Leg­endary fem­i­nist and hu­man-rights ad­vo­cate GLO­RIA STEINEM takes a rare step into the spot­light with an up­com­ing play and movie about her ex­cep­tional life

InStyle (USA) - - Directory - by LAURA BROWN

With a play about her life on the way, Glo­ria Steinem sits down for a rare and re­veal­ing in­ter­view

LAURA BROWN: Glo­ria! Am I cor­rect in as­sum­ing you’re as busy as ever? GLO­RIA STEINEM: I al­ways thought the idea about age is that life gets less com­pli­cated, right? Or sim­pler. No, it’s cu­mu­la­tive, it turns out [ laughs]. Who knew? No­body told me. LB: With the new play, Glo­ria: A Life, there will be an­other you. I was think­ing about what it must be like to wit­ness a play about your life and be por­trayed by some­one else. GS: Kathy Na­jimy, who is a friend, di­rec­tor, and ac­tor, said to me around three years ago, “You should do a one-woman play.” I said, “Oh, be se­ri­ous now.” I couldn’t imag­ine! [ laughs] But she went to see Daryl Roth, and Daryl—a very wise, ex­pe­ri­enced pro­ducer—said yes. We did a few days of work­shop from which I learned that I could not pos­si­bly do it. I mean, it’s taken me to past 40 to feel OK about get­ting up and talk­ing pub­licly be­cause I’ve been two things in my life: a dancer and a writer. I went to a speech teacher when I was first try­ing to speak in pub­lic, and she said, “Of course you can’t talk; you’ve cho­sen both of those [ pro­fes­sions] be­cause you don’t want to talk.” She ended up giv­ing up on me. LB: You’re kid­ding! So you were 40 at this point? GS: Yes. Clearly, it was very dif­fi­cult then [in 1974] to get any ac­cu­rate or se­ri­ous ar­ti­cles pub­lished about the women’s move­ment, but since that was what my col­umn in­new York mag­a­zine was about, I re­ceived in­vi­ta­tions to speak. So I asked my friend Dorothy Pit­man Hughes, who ran one of the first non­sex­ist mul­tira­cial child­care cen­ters and was a great or­ga­niz­ing per­son, if she would come with me. So that was the be­gin­ning, and when she had a baby and wanted to stay home more, Flo­rynce Kennedy and I [trav­eled] to­gether for years, and then Mar­garet Sloan-hunter. LB: Did you get stage fright? GS: Yes, the phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion was that I lost all my saliva, and each tooth got a lit­tle an­gora sweater on it [ laughs]. But to do it to­gether was com­fort­ing be­cause I re­al­ized that if I to­tally fucked up, there was some­body else there. Also,

es­pe­cially with Flo­rynce, I had to go first any­way be­cause I would’ve been an an­ti­cli­max af­ter her. And we didn’t think, “Oh, it’s good if one white and one black woman do it to­gether.” It just hap­pened, and it be­came ap­par­ent how im­por­tant that was, es­pe­cially in the South. LB: Right, to be rep­re­sented. When was the first time the train­ing wheels came off? GS: Well, I don’t know that the train­ing wheels came off [ laughs]. Al­though, af­ter a while, I can do it by my­self. But the most en­joy­able part, which re­lates to the play, has al­ways been the au­di­ence dis­cus­sion. Act 2 [of Glo­ria] is not a talk back about the play; it is a talk­ing cir­cle. LB: Be­cause that’s how you’ve en­gaged with peo­ple through­out your life. GS: It al­ways works. And in the rare case in which some­one gets up and talks for too long, some­one else will say, “Sit down.” It takes care of it­self. I have such faith in it, and it is our orig­i­nal form of gov­ern­ment. We’ve been sit­ting around camp­fires for mil­lions of years for a rea­son. There will be dif­fer­ent or­ga­niz­ers who come in to be part of the talk­ing cir­cle. I’ll do it in per­son, on­stage, when I can. LB: How does it feel to be out­wardly rep­re­sented? Chris­tine Lahti is play­ing you in­glo­ria, and Ju­lianne Moore is play­ing you in Julie Tay­mor’s up­com­ing film, My Life on the Road, based on your book. Is that strange at all? GS: Chris­tine is more an­i­mated than I am, so I don’t know, but what­ever it is, I have faith. We both are also from the Mid­west and came to a sense of our­selves later be­cause of our age. She’s younger than me, but still. LB: Do you re­mem­ber a mo­ment or an ex­pe­ri­ence when you were “in your bones”? GS: Well, I was al­ways re­belling in a sense in that I didn’t get mar­ried to the man I was en­gaged to. I went to In­dia in­stead of get­ting a job. I was in­di­vid­u­ally re­belling, but I was hop­ing no one would no­tice. I as­sumed I was go­ing to have to do what I was sup­posed to do in or­der to have chil­dren and lead some­one else’s life, so I was just putting it off. LB: Right, you’re like, “Hey, if I go to an­other land, no one will ask me.” GS: I also felt like an out­sider from this sys­tem, and my fam­ily was very un­con­ven­tional too. They were also re­belling se­cretly, I think, hop­ing no one would no­tice [ laughs]. So it didn’t come to­gether un­til I went to cover an abor­tion hear­ing for my col­umn in­new York mag­a­zine [in 1969]. The New York state leg­is­la­ture had or­ga­nized a hear­ing on whether to lib­er­al­ize New York state abor­tion laws. And they had in­vited 14 men and one nun to tes­tify. LB: Hmm ... some­thing’s miss­ing there. GS: So a group of women had gath­ered to­gether to talk about the real ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing to en­ter a crim­i­nal un­der­ground in or­der to get an abor­tion and what had hap­pened to them. At that point one in three Amer­i­can women, and now one in four, needed an abor­tion at some point in their lives. Why is it crim­i­nal and dan­ger­ous, and why are we not talk­ing about it? It was the first time I’d ex­pe­ri­enced women talk­ing about some­thing that only hap­pened to women. LB: And in ev­ery sin­gle prag­matic way you can look at it, it was il­log­i­cal. GS: It also was a good place to start, be­cause it is true as you pur­sue this that it’s all about con­trol­ling re­pro­duc­tion. That’s what the pa­tri­archy and male-dom­i­nated sys­tems are all about, and what the racist sys­tems are about too. So if we didn’t have wombs, we’d be fine [ laughs]. LB: With #Me­too, Time’s Up, etc., how of­ten were you drawn into those dis­cus­sions be­fore they hit the na­tional sphere? GS: Well, al­ways, just be­cause of the na­ture. For in­stance, the term “sex­ual ha­rass­ment” was in­vented in the early ’ 70s by women in Ithaca, N.Y., who all had sum­mer jobs. They were com­ing to­gether dis­cussing their ex­pe­ri­ence try­ing to name what had hap­pened to them. So we atms. mag­a­zine did a cover story on sex­ual ha­rass­ment, which we il­lus­trated with pup­pets. We didn’t want it to be too shock­ing, so we had a male pup­pet and a fe­male pup­pet. Even so, we were put off the news­stands. LB: What were the pup­pets do­ing? Was one pup­pet grab­bing the other pup­pet’s ass?

It’s the pur­pose of move­ments—to share val­ues, laugh at the same jokes You’re very dif­fer­ent, but you have the same hopes, and I had that in ever-grow­ing forms.”

GS: It was a male pup­pet stand­ing be­hind a fe­male pup­pet at a desk, and his hand was head­ing to­ward her breast. That was all. LB: I’m cu­ri­ous—how did you de­velop your back­bone? GS: Af­ter I wrote about the abor­tion hear­ing in my col­umn, I was con­sid­ered the girl writer. And the guys there [at­new York mag­a­zine] were nice guys—like Jimmy Bres­lin, Tom Wolfe, Clay Felker—but they all said to me, “Glo­ria, you must not get in­volved with these crazy women, be­cause you’ve worked hard to be taken se­ri­ously.” And it made me re­al­ize that I was one of those crazy women. LB: There is some­thing about be­ing on the right side of his­tory. When peo­ple come at you, you have sol­i­dar­ity. GS: It’s the pur­pose of move­ments—to share val­ues, laugh at the same jokes. You’re very dif­fer­ent, but you have the same hopes, and I had that in ever-grow­ing forms. And the other good news was that I was a free­lancer. I wasn’t in an of­fice. So I wasn’t sub­jected to it all day. I wasn’t wor­ried about my pay­check, or even if I was, I could have an­other free­lance job. LB: Can you imag­ine if you’d had Twit­ter at your fin­ger­tips? GS: You know, it’s great for the speed of in­for­ma­tion, and a prob­lem for the speed of defama­tion. In both cases it’s not com­plete be­cause you can’t em­pathize with each other un­less you’re phys­i­cally to­gether. LB: It’s nice to have an in­ter­ac­tion with some­one who fills you up. How of­ten do you take time for your­self? GS: Well, it’s not an ei­ther or. You may need to sleep for 12 hours. Or see friends or go to a movie, but there’s not such a thing as off and on. LB: Right, es­pe­cially with the state of this cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion. I think of it as a long game. Some of us are en­gaged who never used to be. What do you think about that? GS: Well, we know the bad news. Trump was not a demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent be­cause of the pe­cu­liar­i­ties of the elec­toral col­lege. He lost the pop­u­lar vote by six mil­lion. And he came up through the me­dia, not through the po­lit­i­cal party. And he has the clear­est case of nar­cis­sis­tic per­son­al­ity dis­or­der you could pos­si­ble imag­ine. It’s dan­ger­ous. You can’t down­play the dan­ger that comes from his ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers and from a Congress that hasn’t stood up to him, al­though the courts have been bet­ter. But his pur­pose is that he’s al­low­ing us to see ex­actly what is wrong with this coun­try at a high level. And we are woke. LB: We wake up ev­ery morn­ing swear­ing pretty much. What makes you feel op­ti­mistic about this time? GS: Mostly talk­ing to you, trav­el­ing, see­ing groups of peo­ple. The first mo­ment that I thought some­thing dif­fer­ent was hap­pen­ing was when Trump is­sued his first travel ban and the courts weren’t able to act yet. Within two hours thou­sands of peo­ple were protest­ing at ev­ery in­ter­na­tional air­port. LB: Also, I think it’s a su­per-chal­leng­ing time for young women who don’t re­ally know (CON­TIN­UED ON PAGE 185)

ble vet­er­ans, she says she’s play­ing her best now, at age 33. “My first five years I had in­juries back-to-back, and it made me dis­like the game a lit­tle. To be in the place I am now and the age I am now, I feel like I’m mak­ing up for lost time.”


The new­bie of the group, Univer­sity of South Carolina alum Wil­son was the WNBA’S lead­ing draft pick this year. In her first sea­son in the league, she not only be­came an all-star but also was unan­i­mously voted Rookie of the Year. Her début was so im­pres­sive that her alma mater de­cided to erect a statue of her on its cam­pus. (“I thought grad­u­at­ing was ex­cit­ing enough, but this re­ally caught me off guard,” Wil­son, 22, says.) Through her name­sake foun­da­tion, which she es­tab­lished with her par­ents, she is an ad­vo­cate for peo­ple with dys­lexia, which she has dealt with first­hand. Her out­spo­ken­ness caught the at­ten­tion of Lebron James, who en­listed her in his #Strong­est Nike 16 cam­paign in Septem­ber. “I’ve al­ways been a vo­cal per­son, so to have those is­sues rec­og­nized by Lebron was huge,” she says. n

With ac­tress Chris­tine Lahti at re­hearsal

In prep mode

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