Brenda Feigen

  • Founder, Women’s Action Alliance
  • President, National Breast Cancer Education and Legal Center
  • Co-Founder of Ms. magazine with Gloria Steinem

Brenda Feigen, a crusader for feminism and women’s rights, has long guided and shifted the discussion and progress made for women over the last few decades in the U.S. Having survived cancer, Ms. Feigen has much to say on law, health, and women in America.

 

 
  

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Sexual Orientation and Sex Discrimination

With the Supreme Court addressing same-sex marriage in 2013 and 2015, many questions continue to rise about what corporations must do to comply with the law and what obligations companies have toward their gay and lesbian employees. For example, what is the obligation of corporate America to extend ...

With the Supreme Court addressing same-sex marriage in 2013 and 2015, many questions continue to rise about what corporations must do to comply with the law and what obligations companies have toward their gay and lesbian employees. For example, what is the obligation of corporate America to extend (and enforce) equality while recognizing that countries around the world vehemently disapprove of the evolution of women’s rights, not to mention the very existence of gay men and lesbians?  Brenda’s long experience as an attorney, in the women’s movement and with the issues of sexual orientation discrimination, gives her a unique perspective on how to answer those questions and what it means to individuals for states and other organizations to continue to treat one group differently from another. 

Employment Discrimination

What’s new in sex, sexual orientation, age, race, religion and disability discrimination cases?  What should companies do to keep from being sued?  What is the responsibility of employers if an underling crosses the line?  Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provide protection for employees acros ...

What’s new in sex, sexual orientation, age, race, religion and disability discrimination cases?  What should companies do to keep from being sued?  What is the responsibility of employers if an underling crosses the line?  Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provide protection for employees across the board?  How some companies flout or bend those rules and how individuals are discouraged from going after their employers.   What the most progressive companies do to earn the respect of their employees.

Women in Entertainment

The woefully small role that women play in film production impacts the entertainment that we watch.  Last year, only 18% of feature film directors and 7% of cinematographers were women.  Brenda tells the story of producing “NAVY SEALS” (it was her idea) and enduring sexism throughout the process -- ...

The woefully small role that women play in film production impacts the entertainment that we watch.  Last year, only 18% of feature film directors and 7% of cinematographers were women.  Brenda tells the story of producing “NAVY SEALS” (it was her idea) and enduring sexism throughout the process -- being told that no woman could direct an action film and even that her presence on the set was unwanted.  It is no coincidence that males in their 20s who are the target audience of film distributors are also film company decision-makers.  They pick what they want to see.  As director of USC’s Entertainment Goes Global program, Brenda analyzed the Americanization of entertainment and the demise of locally produced film fare (e.g. in Italy) as huge American movie franchises took hold. The dearth of women is felt not only by individuals who want to be part of the Industry but also by viewers around the globe.  What to do about it?

Great Women of Today

Brenda has had the privilege of working closely with two of today’s female icons: Gloria Steinem and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Come aboard as Brenda reminisces about founding the National Women’s Political Caucus and Ms. Magazine with Gloria and then about her extraordinary experience working with (now ...

Brenda has had the privilege of working closely with two of today’s female icons: Gloria Steinem and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Come aboard as Brenda reminisces about founding the National Women’s Political Caucus and Ms. Magazine with Gloria and then about her extraordinary experience working with (now Justice) Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as together they directed together the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU.  How have these remarkable leaders influenced society and how will that influence be felt in years to come, as each wends her way through her ninth decade? 

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Biography

Brenda Feigen is a feminist activist, attorney, constitutional scholar, film producer, former William Morris motion picture agent and breast cancer survivor.  Feigen’s repertoire ranges from: “What Can Today’s Women’s Movement Leaders Learn from the Women’s Movement of the ‘70s and What Can Today’s Feminists Teach Their Older Sisters?” to: “With One State Shy of a 2/3 Republican Majority Could a Constitutional Convention be Called? Which of our Fundamental Constitutional Principals Might be Upended?”

Brenda. Feigen’s memoir, Not One of the Boys: Living Life as a Feminist, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2000, draws on her history as a leader in the Women’s Movement.  An honors graduate of Vassar College, she credits her awakening feminism to her Harvard Law School (class of 1969) experience – Paul Freund in Con Law leading the class in laughter when: Brenda objected to his approval of a Supreme Court case validating a state law that prohibited women from working as barmaids unless their husbands or brothers were present; women not being allowed into Lincoln’s Inn or onto the squash courts; Dean Griswold admonishing them that they were taking the place of every man who would be supporting his wife and children. After graduation, she helped prepare Gloria Steinem, the first woman to address the Harvard Law School Banquet, and witnessed Professor Vernon Countryman’s attempt at a failed rebuttal, attacking the essential notion of equality for women. (No other speaker had ever been rebutted before.)

Brenda was elected National Vice President for Legislation of NOW in 1970. She held that position for two years and then went on to start the Women’s Action Alliance, (the first non-profit feminist organization in the U.S.), the newsletter of which became MS. Magazine that she co-founded with Steinem in 1971.  She also was a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus.   In the 1970s, she testified in the Senate and lobbied for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, appearing in debates on national television and on college campuses against conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly and “total woman” Marabel Morgan.  She wrote an article for the Harvard Women’s Law Journal on the right (or not) of states to rescind their prior ratification of a constitutional amendment, namely the ERA. 

In 1972, Ms. Feigen co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project with now Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Together they supervised more than 140 lawyers and oversaw sex discrimination cases around the country.  In 1973, she sat at the Supreme Court counsel table as then Professor Ginsburg argued the landmark case that established a high standard of review in sex discrimination cases. That decision was the first in a string of cases that culminated in a recent Supreme Court decision, written by Justice Ginsburg, holding that there must be an “exceedingly persuasive reason” for the continued existence of any gender discrimination by the government.  While at the ACLU, Ms. Feigen expanded the scope of the Women’s Rights Project to include Reproductive Freedom Rights that encompassed not only abortion rights but also, in three different federal class action lawsuits in the south, the rights of poor, minority women to be free of unwanted sterilization.  Finally in 2015, North Carolina victims were awarded money damages for the harm caused them by the North Carolina Eugenics Board. A feature and TV documentary film has just been released on this subject, and Ms. Feigen appears in it, both when she was 29 years old, at the press conference announcing the cases and on “60 Minutes” with the victims and, again, just after North Carolina announced it would be paying reparations.  Ms. Feigen was among a distinguished panel of speakers on the subject of involuntary sterilization, in January 2017, sponsored by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs and attended by hundreds of members and guests.  To Brenda, the eugenics statutes, rampant in the majority of states in the first half of the 20th Century, are comparable to Donald Trump’s attempts to broaden the Christian base in America while eliminating as many Hispanics and Muslims from within our borders.

Ms. Feigen has litigated discrimination cases, including sexual harassment and wrongful termination cases, as well as race and disability discrimination cases.  She, herself, was both plaintiff and attorney in a successful federal class action lawsuit against the Harvard Club of New York City that had hitherto refused admission to all women graduates.

Brenda Feigen is also an experienced entertainment attorney.  She has handled matters involving motion picture, television, literary and other intellectual property for producers, rights owners, writers, directors and actors.  She spent five years at the William Morris Agency in the ‘80s where she was a business affairs attorney and a motion picture agent.

In 1990, Ms. Feigen produced the big-budget movie, NAVY SEALS, for Orion Pictures, starring Charlie Sheen.  Her subsequent entertainment practice was enhanced by that producing experience, and she has lectured on subjects ranging from the respective roles of agents and attorneys to the content of different kinds of entertainment-related contracts, as well as discrimination against women in the entertainment industry. 

In 2000, Ms. Feigen was tapped to direct Entertainment Goes Global, a joint project of USC’s Annenberg School and the Pacific Council on International Policy.  While involved with that project, she explored the international film and television worlds, studying how much American-made films could benefit from incorporating the best of what “foreign” films have to offer.  As this Americanization throughout the world was happening, Ms. Feigen watched as our film fare morphed almost exclusively into big-budget, action and science fiction “tent-poles” with a huge global impact, relegating smaller-budget human-interest films made in the U.S. to art houses and film festivals. After writing and speaking on these subjects, Brenda took a break from USC while she was on chemo, having been diagnosed with breast cancer, a subject that she addresses in her book.

Ms. Feigen has lectured on the law of movies and television for the Practicing Law Institute, California Lawyers for the Arts and numerous other organizations.  She taught a class on the Role of the Producer in Motion Pictures at UCLA and has spoken on several occasions at Harvard Law and Business Schools, and at Yale Law School, as well as the Austin Film Festival Writers’ Seminar and LaFemme Film Festival.  Ms. Feigen was a panelist at Harvard Law School’s Women’s Leadership Summit.  She was honored by the Veteran Feminists of America at their 40th anniversary celebration and by the California Women’s Political Caucus.  In 1993, Feigen was a featured speaker at Harvard Law School’s Celebration 40 (celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first class of female graduates).  Her topic: “The Expected Impact on the U.S. Supreme Court of newly appointed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”   In 2003 she played a similar role at Celebration 50 and has been interviewed on camera for a feature and TV documentary on Justice Ginsburg that will be released this year.

Ms. Feigen is an expert on discrimination against gays and lesbians. She attended the Supreme Court hearings on same-sex marriage and California’s Prop 8, as a guest of Justice Ginsburg, and has written columns for WOWOWOW.com and Ms. Magazine on same-sex marriage and the Court’s rulings on the subject.

Ms. Feigen has written numerous articles on women in the law, discrimination and the entertainment industry, in publications ranging from the anthology, Radical Lawyer (how badly women are treated in the legal profession), to Vogue Magazine (the rights of actresses not to perform in the nude); from Ms. Magazine (women in sports) to The Village Voice (women’s role at the 1972 Democratic Convention) to the Harvard Women’s Law Journal (same-sex marriage).  Ms. Feigen was a featured speaker at the Los Angeles Times Book Fair after her memoir, Not One of the Boys, was published.

In 1978, she became an Honorary President’s Fellow at Columbia University where she studied international politics. Shortly thereafter, she was awarded the Alvin and Peggy Brown Fellowship at the Aspen Institute, Executive Seminar Program, which she attended.

Ms. Feigen is admitted to practice in California, New York and Massachusetts.  She is a member of the American, California, Los Angeles County and Beverly Hills bar associations, She is listed in many reference books, including Who’s Who in America, and was the Los Angeles Times Woman of the Week, a comprehensive look at her as a feminist breaking into the ranks of action film producers.

Brenda, like 5.2 million others, participated in the Women’s March on January 21, 2017, and has said that no other experience in her life has been as empowering and inspiring. She has a renewed energy to fight the forces of evil that have engulfed the U.S. government of late.