This past spring, journalist/activist/superheroine Gloria Steinem turned 81. The feminist icon has spent the last fifty-plus years as a brilliant mind and an unstoppable force, working tirelessly to make the world a better place for women.
The most recent issue of the New Yorker profiles the woman, the myth, the legend that is Steinem. The entire piece is a thrilling tribute to Steinem, and is well-worth a read in full. Below, some of our very favorite Steinem soundbites from the profile:
How a turtle Steinem found on a geology class trip in college changed her life
“I found a mud turtle on the riverbank, up by the asphalt road. A big snapping turtle, more than a foot long, but I picked it up—carefully—and lugged it down to the river and slipped it in. The professor saw me just as the turtle disappeared in the water. He said that the turtle had been making its way to dry land for a reason—in order to lay its eggs—and that now it was going to take that turtle months more to lay them. It was a lesson I learned to apply to people a few years later, in India—though I didn’t realize it then—when I was going from village to village with Gandhian women organizers, listening to them ask, ‘Tell us your stories. You’ve lived them, you’re the experts.’”
On being one of the first journalists to engage in mainstream reporting about the feminist movement
“I was doing politics, but even at the magazine I was still the girl writer, and the guys there, whom I loved, their advice about feminism was, ‘Don’t get involved with those crazy women.’ I thought, These guys are my friends, and they don’t know who I am, because I haven’t said. So I covered an abortion-rights speak-out at Judson Memorial Church, in Greenwich Village. Courtesy of that meeting, I learned that one in three American women had needed an abortion at some point in her life. The question was: Why is this illegal? I could see from my response to the meeting, and the response of the others, that we as women needed to talk about ourselves.”
How Steinem dealt with the haters of yore
“Other women in the movement helped me enormously, but there was one old woman in particular. I was giving a talk and the ‘looks’ thing came up. Before I could answer, she stood up and said, ‘It’s important for someone who could play the game, and win, to say, The game isn’t worth sh*t!’ I was so grateful to her for understanding that I could use who I was to say who we were and what we represent.”
On the crucial role activism plays in feminism.
“Feminist theory came from feminist activism—it wasn’t the other way around. I accept that important theorists like Judith Butler may arrive at enlightening conclusions, but theory can be exclusionary, and that’s not my path. My path is to open the door to this house, to get out of the world I know, and to experience new worlds, new voices. It’s making connections, and using myself to listen, because you can’t empower women without listening to their stories.”
Why Steinem’s position on marriage has changed over time
“I didn’t change. Marriage changed. We spent thirty years in the United States changing the marriage laws. If I had married when I was supposed to get married, I would have lost my name, my legal residence, my credit rating, many of my civil rights. That’s not true anymore. It’s possible to make an equal marriage.”
“There is no competition of tears in feminism. If you’ve suffered discrimination, you’re sensitive to it on every level. I learned feminism largely from black women. Women of color basically invented feminism.”
On the complicated relationship that feminism has with the Internet
“It’s great that we can now sidestep the editorial judgments of the mainstream media. But it’s important to remember that conflict makes news, conflict gets attention, and the Internet thrives on conflict. You have to ask where a lot of these posts about our so-called divisions on issues like race and gender come from. What’s the context? Who’s arguing? And, remember, you have to be able to afford an iPhone or a computer; you have to be literate, which a lot of women in the world are not; and you still have to make change happen in real life, because empathy—the ability not just to know but to feel—only happens when we are together with all five senses. This is part of the reason people can be so hostile to each other on the Web, and women, especially, are subject to so much Web harassment.”
On why she refuses to officially join political campaigns
“…because if you work on a campaign anything you say reflects on your candidate, and I want—no, I need—to be free to disagree.”
Her thoughts on the future of feminism
“People are always asking me, ‘Who will you pass the torch to?’ The question makes me angry. There is no one torch—there are many torches—and I’m using my torch to light other torches. There shouldn’t have been a ‘first’ Gloria Steinem, and there won’t be a last one.”
And, bonus feature, here’s a short portrait doc the New Yorker made about how Gloria Steinem that explores, among other things, why the icon doesn’t drive (and why she doesn’t like vampires).
(Image via the Wikimedia Commons)