I was a little girl when Gloria Steinem came on the scene. My mother was an early N.O.W. member in Massachusetts, and a subscriber to Steinem's MS. Magazine.
Gloria was the sexy feminist; the one with long back combed hair, nails and was always a chic understated fashion icon. She was the kind of feminist that made men soften, important men like Henry Kissinger.
Gloria was a feminist at a time when women were invisible on the news, or high up in corporations. As a nation we were coming out of out "Mad Men" Joan Holloway imprint and diving headfirst into the woman's user manual, "Our Bodies Ourselves" and Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and the ERA amendment.
Most men laughed off womenís rights as a serious issue. "Laugh In" was a popular comedy variety show in the 60's, and even as kid I could tell that Dan Rowan and Dick Martin were indulging the ladies, and probably belonged to a men's club and certainly were using the women's movement as comedic fodder; it was an easier play than the civil rights' movement for their purposes.
Gloria Steinem made an appearance at the recent television critics' association summer press tour and spoke about the historic events that she helped to shape in the 60's and 70's for women.
She shared how the HBO documentary came to be: "Well, this really happened at, like, a harmonic convergence in some ways. Itís really scary to just give up total control and submit your life to somebody else and say, 'make of it' ...I just answered questions. I kind of supplied the trees, and Sheila [Nevins] and HBO said, 'Okay. We think this is a forest.' And I knew Sheila because Ms. Magazine had done a documentary called 'Sheís Nobodyís Baby' in the mid í70s, which was the first cable documentary to win a Peabody, and it was about 50 years of the womenís movement. I already knew how fantastic she is. And also we did another we did the search for 'Deadly Memories,' which was about child abuse and multiple personality disorders," said Steinem, solo onstage.
"... I felt okay about doing this [HBO documentary] personally, and I like the form very much because itís it is in your own words. You sit for an interview, and they do all the rest, and I just think itís so important to tell our stories. Otherwise people look at somebody who has done something and they think, 'Well, I couldnít do that because theyíre different than me.' So it seems very important to be truthful and to say personally what our stories are so that other people feel empowered by that. Thatís my hope for this documentary, that people will see an imperfect person with all kinds of different things who did this, and then they will say, okay, if she did that, maybe I can do it, too, and figure out what the future should be."
Gloria Steinem's op/ed on the false feminism of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann read
HBO's excellent documentary series brings us "Gloria" this Monday, August 15.
When asked about the new generation of women who seem inspired by less-than classy reality TV stars in slatternly dress and manner, and if they were as dedicated to protecting rights, Steinem surprised the TV critics.
"This generation of young women is actually much more feminist than we ever were. Theyíre much more if you look at the public opinion polls, theyíre actually much more supportive of all of the issues of equality. And my question to the young woman whoís dressing as you describe is: Is she doing it because she wants to? You know? Is she body proud? Is she sexuality proud? Then I say great. Is she doing it because she feels she has to? That she wonít be popular otherwise? Then, you know, thatís too bad. But itís true that I have said I was sitting next to Reese Witherspoon, whom I donít know very well, and she said, you know, she did 'Legally Blonde' because of me. I said, 'No kidding, how come?' And she said, 'Because I heard you say you should be able to dress any way you fucking well please and be safe.'"
Steinem added, "If you think about cultures in general, anthropologically, the cultures that make women cover up their bodies are more restrictive for women than those that uncover, that allow, and contain women who feel good about uncovering their bodies."
Steinem also looked to the future for the women's movement, and talked about the workplace inequities that still exist.
"What I hope about this documentary in general is that people will look at it and say, 'okay, weíve come this far in 30 or 40 years. Now where do we want to go?' ...In Japan, women do more math than men, or girls than boys. So there the problem is that engineers make more money. And within the medical field, women are still in specialties that donít make as much money, but it is a great step forward that weíre 50 percent [enrolled in medical school]. So in general...if you think of the suffragist, abolitionists, and other movements has to last about 100 years to be really absorbed into a culture, and weíre about 40 some years into this. So I donít know how to break it to you, but I would say we have, like, 60 years to go. I mean, Iím old, but the movement is young. So I hope people take encouragement from this documentary."
The subject of the "Mad Men"-inspired network dramas for fall, specifically ďPan AmĒ and ďThe Playboy Club,Ē both set in the í60s, about stewardesses and the Playboy bunnies, and ďCharlieís Angels,Ē another new series coming was broached.
Steinem shared her thoughts.
"The hierarchical response has two poles: The very worst men are into sadomasochism, and the very best men are into nostalgia. So I think this is like the nostalgia industry. Itís like the World War II industry. Itís the last time we were really right. So someone told me that we had actually put more money into making films and television series about World War II than we put into World War II. I donít know if thatís true or not, but it would be interesting research to figure out. It sounds true, right? But it is a problem; I agree."
Steinem elaborated, "Well, you know, I think that would make a great column, but I think the question is what is the attitude of the film or series. Is it aggrandizing the past in a nostalgic way, or is it really showing the problems of the past in order to show that we have come forward and continue to come forward. I somehow think the Playboy shows are maybe not doing that. But there are other shows that do that."
The Playboy Clubs that Hugh Hefner established in 1960 seemed to have the most interest for critics, who asked for her opinion on the entertainment nostalgia trend and her own personal history working undercover as a Bunny in the club for an editorial feature expose.
Steinem said, "I would like people to hold up their hands here. How many people are fascinated by Hugh Hefnerís sex life? (Laughter.)
I mean, if I had made him up, I could not possibly have made him up. If I had made him up, they would hang me from the highest tree."
"... Itís like the clubs are gone. Iím happy to say that the film that was made out of the expose that I did lasted longer than the clubs it was exposing. There is a kind of horrible fascination, and thereís a lot of money there and so on, but somehow I donít feel threatened by that. I feel dismay that young men, especially, are being subjected to that and made to feel that thatís a mark of masculinity. You know, that is a shame.
One reporter asked Steinem what she thought about the restaurant chain Hooters.
"Itís a disaster, and itís a danger because they actually make women have breast implants in order to work there, and they should be sued. Talk about workplace hazards. This is serious."
Steinem spoke about the upside down world of the beauty pageant on TV. "Look, the Miss America contest, I believe, in all the states, is still the single biggest source of scholarship money for women in the United States. This is bananas. If it was the single biggest source of scholarship for men, people would be saying no wonder the Chinese are winning. So I think weíre blaming the victim. I mean one of the editors in New York who was writing about this documentary said, 'Tell me why young women are now willing to be texted to go and give blow jobs.' I said, ďOkay. Thatís a really good question, but why are you not asking why young men are believing that itís a human relationship or a sexual relationship to text somebody to give a blow job?Ē Itís perfectly clear why young women in order to be popular; they are supposed to supply sex. So, thatís a big problem we have to work on. But itís also clear that the Bush administration put abstinence-only so called sex programs into the schools. And what is clear about a blow job? You donít get pregnant, youíre still a virgin ó and there are virginity clubs everywhere ó and you are more popular. So if men had the same inducements, they would be doing the same thing. What we have to do is change the inducements and stop blaming the victims."
In wrapping up, Steinem noted that the progress was good, but more needed to be done. She also reiterated that the women's movement was joined at the hip to civil rights and LGBT issues.
"We need to always be looking forward to greater progress. But nothing is inexorable. Nothing. It depends what you and I do every day. All of us here every day. It depends on the language we use with each other. It depends on whether we tell each other our salaries to find out whoís not getting paid. Itís the one thing we know, and we had to pass in New York State a whole piece of legislation because you could be fired for telling your salary. ..But all those movements are inextricably connected. They are a circle. Most women in the world are women of color, so if you want to preserve racism, you have to restrict all women because we are the means of reproduction...These things are connected. Itís connected to the environmental movement. Itís connected to the gay and lesbian movement. On campuses people say to me, how come the same groups are against lesbianism and birth control? But itís logical because the same forces are saying sexuality is only intended for conception. Itís only moral if itís directed towards having children. So naturally the same people are against contraception and gay and lesbianism...I hope that among the things that happen in the next 40 years is that we see it as one big world view and stop thinking of it and writing about it in silos."
An intimate biographical portrait of Gloria Steinem, an enduring feminist icon for more than 40 years, Gloria: In Her Own Words profiles a crusader whose singular focus has been the fight for womenís equal rights in the U.S. and around the world.
The film blends interviews of Steinem in her Manhattan apartment, archival footage, photographs from throughout her life and clips from press interviews over the years. Among those interviewing Steinem in the film are Barbara Walters, Helen Gurley Brown, Phil Donahue and Larry King.