Gloria Steinem: Why Our Revolution Has Just Begun

March_for_Women's_Lives_1If I had to pick a couple of myths about the women’s movement that are most wrong, I think two might be tied for worst place. One is that this movement—also known as women’s liberation, feminism, womanism, mujerista!, grrrls and more—is only for white middle-class women.

The second myth is that women of the ’70s did all that could or should be done, and young women can now relax; feminism was their mothers’ movement. Even the abolitionist and suffragist era shows how ridiculous this is. If it took more than a century for black men and all women to gain a legal identity as citizens instead of chattel, it’s likely to take at least a century to gain a legal and social equality as everything from workers to candidates to parents.

Let’s face it, such deep changes take time. That’s why I’m glad that, as I travel, I see more diverse and determined young feminists than ever before in history. Yet I fear that my age— and that of all of us who started this work in the ’70s—is an excuse to focus on the past.

So I’m listing here a few of the adventures that lie ahead of us. These are reminders that we’re not even halfway there.

In political campaigns and the media, “women’s issues” are mysteriously separated from “economic issues.” This conceals solutions. In the last financial crisis, for instance, the government propped up banks, Detroit, mortgage profiteers and other powers that are overwhelmingly white and male, and rewarded greed or error in the name of economic stimulus. However, the most effective economic stimulus would have been—and would still be—paying women equally for comparable work done by white men.

—A woman’s ability to decide when and whether to bear a child is not a “social issue”; it is a human right. Like freedom of speech, it affects everything else in life—whether a woman is educated or not, works outside the home or not, is healthy or not and how long she lives.

Nothing else is going to be equal in a deep sense until men are raising children as much as women are. Children will continue to grow up believing males can’t be loving and nurturing, and girls will keep believing they must do that by themselves. Women will go on choosing cold and distant men because those men feel like home. Also, we voters will go on associating female authority with childhood—the main time it was experienced—and thus be uncomfortable with women who lead in public and political life.

—The U.S. is the only modern democracy without some form of a national child care system. The average cost of child care here has surpassed the average cost of a college education. I rest my case.

—We’re the only advanced country that saddles its college students with debt at the exact time when they should be most free to explore. Also, women pay the same tuition as men, yet are paid an average of $1 million less over their lifetimes, making it harder to repay those loans.

—The Digital Divide is a pretty good proxy for world power. It also tells us something here at home. Though men and women are only about 2 percent apart in computer use, 67 percent of white non-Hispanic households use the Internet while only 45 percent of black households have access.

While we’re celebrating victories for marriage equality, let’s not forget that just 51 percent of people in the U.S. say that “homosexuality should be accepted by society,” while 69 percent of people in Canada do, and so do 83 percent of people in Germany.

—Do enough people understand that racism and sexism are intertwined, and can only be uprooted together? Think about it: To maintain racial difference, you have to control female bodies. Women of the so-called superior racial group tend to be restricted to maintain “purity”—or at least visible difference—while women of the so-called inferior group are often exploited to produce cheap labor.

Here’s a final shocker: Violence against females in the world has reached such heights that, for what may be the first time in history, females are no longer half the human race. There are now 100 women per 101.3 men on this Spaceship Earth. The causes are everything from son preference to the lethal results of female genital cutting, domestic violence, sex trafficking, sexualized violence in war zones, honor killings, child marriage and much more.

How do we move forward? It’s not rocket science. We need to worry less about doing what is most important, and more about doing whatever we can. And remember, the end doesn’t justify the means; the means are the ends.

At my age, in this still hierarchical time, people often ask me if I’m “passing the torch.” I explain that I’m keeping my torch, thank you very much—and I’m using it to light the torches of others.

Because only if each of us has a torch will there be enough light.

This is an excerpt from a longer essay appearing in the Winter/Spring 2014 issue of Ms. magazine, which itself was adapted from Steinem’s talk at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on November 19, 2013.

Photo of the 2004 March for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., from Wikimedia Commons

 

GloriaByWarburg

 

A co-founder of Ms. magazine, Gloria Steinem is a writer, speaker and organizer who travels here and in other countries. She also is active with the Women’s Media Center, Equality Now and Donor Direct Action. Photo by Jenny Warburg.

 

 

Comments

  1. Shortly, thank you. That’s what we need to hear. And now, each of us and we all together should start our small and big revolutions…

  2. ERA Action says:

    We would like to share with you the good news that our grassroots movement, ERA Action, is putting once again front and center, the necessity to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. There is currently legislation in the Senate and the House to remove the ERA deadline for ratification in the states. A renewed spirit is growing in many of the un-ratified states to pass the ERA. Coupled with the federal legislation to remove the deadline plus the rapidly growing grassroots activism in these states, this dual path towards ratification is a viable strategy to finally achieve guaranteed full equality under the protection of the U.S. Constitution. We are working closely with federal legislators both in the Senate and House who are willing to push this legislation forward in Congress.

    In the un-ratified states legislation has been introduced or soon to be introduced in Virginia, Illinois, Florida and Missouri to hear bills for the ERA. Just recently in Virginia, the good women of this state successfully lobbied their legislators to debate SJ78 in the state senate. The bill was unanimously voted out of committee with bipartisan support and went to the floor where the legislation passed, again with bipartisan support and the bill was carried over to the House.

    Unfortunately the bill was met with much resistance and we lobbied tenaciously for a hearing. Ultimately it came down to just one man in the House, Del. Mark Cole, who argued that a hearing on the bill was not warranted as the deadline to ratify had expired in 1982. Continued pressure was applied as we enlisted the help of Virginians and fellow activists from across the nation to call and email these legislators and demand the bill be docketed. We did not give up, and the bill was given a hearing in the Privileges and Elections subcommittee, Thursday, February 27. Although the outcome was a vote to table the bill, essentially leaving it for another session, history was made in Virginia as this was the first time any hearing in the House was given for the ERA. We will soldier on in Virginia and will continue our mission to be heard in the coming days and months ahead throughout the states where legislation has been introduced.

    ERA Action and the grassroots movement founded in Virginia, Women Matter Use Your Power are determined along with other coalitions, to finish the ‘unfinished business’ of the women’s movement – the Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment!
    • We are GRASSROOTS– regular people of all ages, colors, socioeconomic statuses and educational levels, not Washington insiders, policy wonks, politicians or power brokers. We are not a corporate PR machine with deep pockets, large donors and someone who tells us all what is ok to say or do. We are driven, passionate individuals working together to achieve a common goal.

    • We take ACTION– whether online, on the phone, in the mail or in person, we are action-oriented, ALWAYS. When we’re not taking one action, we are planning the next, because it is only by taking action we will ever achieve our goal.

    • We want EQUALITY NOW for ALL– there can be no resolution of the challenges our nation faces, or even a truly representative discussion of them, and no solution truly represents the will of the We The People until ALL people have the same rights and protections under the law regardless of their gender.

    And we need the help and support of those like yourself, Gloria, who fought in the trenches with many of us and mothers before us to advance the rights and opportunities that in the 21st century have become vulnerable to the whims of legislators who will set us all back decades with their draconian laws designed to control our bodies, our purse strings…our very lives. We must all join together and unify our forces for the tough road ahead in order to secure our futures and the futures of all American women and girls.

    Catherine Kaelin, Co-Founder
    ERA Action

    • cynthia Pickel says:

      Thank you gloria steinem and thank you ladies in era action org for your efforts despite the many issues an problems the people and this country are facing by the obstructionistd of our rights …

  3. I met you once in Beverly Hills. Another woman touched my arm and asked ‘who was that?’ I told her and when your name didn’t register with her my heart bled a bit. Thank you for passing the torch- I carry it proudly.

  4. Simi Great Nkemdinachi says:

    Exactly, we must start our revolutions here and now, by taking charge of our bodies and minds and consequently our world. Everyone must join this fight for justice, for right and for equality. We are blessed to have such people as Gloria steinem shinning the light for all to see.

  5. Michele Miller says:

    Dear Gloria, you are one of my heroes. I have and read your book: “Revolution from Within”, which is very inspiring and I recommend it to all women and enlightened men (you even signed it). That happened when you came to SLC in the 80′s for a book signing. When you spoke, it felt like you were our big sister and we were all sisters. There were few dry eyes as you talked of how we women have shared the same burdens of discrimination, of being undervalued, of being abused, of being oppressed in our personal lives as well as by our laws and institutions, of having our wisdom and abilities largely ignored, etc.
    I look back on the Women’s Movement as I and my friends experienced it as high schoolers in the mid-70′s. The big goal was getting an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution passed. It was approved by Congress in 1978, but had to be ratified by 36 of the states within 10 years to become law. It quietly ran out of time in 1988, largely due to ridiculously fanatical campaigns against it by very conservative groups, especially the Eagle Forum and the infamous Phyllis Schaffly. Utah was one of the states that were successfully discouraged from passing it, already being a mainly conservative and patriarchal state politically.
    I think most people think it did pass, that it is law. I am appalled that it is 36 years after it was passed by Congress and we still aren’t legally considered to be equal to men. I want to help start – or join if there is already one – another women’s movement and demand that our government recognize and amend the Constitution to guarantee it. I’m tired of asking for equal rights. We are at least equal to men, which is what I think is so threatening to the status quo world of men. Instead of politicians, especially Congress, which is more interested in controlling our behaviors and rights than helping us, I think we need to get those people who are very influential to both younger and older people, our singers and actors. Many of the younger singers/groups already have strong feminist-themed songs, and if we join together, we can start a people’s movement. If it became wide-spread enough, carrying the message that most Americans believe it’s self-evident that ALL humans are created equal, ALL with the same inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!
    We would get the attention of those who would be against this change by such tactics as having millions of women only paying 75% of our taxes, since that’s the average difference between what we earn compared to men for the same work. Talk about taxation without representation, we’re half of the population! (those Tea Partiers should just be quiet). Some other possibilities I believe would be effective are boycotting businesses who have anti-female policies, advertising, hiring, wage discrimination; protesting against movies, advertisements, magazines and all other forms of media that sexually-objectify women and/or otherwise promote misogynistic views of women. We can use sit-ins, bumper stickers, ETC., all kinds of ways to increase the public’s awareness of how sexist our culture still is, and so why it’s such a priority to have the ERA as law. Conversely, we can use our money on products and companies that are pro-female. Our power is in our numbers (again, 50 %) if we unite together to raise our voices: women, women’s groups, artists, and other progressive people across the country. Just like it took a mile-high tower of dirt and dust hitting Washintong D.C., covering everything and making breathing hard, to take action about the ten-year old Dust Bowl. We can succeed with numbers, humanism, boycotting, humor, selective spending, strength and truth.

  6. Leif Knutsen says:

    Feminism is thankfully still alive in the USA. We are all leaders/followers/boots on the ground in this humanitarian effort to restore some sanity in the “Socially Enabled Capitalistic Paradigm” that subsidizes the rich to pollute the commons and fines the poor for throwing a paper cup on the ground.

    Grab a hand. Make a stand. Banish pollution profits from the land.

  7. Sarah Lane says:

    “One is that this movement—also known as women’s liberation, feminism, womanism, mujerista!, grrrls and more—is only for white middle-class women.”

    Ms. Stein, I respectfully disagree. Look at organizations like Emily’s List, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and most of all the National Women’s Law Center. I was an intern there and I can promise you that it is overwhelmingly white. They also don’t practice what they preach in terms of family-friendly policies like flex time, which is on the books in theory. In practice, the very few women with children or sick, elderly parents who do take this option are marginalized. When I was there, one of the few women of color in an authority position as the head of HR wanted to take a leave of absence to take care of her dying mother, and she was shown the door. Until the rift between white women like you (and me) and women of color is addressed and dealt with honestly, we will continue to spin our wheels.

  8. Gloria,
    You put alot on the line for the women of the 70s and future generations. I am a 70s female and until the mid 90s never felt the prejudice personally, yet always worked hard and believed in the cause. The men were far more enlightened in the 70s than now, in my opinion and the many of the younger woman do not stand up for what they believe. They are willing to sit back and let men run the show. Please share you torch and light ours so we can push forward and help finish what you started. I do agree, equal rights should be just as important for the homosexual community but we need to focus on women, as much or more than before.

  9. Thank you, for so eloquently explaining why feminism can’t afford to die away, starving itself in submission to the dominant paradigm. Thank you also for being one of those people who lit my torch from theirs.

  10. POEM
    There’s a war going on n my country
    Between the bloated & the hungry
    The reasonable & the insane
    The fat cats & the feral
    Men and women
    Abundance and need
    Corporate and labor
    Power and responsibility
    Grace and oblivion
    Truth and lies
    The past and the future
    Now and then
    You and me.

    We could choose communication
    Diplomacy
    Empathy
    Peace

    Instead of war.

  11. With humility I thank you Gloria, and wish you a wonderful 80th birthday. I was on the cusp of change born 1955 in a small town in a small white country at the southern end of the world, New Zealand. We women had few choices, none of them inspiring for me, representing instead a hideous existence I did not want and your words and actions were among those that saved me from a life of domestic Catholic drudgery that I was not suited to and would have never survived in. I owe you much, possibly including my life.

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