Q & A with Gloria Steinem
Sep 27, 2012 at 4:27 PM
Q: In your opinion, what does feminism mean, and what does it stand for?
GS: Feminism just means a belief in equality. A feminist is someone, male or female, who believes in the whole social, political and economical equality for males and females. It has been demonized by Rush Limbaugh, who said feminism is about superiority or a dictatorship, when in fact it’s about Democracy and equality.
Q: How does feminism and equality get compromised and scrutinized?
GS: If we see inequality at birth in the family — that the husband is more important than the wife, that the son’s education gets more money than the daughter’s — no matter what form it takes, then we normalize that in our minds. It happens with violence in the family, too.
As children, we grow up with that. We think it’s natural. That also means we are much more likely to accept racial inequalities or class inequalities.
Q: Is there still a feminist movement occurring?
GS: Yes, and the movement is still necessary.
Today, it’s bigger than ever. It is so much bigger than what it was in the first decade. We were like 12 crazy women in the beginning. There weren’t that many people speaking about it and we were against nature, against God, against (psychoanalyst Sigmund) Freud.
It’s huge now. You can’t go into any community without finding that it’s present. The idea that it’s diminishing is the opposition speaking that.
Q: What is the next step for the movement?
GS: It’s not for me to say what the next step is for you. Need arises out of real life — not out of some theory.
But there are some obvious things that are incomplete:
We don’t have equal pay. Women earn an average of 77 cents on the dollar to what men earn.
The inequality of men raising children. Some men do, but on average, most men do not raise children as much as women, so this is tragic. Children then grow up thinking only women can be loving and nurturing. Women have that added responsibility that they are less likely to fully realize their talents in other areas of life.
But men then feel regressed about women. The last time (men) saw a powerful woman, they were 8.
Q: Since you started your involvement in the feminist movement, what in your opinion is the biggest positive change for women?
GS: That we know we are not crazy. (Laughs afterwards). If you feel you are totally alone in your desire to use your talents or your interests, you come to feel crazy.
But a movement allows people to tell the truth about their lives and discover what’s happening to others. It gives you a sense of being able to move forward and that is crucial.
Q: You helped create the “Take Your Daughter to Work Day.” Can you tell me about its significance in American history?
GS: It was the first day in the history of the country that honored girls. It eventually became Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. It turned out that it was one of the few things girls had that boys wanted.
Q: What advice do you have for young women today trying to become confident, independent, successful individuals?
GS: The only advice I would give is try to do in life what you love. If you love what you’re doing, you forget what time it is. It’s something that you would want to do without getting paid for it — although I want you to get paid.
Trust your own uniqueness and your own talents. Find people who share and support your values. Hang out with people who make you feel smart, and not dumb.
Q: What is your opinion of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney?
GS: He’s not ready for prime time. He’s incompetent. He doesn’t seem to know about foreign policy. He completely contradicts himself on foreign policy. He seems socially inept.
There was a crowd of people and when he was shaking hands with people and a woman didn’t want to share hands with him, he said, ‘Oh, it’s because you don’t have makeup on.’
He supports issues such as the Human Life Amendment (a proposed law calling to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme court case legally allowing women to have an abortion), which would declare the fertilized egg to be a person. You would be able to search a woman’s wound to see if she was pregnant or not.
Q: What is your opinion of abortion?
GS: When (activist and author) Flo Kennedy and I got into a taxi in Boston, and Flo had written a book about abortion, we had an old Irish woman taxi driver.
She turned around to us and said, ‘Honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.’
Every child has a right to be born, loved and cared for. If a woman’s health is poor, if she can’t take care of the children, it seems it would be up to her whether she can make that come true. If she can’t, than that’s her decision.
Q: What’s your role and position for the upcoming election?
GS: I’ll be campaigning in Florida. I’m for Democrats. I’ll direct myself mainly toward groups of Republican and Independent woman.
In 2008 it became clear to me that women who believed in equality were saying to Republican women, ‘How can you be a Republican because of the Republican platform and voting record?’
In talking to Republican women, I said, ‘You didn’t leave the Republican party, it left you.’
Q: How, after all these decades, does your passion persist for achieving equality?
GS: Leaving would be like leaving life. It’s what I care about. It isn’t like a job where you retire from.
I do wish I had stayed home and been more of a writer. But I feel lucky to be doing what I care about, even though I was absolutely terrified of speaking in public for many years.