no doubt Ms. Fenton cares a great deal about her place in society of equal opportunities regardless of one’s gender and reproductive abilities. Many thanks to Ms. Fenton for asking the right question.

  4. Great how SOMEONE finally brought the majority (women) of America’s endangered rights to LIGHT. But, it never makes any sense how a woman/girl would actively say, “I believe in women’s rights, but I’m not a feminist…”

    If ‘women’s rights’ and ‘feminism’ are the same, than why the shame? Sure, you could say you don’t believe in labels, but feminist or not, most likely, you’re labeling yourself in other things: sexual orientation, religion, financial status, marital status, race, sex, gender- whatever.

    I blame the straw feminist trope:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnJxqRLg9x0

  5. Is this a pun?

    Though she spent a substantial amount of time struggling to reign in both candidates

  6. Susan Henry says:

    I moved to Alabama in the mid 1990s. I once made a remark to a few of my coworkers that I was a string of words not mentioned in polite company in this state, “yankee liberal feminist…” This remark came back to haunt me. In the “conservative” (down here that really means right wing radical) southern organization I not discuss politics, only only allowed word to get out that I considered myself a feminist and a liberal. Alabama has not changed its discriminatory ways, it simply hides and denies them. Living in such a hostile environment I can truly understand why a person would not want to be called a feminist.

  7. Semantics and fear. “post-Feminist Generation speak for “I support everything on the so called Feminist platform but I have been cowed and terrified into not calling myself an actual Feminist becasue it is a bad word, you know, like “Dyke, Fat Bitch, and Ugly”…

    What a position young women are in! I am 41, grew up on MS. magazines from the battered women’s shelter where my mom worked in the seventies, person hood or oblivion. Ask for one, get the other.

    It is as if to younger women it’s “Feminism, oh like bra burning and not shaving your legs…we are so past that…” You know, it is interesting to note Lesbianism is in vogue now, has been for almost a decade. Often one sees TV shows with openly and happily Gay characters everywhere, (more than ASIANS I IMAGINE?) but Feminism has been tossed aside. Some how I think, the titillation factor of two hot chicks sucking face was able to sneak through the Man Door while, “I do the same work and raise the kids and clean up after you, why can’t I at least get comparable pay?” was left behind…pointedly…

  8. In her recent CNN interview, Ms. Fenton stated she supported Senator McCain in 2008. She also mentioned that both her parents are solidly conservative, yet they immediately took advantage of President Obama’s healthcare reform whereby young people 26 and under may partake of their parents’ insurance which Ms. Fenton indicated has been very beneficial to her as she has sought medical regularly since she’s been added onto her parents’ plan.

    What I find extremely puzzling is why she dosen’t support the president, who has helped make her life better. If I were her, I think I’d be grateful that President Obama kept his promise to represent 100 percent of the people instead of the 53 percent Romney cares about.

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