Gloria Steinem
Pioneering Feminist
02:40

Feminism Celebrates the Individual

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It’s not helpful to talk about men and women as if they were fixed and binary entities, says the celebrated feminist. “The purpose of feminism is ... to understand that inside each of us is a unique human being who is a combination of heredity and environment”

Gloria Steinem

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."

Transcript

Question: Are men and women equal or do they have their own strengths and weaknesses?

Gloria Steinem:  But there aren’t two sides.  I mean I think what we…  We don’t actually know because we’ve been so deeply propagandized with the idea of masculine and feminine we probably don’t know what differences may be in a group sense, but what we do know is that the individual differences are much greater, so the differences between two women are quite likely to be bigger than the differences, generalized differences between males and females as groups for every purpose except reproduction, just as the individual differences between two members of the same race or ethnicity are probably greater than the differences between two races which might just have to do with resistance to certain diseases or you know.

So the purpose of feminism is to free the uniqueness of the individual and to understand that inside each of us is a unique human being who is a combination of heredity and environment.  I mean that is a binary too—I never understand why it’s heredity or environment; it’s both—that have for millennia upon millennia combined and resulted in this human being who could never happen before in quite the same way, could never happen again in quite the same way, so the purpose really is to free that in everyone and not look at labels.  Obviously there is no such thing as race and in many ways sex is a continuum, not a binary. So it doesn’t make sense to label people in that way.  Even when we do that we discover there is a huge overlap.  There are perhaps poles of what seem to be masculine and feminine.  Then there are 30% of each that are overlapped. That is a lot of people.

So I think if we could just lift up the labels and look at two things one, our uniqueness as individuals and what talents we bring to the world and what... You know there is a person inside every baby, right? And anybody who has ever met a baby knows there is already a person in there.  That is one thing and the other thing is community.  That human beings are communal beings and that we can’t exist or prosper by ourselves.  We need each other’s support. 

Recorded on October 28, 2010

Interviewed by Max Miller

Directed & Produced by Jonathan Fowler


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