Celebrating Gloria Steinem: In Her Own Words
I was probably around 12 years old the first time I heard Gloria Steinem’s name from the pages of my mother’s issues of Ms. Magazine. At the time, I couldn’t fully understand or appreciate her enormous contributions to the lives of women around the world, nor could I have predicted the incredibly significant personal role she would come to play in my life, as a friend and mentor, as well as a longtime supporter of the 16 year-old women’s web site and non-profit organization I run, Feminist.com.
I have had the enormous pleasure and honor of interviewing Gloria numerous times, as I did once again this past week, to mark the occasion of a film celebrating her incredible life, in the new HBO documentary In Her Own Words which premieres on HBO this coming Monday 8/15 at 9pm EST. In true Gloria fashion, she is using the film as a rallying cry to launch an intergenerational dialogue about the future of feminism, through an online campaign called In Your Own Words organized by the Women’s Media Center, an organization she co-founded 6 years ago with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan.
I was thinking about how I would answer the question presented by the In Your Own Words campaign about my own personal vision for the future of feminism. As the founder of Feminist.com, as you can imagine, I could write a book about the topic, but here are just a few of my thoughts. First off, my hope would be for a coordinated global commitment to eradicate the widespread discrimination, oppression and violence against women and girls, that should be seen not as “women’s issues” but human rights abuses that affect us all. We need to amplify the message that we all benefit in a world where women and girls are educated, valued, and empowered, as well as equally represented in positions of influence and leadership, in media, politics, the arts and the corporate world. I also believe men should feel increasingly included in feminist work, as both allies for women’s equality and as beneficiaries in a movement that aims to re-imagine and transform gender roles that impact them too. At its root, feminism should promote our interdependence with each other, nature, and all living things, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or any of the many other labels that can divide us.
And as Gloria’s groundbreaking book Revolution from Within posited many years ago, this is not only about outer world change but about inner transformation and an evolution of consciousness – that men and women, boys and girls, be educated, encouraged and enabled to embrace the full expression of the intrinsic human qualities within their soul. To me feminism ultimately is a movement to spark our own inner light and illuminate the world.
I hope people everywhere will watch the HBO film and participate in the online campaign as a way to celebrate Gloria and offer her our thanks – for her voice, for her courage, for her indomitable, beautiful and inspirational spirit.
Here are some of my favorite quotes of Gloria’s from my interviews (many of which appear in my book, Daring to Be Ourselves – the photo of us on this post was taken at the Daring to Be Ourselves book launch/Feminist.com 15 year anniversary party last December at which Gloria delivered a wonderful speech).
My favorite Gloria Steinem quotes from my interviews:
(About the word “feminist”) “It doesn’t matter what word we use, if it has the same content, it will be treated in the same way. There are other words, there’s ‘womanist,’ there’s Cmujerista, there’s women’s liberationist,’ all mean the same thing and they get the same ridicule. I think we just need to choose what word we feel comfortable with that says women are full human beings, and whatever that word is, it will get a lot of opposition. But it will also attract a lot of support. But this is a revolution, not a public relations movement.”
“Once men realize that the gender roles are a prison for them, too, then they become really valuable allies. Because they’re not just helping someone else, they’re freeing themselves.There is a full circle of human qualities we all have a right to, and they’re confined to the “masculine” ones, which are seventy percent of all of them, and we’re confined to the “feminine” ones, which are thirty percent. We’re missing more, but they’re still missing a lot. If a man fights to be his whole self, to be creative, express emotions men are not supposed to express, do jobs men are not supposed to do, take care of his own children, all of these things are part of the feminist movement.”
“I’ve come to realize that the ancient cultures, the original cultures, which account for 95 percent of human time on Earth, were gender-balanced and balanced with nature. If it happened before, it can happen again. The Native American cultures were probably the inspiration for the suffragist movement, for instance. To understand that for 95 percent of human history it was different is very helpful to me in believing that it can be different in the future.”
“If we’re by ourselves we come to feel crazy and alone. We need to make alternate families of small groups of women who support each other, talk to each other regularly, can speak their truths and their experiences and find they’re not alone in them, that other women have them, too. It makes such a huge difference.”
Next page: The message Gloria would most want to instill in young girls.
(What message would you most want to instill in young girls?“) That each of them is already a unique and valuable person when she’s born; every human being is. Inside each of us is a unique person resulting from millennia of environment and heredity combined in a way that could never happen again and could never have happened before. We aren’t blank slates, but we are also communal creatures who are born before our brains are fully developed, so we’re very sensitive to our environment. The question is: How to find the support and the circumstances that allow you to express what’s inside you?”
“We have to realize that young women’s activism won’t look exactly like ours because they’ve had different experiences, which is a good thing. One example would be safe and legal abortion, though many also recognize the threat to it, it’s hard for them to imagine a world without it — but they’re mad as hell that there’s no comprehensive sex education, that the morning after pill is in contention, that pharmacists can just on a personal whim refuse to fill their prescriptions. They’re angry about all of that. We all get radicalized by what affects us. Actually, younger women, just by the measure of public opinions polls, are more likely to support feminist issues than older women are.”
“The source of all my energy is other people, mostly women, but some men, too. I’m very lucky because I can work full time at what I love and care about, so I am constantly able to talk to people who care about similar things. It’s much more difficult for women who are in families that oppose them, who are in offices that ridicule them. I have a community wherever I go.”
“First of all, change is like a house: you can’t build it from the top down, only from the bottom up. Whatever small change we make will be like a pebble in a pond. It will reverberate outward. We’re meant to be active and contribute to the world. What’s the alternative? Just sitting there and wondering, ‘Oh, if I had just done this, maybe…’ Ive learned only one thing: no matter how hard it is to do it, it’s harder not to do it. Then you’re stuck with wondering, ‘What if I had said…? What if I had done…?”
“I just do the best I can and try to make some balance between what needs doing and what I can uniquely do.”
“We’re changing ourselves to fit the world instead of changing the world to fit women.”
“It would help not to treat age as if it were any less of a pleasure than it was when we were six and saying, ‘I’m six and a half.’ You know, we could be saying, I’m fifty and a half’ and say it with joy. Each age is different and has different discoveries and pleasures.”
Next page: Gloria’s life philosophy and wish for children of the future.
(What is your life philosophy?) “Some people live in the past, some people live in the present, which is probably the most rewarding, and some people live in the future. I live in the future, so I am always thinking, ‘What if?’ or ’This could be’ or ‘This could change’ or trying to understand why something happens. The great joy to me is that moment–that ‘aha!–when you think, ‘Oh, that’s why!’ That excitement and pleasure in realizing why something is happening, how it could be different, that definitely keeps me going.”
(What is your wish for the children of the future?“) The localization of everything. So there’s no more violence in our families than we want to see in the world. So that we are eating locally instead of eating meals that have traveled for a thousand miles. So that the microcosm is what we wish the macrocosm to be.”
(Are you optimistic?) “Yes, I’m optimistic. But I also know nothing will happen automatically. Change depends on what you and I do every day.”
Gloria: In Her Own Words premieres Monday, August 15th ( 9-10pm ET/PT) on HBO. To watch the trailer for the film or find out more about ways you can participate in the In Your Own Words campaign visit http://womensmediacenter.com/blog/gloria-steinem/. You can also visit Gloria’s web site at http://www.gloriasteinem.com