Gloria Steinem is a journalist and feminist activist. In the late 1960s, she became nationally recognized as one of the leaders of the Women's Liberation Movement, in part due to her article "After Black Power, Women's Liberation." She also helped to found many political organizations and advocacy groups including the Women's Action Alliance, Voters for Choice, and the National Women's Political Caucus, a group that works to advance the numbers of pro-equality women in office at national and state levels. In 2005 Steinem, together with Jane Fonda and Robin Morgan, co-founded the Women's Media Center, an organization that works to amplify the voices of women in the media.
Steinem also helped to found New York magazine in 1968, where she became a political columnist. Four years later, she founded Ms. magazine, a feminist publication which began as a New York magazine insert. She was an editor of the magazine for 15 years and continues to serve as consulting editor.
Her books include the bestsellers "Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem," "Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions," "Moving Beyond Words," and "Marilyn: Norma Jean," on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Her writing also appears in many anthologies and textbooks, and she was an editor of Houghton Mifflin's "The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History."
Question: Can stripping or prostitution ever be empowering for women?
Gloria Steinem: The word "empower" is troubling. I mean I have spent 40 years talking to women. I sat before the election, interviewed prostituted women in Las Vegas and so it isn’t... You know little girls do not wake up in the morning and say "I dream of being a prostitute." It is a terrible, terrible life. Body invasion is more traumatic than even getting beaten up. In certain circumstances, obviously, it may be a way to survive. And we rationalize ways to survive. But I think what we need to look at is we need to pull back and say to ourselves why is it that men need... some men; it’s actually not the majority of men... but that some men go to prostitutes and need that kind of dominance. It’s the disease of... It’s getting addicted to masculinity. What is that about?
In the egalitarian cultures... People think prostitution has always existed, but it hasn’t and even rape was very rare. For instance, when Europeans arrived on this continent they wrote about how shocked they were that the 500 or so native groups here didn’t rape even their female captives. They were shocked. So we need to stop asking so many questions of the people who are in various circumstances and feel they have to do this and start asking on the demand side why is there a demand for this. What has been eroticized by male dominant systems of all kinds is dominance and passivity. We need to eroticize equality. I always say to audiences of men: "Cooperation beats submission. Trust me." At least it makes them laugh. That is what is troubling and of course in the meantime we have to stop arresting prostitutes and not arresting traffickers and pimps. It’s absurd. We’re arresting the victim or the survivor and not the oppressor.
Recorded on October 28, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed & Produced by Jonathan Fowler