Ten Minutes with Gloria

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Christopher Dilts

Hedy Gutfreund Photo by Christopher Dilts Photo: Christopher Dilts On Wednesday, November 12, Gloria Steinem spoke at a private event at a Gold Coast home. Female leadership of LIFE (Latin’s Initiative for Ethics) and LAW (Latin’s Alliance for Women) attended this intimate salon. Ms. Steinem, an iconic leader of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s and founder of Ms. magazine, remains a vocal and thoughtful activist for equality. After the scheduled program, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit down with Ms. Steinem and ask her some questions for The Forum. Hedy Gutfreund: We’ve come a long way since you were a Playboy Bunny. [Editor’s Note: In 1963, Gloria Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny to research the men’s world of the Playboy Clubs. Her work appeared in a two-part series in Show magazine.] What would you say represents the most substantive progress since then? Gloria Steinem: We know we’re not crazy. Yeah, because when the idea of what girls and women could do was much more limited, if you objected to it or did something else, literally you were viewed as odd. But once we found that we had companionship, that there were other women feeling the same way, then we realized that we were not crazy; the system was crazy. And that’s crucial, you know, to understand that the problem is not with you. There’s not something wrong with you, that you can’t fit in. But to be able to come together and make changes that help not just you but a whole lot of other people, that’s a huge change, really a huge change. HG: So what’s the biggest thing left to do? GS: I’m not sure it’s fair to say the biggest thing, because the biggest thing is the biggest thing in each woman’s life, and that varies a lot. But if you think about it mathematically, what is the biggest thing for most women, it is, I would say, freedom from violence and the ability to decide whether to have children or not and to have men whether they’re the father or not but to be equally responsible for children. HG: Segueing off of that, how do we bring boys and men into this conversation so that it’s not just girls and women? GS: I think it’s sort of up to them. You know, we can’t make their revolution for them. They have to do it. And I think many boys and men are realizing that the masculine role restricts them and makes them afraid to fully explore what they want to do or makes them feel they have to pretend not to feel what they’re really feeling. So, I think we find men as allies, and we need to be open to that. We need to treat them as we would want to be treated ourselves. Take the parallel of race. If we were trying to get out of the prison of racial divisions and seeing it as something that was good for us as well as good for society, how would we want people to behave towards us, and try to do the same thing. HG: What do you think is the greatest misconception about the challenges women face today? GS: The current form of opposition is to say it’s over. The same as with racism. People will say it’s a post-racist society, or it’s a post-sexist society, which is just a lie. The biggest obstacle in the way is the idea that it’s over. And I can say that the very same people who used to say it was impossible are now saying, “Well, but now it’s not necessary.” HG: Do you think that’s the same misconception that young people have, or do we have a different set of misconceptions? GS: It depends on the people, and it depends on the type of families that people come from. We tend to think of things in terms of decades of change, but actually, a young woman I know who comes from a very traditional Christian family in Lubbock, Texas is much more like my experience than other women her own age who came from very egalitarian families. So partly it is the era, and partly it is our experience. HG: If there’s one thing women should do in everyday life to promote equality, what would it be? GS: Not listen to me. (laughs) Because they know. I mean each young woman knows what is unfair in her own life, so I don’t quite believe in should’s. I would just say, I hope she will do what she feels the most deeply about, that she’s experiencing herself or that she sees around her. HG: A cartoonist recently posted drawings of famous women in history, including you, as Disney princesses. Do you think this is unsettling or a form of celebration? GS: Ah, yes I saw that. What he said was that his purpose was to say that the princess role flattens out everybody, even Hillary Clinton. His intention was trying to do away with the princess role, which I totally agree with. The whole idea of royalty is ridiculous. They don’t look like themselves at all. There’s a movie that’s about to be released—I just saw it at a screening—about Princess Diana, and I thought, too bad it’s an adult movie, because it should be seen by all the little girls who want to be princesses. Because Diana was miserable; it would really make a difference, I think. HG: What do you see as the two most important accomplishments of your career? GS: The honest truth is, I think I haven’t done them yet. Because I live in the future; I don’t live in the past. It’s perhaps a habit of mine that came about from the way I grew up, because I was in Toledo and I was always trying to get out—so a habit of mine is to live in the future, which as any Buddhist will tell you is a bad idea. Live in the now. So I don’t know, I don’t know how to answer that. HG: There’s a lot of debate about over whether women can “have it all.” GS: It’s a ridiculous expression. HG: How do you think we should respond to that notion? GS: I think we should just say, “next question.” First of all, it’s not asked of men. If it were an important or interesting question, it would be asked of everyone, not just women. Secondly, I don’t want it all. Most people don’t want it all. I don’t even know what “all” means. And thirdly, it’s just a way of turning women against each other. If you mean by that that we ought to be able to work outside the home and have children, which should be true for men too, then the reason we can’t is not us. It’s because we’re the only modern democracy with no national system of child care. Our work patterns are obsessed. It’s very difficult for many women to have a work life and have kids. The average cost of child care is now the average cost of college. I think it’s just a way of blaming the individual instead of changing the social policy so it’s possible to both have a job and have a life. HG: Thank you so much. You’re a role model and an inspiration to me. GS: I get inspired back.]]>