HBO’S ‘Glo­ria: In Her Own Words’ cel­e­brates a woman in her own time


Glo­ria Steinem opens the door to her home. That sim­ple ges­ture could not be more sym­bolic.

The most fa­mous of the founders of the women’s move­ment has been open­ing doors of all kinds for more than 40 years.

To women of a cer­tain age, those who marched in the streets de­mand­ing equal rights, Steinem is a hero. To girls who never ques­tioned that they could play ball, she’s also a hero.

For those who don’t know who she is, and for those who smile at the men­tion of her name, watch HBO’s “Glo­ria: In her Own Words” Mon­day, Aug. 15.

The ex­cel­lent doc­u­men­tary has footage of Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon grum­bling about her, Ge­orge Burns com­ing on to her and the protests. It cov­ers the story she did un­der cover as a Play­boy bunny. She “learned what it was like to be on a meat hook,” she says in the film. “I re­gret­ted for many years I did it be­cause it made me un­se­ri­ous.”

It traces her child­hood with an adored fa­ther, emo­tion­ally frag­ile mother and con­stant money prob­lems. It shows the meet­ing she was cov­er­ing, as a young jour­nal­ist in 1969, when women re­vealed their hideous ex­pe­ri­ences get­ting il­le­gal abor­tions. That be­came a piv­otal mo­ment for Steinem.

She never grabs sole credit for what the women’s move­ment has ac­com­plished. Steinem be­came the face of the move­ment when even the word “fem­i­nist” ter­ri­fied peo­ple. While Bella Abzug and Flo Kennedy were abra­sive, Steinem was re­served, and the cam­era loved her.

At 77, she looks fab­u­lous. The long, frosted hair is shorter now but still parted in the mid­dle. She wears brown slacks, a brown top and light makeup; the iconic avi­a­tor shades are gone.

Her Man­hat­tan apart­ment, as one might ex­pect of a writer’s home, is full of books and art from her trav­els, in­clud­ing carousel stat­ues from In­dia on the man­tel. She had just re­turned from South Korea af­ter work­ing with women at­tempt­ing to re­unify the coun­try.

Steinem an­swers what­ever Zap2it asks.

Q: Do you see a com­mit­ted next gen­er­a­tion of fem­i­nists?

A: Yes, ab­so­lutely. There are in­fin­itely more young women who con­sider them­selves fem­i­nists. It’s clearly present.

Q: How do you re­act to those who say equal rights are fine, but they’re not fem­i­nists?

A: The word has been den­i­grated in the same way “lib­eral” has been by the ul­tra­right. If you send them to the dic­tio­nary and they look it up they might say, “Oh, yeah.” “Wo­man­ist” is a great word. I love “mu­jerista.” Also, I just think if peo­ple un­der­stood what it means, 65 per­cent iden­tify (with fem­i­nism) in polls.

Q: Are you sur­prised that abor­tion rights have been chipped away?

A: Just from know­ing about the depth of pa­tri­archy and racism, I be­gan to un­der­stand this. If con­trol­ling re­pro­duc­tion is the rea­son or the root that women have to be con­trolled, men have been made to feel they have to have great pa­ter­nity; they need more peo­ple in their race and nation. Q: How do you stay so calm? A: I come from the Mid­west. I don’t want to char­ac­ter­ize the Mid­west. ... When I started out, I made a list of the things that fright­ened me about the peo- ple in New York. They say three times the things we wouldn’t dream of say­ing once.

Q: What’s your opin­ion of Sarah Palin?

A: If I had set out to make up an ad­ver­sary, I couldn’t have done much bet­ter. In a way, it is not her fault. She was picked up by what pre­tends to be the Repub­li­can Party. If they had a woman, that was all that was nec­es­sary. They treat women in a gen­eral way, like any gen­eral con­stituency un­der­stands who stands for their is­sues and who doesn’t.

Q: Why do we need a women’s move­ment in 2011?

A: Be­cause we do not have a democ­racy with­out it, be­cause vi­o­lence against women is the pri­mary cause of vi­o­lence in the world. It sets the par­a­digm for all other vi­o­lence. You can pre­dict vi­o­lence by vi­o­lence in the home. And for the sake of men, the woman man most fears is the woman in­side him­self. Men are de­prived of the hu­man qual­i­ties wrongly called fem­i­nine. So I would say we need a women’s move­ment for democ­racy, world peace and whole hu­man be­ings.

Q: Have you ever se­ri­ously thought of run­ning for of­fice, since you were on that im­plau­si­ble 1969 Nor­man Mailer/ Jimmy Bres­lin ticket?

A: I never thought of run­ning for of­fice. It is a big stretch for me to speak in pub­lic. Un­til the women’s move­ment, it was not nat­u­ral for me. If I ran for of­fice, I would have to study and un­der­stand many is­sues that don’t in­ter­est me.

Q: Do you still tap-dance in el­e­va­tors?

A: If there is an ir­re­sistible Muzak, I do still tap-dance.

Q: Do peo­ple stop you on the street?

A: Yeah. It’s won­der­ful. So far no one has stopped me to say, “I hate what you are do­ing!” ... I’m not crazy enough to think it’s me. It’s be­cause I sym­bol­ize some­thing im­por­tant in their life.

Glo­ria Steinem is pro­filed in “Glo­ria: In Her Own Words” on HBO.

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