For those who didn't grow up in the 1960s, it's hard to believe just how radical Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. magazine and probably the world's most recognizable feminist, was once considered. It was one thing to be an advocate for women's rights (sexual and reproductive freedom, equal pay for equal work), it was another thing to demand them--which Steinem did in no uncertain terms. Slogans like "male chauvinistic pig," and "ban the bra" seem campy--almost quaint--today, but heck, they were revolutionary at the time.
Now in her late 60s and still politically active--she's currently the president of Voters for Choice--Steinem was in the Triangle last week as part of Duke's "Sexual Assault Awareness Week." She addressed a packed house at Page Auditorium (which, it was heartening to see, included a fair number of men) in a tone that was gentle and oft-times humorous, but firm. Her main message: While the women's movement's come a long way (baby), we've still got a ways to go in the battle to "win legal, social and political equality."
Steinem warned against the influences of ultra-right conservatives and groups such as the Heritage Foundation that have played a role in the movement's current setbacks. Among them are the ban on federally funded abortions for poor women and our "unelected president." Steinem, who happened to be in Palm Beach, Fla., the morning after the 2000 presidential election said, "the fraud was massive." In addition, she asserted, special interest groups now vote at a 90 percent rate, compared to the 20 percent to 30 percent showing by ordinary Jane Does.
And while women are now earning 70-odd cents for every dollar that men earn--up from the 50 they earned when her phase of the movement started--Steinem noted that women today often work two full-time jobs: one salaried and one the "home maintenance work" of raising a family. As a solution, she backs legislation to redefine work and confer an "economic value" on care-giving that could be assessed through tax deductions or applied toward welfare payments.
Still central to the women's movement, Steinem insists, is that reproductive freedom needs to be one of our basic human rights. Lastly, in these days when so many same-sex couples are making news for having or trying to adopt children, she made a plea for America to embrace any situation that benefits a child. "Families are not about form," Steinem said, "They're about content, warmth, compassion and empathy."
Who could disagree with that?