Gloria Steinem says that being on the road is a state of mind. She doesn’t drive, so she meets the world of taxi drivers and pilots as she travels to speaking engagements. Her latest book, My Life on the Road, chronicles her life, from itinerant childhood (her father packed up the family regularly) to her start as the feminist activist, a life she champions with style.
On Saturday, September 17, 2016, Steinem was interviewed by Adriene Jenik, director of the School of the Arts, a division of Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. The interview format was tight and kept the talk on topic and moving along, touching on many of the facets of Steinem’s life.
For those of you who don’t know her, Steinem is a writer, lecturer and feminist activist, who co-founded Ms. magazine in 1972 and has been a public figure since then. She is now 82 and as active as ever. In 2013, Steinem received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. When the magazine first came out, there was a huge kerfuffle because ms. was the abbreviation for manuscript. Married women were Mrs., and unmarried women were Miss. There was nothing else. The very idea that woman might not want to be defined by whether or not they were married was labeled as unnatural. There were heated arguments from both sides, including editors who weighed in. That abbreviation got more attention than the Oxford comma.
Some notes I took last night:
“When people ask me why I still have hope and energy after all these years, I always say, ‘because I travel.’ ”
“The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action.”
“Many languages are not gender-based.” [No “he” or “she” pronouns]. Some languages have five different gender pronouns, some none. America has “he” and “she,” at least for now.
“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.”
“The voting booth is the only place in the world that the most powerful and least powerful are equal.”
“The average CEO in America earns 475 times more than the average worker in the same company. In most of Europe, it’s about 27 times.”
“God is in the details. Goddess is in connection.”
“Worry less about what you should do and more about what you can do.”
“For women, the golden rule should really be reversed–treat yourself as least as well as you treat others.”
For those of you who were born after the first wave of feminism, here are some reminders of how far we have come. In 1972 (just 44 years ago), all these stories still happened every day:
- If a girl got pregnant, she was sent out of town, often to a “home for fallen women,” until her child was born and put up for adoption. Abortions weren’t legal in those days. If it was discovered that a girl was “ruined,” her chances at a good marriage dimmed. The homes were often little more than workhouses, and often were cruel. (See The Magdalen Laundries.)
- Boys who got their girlfriends pregnant were not punished. They often had several of their friends swear that they, too, had sex with the girl, so that no one boy would be punished. A girl’s reputation could be ruined simply by an angry boy declaring he had had sex with her, whether or not it was true. Girls could be expelled from school if the rumor was believed.
- Married women who got pregnant were fired from their jobs. There was no maternity leave. You got pregnant, your job was over. Your life was then centered around the home and raising children. Most companies would not hire a mother, married or not.
- The only real jobs women could be trained for was secretary, nurse, teacher, or, if you were on the sexy side, stewardess, a job that only women performed. If they gained too much weight, they were fired. Because serving businessmen meant looking cute. Now the job is called flight attendant.
- It was routine that a boss (always a man) would touch a woman who worked for him inappropriately. Squeezing breasts, putting a hand under a skirt, even trading a promotion for sex was commonplace. If the woman complained or went to human resources, she was blamed and fired.
- In 1972, a woman doing the same work as a man earned about 59 cents for every dollar a man earned.
Just last week, I was sitting at a conference table with a client and another trainer and we traded sexual harassment stories from our first jobs. I was not surprised to see tears well up in my client’s eyes as she recounted a story. And not surprised, either, when she laughed it off as “a long time ago.”
Without women like Gloria Steinem, the culture would not have changed. It was Steinem’s ability to gather community and galvanize women and men that made those half dozen stories above less common today. Not gone, just less common.
— Quinn McDonald was in the first wave of feminism. She remains one to this day.