GIRL TALK

ON THE EVE OF IN­TER­NA­TIONAL WOMEN’S DAY, ICONIC FEM­I­NIST GLO­RIA STEINEM SPEAKS EX­CLU­SIVELY TO STEL­LAR ABOUT WHY MEN ARE NOT THE EN­EMY IN ACHIEV­ING GEN­DER EQUAL­ITY

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - In­ter­view by HAN­NAH JAMES

Iconic fem­i­nist Glo­ria Steinem on why men are key in the fight for equal­ity.

“Ihave no idea, how are you?” re­torts Glo­ria Steinem, the woman who is ar­guably the world’s most recog­nis­able fem­i­nist, in re­sponse to the usual ex­change of pleas­antries at the be­gin­ning of her in­ter­view with Stel­lar.

In fact she does have an idea of how she is. A strong one. “I think we’re all in some stage of both ex­hil­a­ra­tion and anger or – I don’t know – ev­ery­thing,” she says of the way women are feel­ing about the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil in the world – and par­tic­u­larly in the US – to­day. “At the same time.”

It’s not sur­pris­ing that Steinem sounds like her cup run­neth over. In nearly 50 years of fight­ing for equal­ity for women, the 82-year-old has writ­ten blis­ter­ing analy­ses of so­ci­ety’s at­ti­tudes to­wards abor­tion and men­stru­a­tion, cam­paigned in five gen­eral elec­tions, ag­i­tated against war and op­pres­sion and even gone un­der­cover as a Play­boy bunny to high­light the ex­ploita­tion of women in the adult in­dus­try.

And yet here she is, in 2017, go­ing over the same prob­lems, fight­ing the same fights. Only this time, the roar of women be­hind her seems louder than ever be­fore. The elec­tion of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the groundswell of fem­i­nist fury his as­cen­sion has pro­voked – in­clud­ing the record­break­ing Women’s Marches that took place all over the world af­ter the 45th Pres­i­dent’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in Jan­uary – has Steinem fired up all over again. “We have a coup here, not an elec­tion,” she in­sists. “It’s uni­fied and en­er­gised peo­ple like I’ve never seen be­fore.”

The cur­rent at­mos­phere of fe­male fury feels like the ideal time for Steinem to launch her lat­est me­dia ven­ture, a doc­u­men­tary se­ries called Woman With Glo­ria Steinem. What seems less ob­vi­ous is the way it was made. It’s a part­ner­ship with the his­tor­i­cally blokey mul­ti­me­dia jug­ger­naut Vice Me­dia – a com­pany that’s often been ac­cused of sex­ism since it launched in 1994.

So why Vice, an or­gan­i­sa­tion whose co-founder Gavin Mcinnes once said “the ma­jor­ity of women like be­ing do­mes­tic and shap­ing lives” and that women “choose” to earn less money than men? Steinem says the com­pany – which parted ways with Mcinnes in 2008 – lis­tened to her speak at a Google con­fer­ence in 2014 and sat up and took no­tice.

“[Vice CEO] Shane Smith heard me say that for the first time that we know of, vi­o­lence against fe­males is so preva­lent and di­verse that there are now fewer women on earth than

males,” she says. Smith – who has two daugh­ters – was moved to tears. Woman With Glo­ria Steinem was the re­sult.

The Emmy-nom­i­nated doc­u­men­tary se­ries ze­roes in on very real, very har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ences of im­per­illed women glob­ally. It is not al­ways an easy watch – and nor is it meant to be. Among other is­sues, it looks at sex­ual as­sault in the US mil­i­tary, child brides in Zam­bia, and the epi­demic of miss­ing First Na­tions women in Canada. “We wanted to make clear that we were de­scrib­ing a world­wide phe­nom­e­non,” Steinem ex­plains. “We were just look­ing for dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sions of it.”

Steinem’s ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with Vice ce­mented an idea that she had al­ways sub­scribed to – that fem­i­nism needed to work with men, not against them.

In fact, this has al­ways been a part of Steinem’s M.O. “We ac­tu­ally chose the word fem­i­nist in or­der to in­clude men,” she ex­plains of her time help­ing to shape the lan­guage of fem­i­nism in the 1960s and 1970s that we still use to­day. “In this coun­try [the US], the first phrase was ‘women’s lib­er­a­tion’, but it made lit­tle less sense for a man to say, ‘I’m a women’s lib­er­a­tionist.’ So we chose to in­clude men.”

To­day, she says the strug­gle needs to put an em­pha­sis on equal­ity for both sexes – be­cause we all stand to ben­e­fit. Women need equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the tra­di­tion­ally male are­nas of work, pol­i­tics and power, but men will also reap huge re­wards for be­ing al­lowed to step into the tra­di­tion­ally “fe­male” sphere, such as the home and rais­ing chil­dren.

“It’s not a zero-sum game,” Steinem in­sists. “Right now, men often don’t get the joy and in­ti­macy of rais­ing chil­dren, and that’s ac­tu­ally what makes men feel like hu­man be­ings. It al­lows them to de­velop pa­tience and em­pa­thy – all the qual­i­ties that we call ‘fem­i­nine’.”

Giv­ing men a chance to step away from the stress of “be­ing male” will even ben­e­fit their health, she says. “Once you take out the male death statis­tics that could be at­trib­uted to the male role – such as heart at­tacks, vi­o­lence, speed­ing – it turns out men would live five to 10 years longer.”

Plus, she says, there’s “more fun, more com­pan­ion­ship, less stress, more free­dom”. It’s a win-win.

It sounds so easy. But there’s a catch, Steinem warns. Women, she says, aren’t go­ing to do all the heavy lift­ing in reach­ing this fair and free state on their own. Men have to step up and agi­tate just as hard as their fe­male coun­ter­parts. “For gen­er­a­tions we’ve been clean­ing their house and mak­ing their soup,” Steinem says with char­ac­ter­is­tic de­fi­ance. “We can’t make their rev­o­lu­tion for them.”

Woman With Glo­ria Steinem pre­mieres 8.30pm Wed­nes­day, on SBS Vice­land.

“WE AC­TU­ALLY CHOSE THE WORD FEM­I­NIST IN OR­DER TO IN­CLUDE MEN”

GIRL POWER (clock­wise from left) Glo­ria Steinem with civil rights ac­tivist Maya An­gelou in 1983; in New York last year; as a Play­boy Bunny in 1963; (op­po­site) on­stage at the Wash­ing­ton DC Women’s March in Jan­uary.

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