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
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.