‘It is all political. It can be changed.’

Did you listen to Women’s Media Center Live with Robin Morgan on WeAct Radio? Robin Morgan talked with Gloria Steinem. I love these two great feminists, Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan. They are just so right!

Robin: .. Happy women’s equality day!
Gloria: Yes, happy day to you, too, absolutely. And you know, I want to share, in the midst of things that are not so cheerful, I’d like to share the very cheerful place I am, which is called Hedgebrook. It’s a women writers’ retreat (or advance) for women all around the world and is free and half a dozen terrific women get all day to themselves on wonderful Whidbey Island and the have great conversations at the kitchen table at night.
Robin: Sounds very good. What did you say to me the other day, that you’re a short walk away from a field of lavender?
Gloria: Yes, yes a beautiful field of lavender. Whidbey Island may be somewhere people know but if not you should try it; it’s a huge island a ferry ride away from Seattle and Hedgebrook is 48 acres with little cottages that people live in. It’s truly beautiful.
Robin: And you deserve it. I hope you go wading in the field of lavender and just breathe.
Gloria: Yes. Actually, I have it here and I wish I could transmit it to you.
Robin: I could use it! Well, I’m going to be very unhelpful about this, because I’m going to pull you back from the field of lavender but only for a little while. This is a conflict between me as your friend who wants you to not do this kind of interview and now as an interviewer who wants you to do it- schizophrenic once again. Have you seen, have you had a chance to see the new University of Southern California Annenberg/LA Times poll on politics and the press?
Gloria: Yes I’ve seen some of the results and I think it’s fascinating and important to know that so many more people are continuing to trust traditional and local media. That’s a very important finding. And that the more media they consume, the more likely they are to vote democratic. That has something to say about the different fact levels between the two parties. But I think overall it speaks to the fact that the most important thing is a trusted messenger and I suspect that people go more to traditional and local sources because they have some idea that the New York Times or whatever other traditional source is going to be trustworthy and accurate. And Robin, if you don’t mind my saying so, I think that’s the power of this radio show. People understand that you’re not going to lie to them.
Robin: I’m not going to lie to them. This has gotten me in so much trouble for so long- the not lying, as you well know. But maybe now it’s time for a little truth. SO thank you, darling, thank you for the support. Are we not proud? I wish Jane were here. She will be in a few weeks, but are we not proud of what we hath wrought? I’m back in the Old Testament God. This is the newest baby of the Women’s Media Center.
Gloria: Yes, and I want to speak up for radio as a medium because it is still the most democratic. Literate or not, whether you have expensive equipment or not, you can wind up a radio and tune in. I mean, my dream is that one day, we’ll have a satellite so that around the world, with or without electricity people can use wind up radios (especially women) and talk to each other.
Robin: Especially in the global south, I mean, it is the media, much more than any other kind. Well, are you ready for some breaking news? Because I would like you to comment on this, just as if we were a grown-up interviewer and a grown-up interviewee and not just us. Breaking news (which has never been heard before and we’re breaking now) is brand new research out of the Women’s Media Center partnered with the 4thEstate which is analyzing media coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign and election. They’ve crunched the numbers on the by-lines of women covering the election; they’ve looked at 35 major newspapers- the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, all the major publications- to see how many stories were written by guys versus how many written by women. They looked at only straight news reporting- no opinion, no bloggers- at all articles covering the presidential election. It turns out 76% were written by men, 24% by women. The numbers are close for both primary coverage and general election coverage. During the primaries 76% were written by men, during the general 73% were written by men, so although I have an idea what you might say, you wanna make a comment on that, please?
Gloria: First of all, I think it’s important as a proviso, in case people have just tuned into us for the first time that we are not talking about biology here. We well understand that there are more men who are more pro-equality and feminist than some women. But it does make a difference whether you’ve been walking around for 40 years as a female or a male, or as a white person or a person of color, and so it is very important to have media that looks like the country. And this is profoundly, profoundly different. It’s especially sinful in this election because the gender gap and the race gap are completely the other way.
Robin: That’s right, that’s right. And these are the folks who are determining what is news. How news will be consumed, defining it. Sometimes I think people that because after much struggle we won the fight so the folks who are in front of the camera are a more representative mix- ethnically, gender-wise, etc- sometimes you’ll even see two female anchors together- whoop-dee-doo! But I sometimes think that people don’t understand that what goes on behind the camera is where the real rubber meets the road- the producers, the directors, the folks who define what is news and in this case define what is election coverage.
Gloria: Yes, and what you were saying earlier is so important, that even the idea of fairness is that there are two sides to every issue when in fact there may be one or thirteen. Furthermore, the definition of objectivity is being evenhandedly negative. It is part of the reason people get so frustrated with the media because it’s not reporting on positive solutions, it sees itself as mostly reporting on the negative. What also makes me throw my slippers at the television set are the generalities about the American people. I counted 27 the other morning on the news, as if we were one homogenous lump—
Robin: The melting pot.
Gloria: Yes, well, we’re more like a big tossed salad with each element keeping its flavor.
Robin: An antipasto!
Gloria: Haha, but if you think that we’re 300 million, multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-lingual folks who arrived here somewhere between yesterday and 100,000 years ago, I mean, it is profoundly, profoundly different which is partly what I’m trying to write about in this on the road book that has been going on now for a dozen years.
Robin: In other words, the concept of “the Americans” or “the American peoples”? What can we devise as the alternative?
Gloria: Well for one thing we can reason from the bottom up, instead of from the top down. For instance I was in a school district recently where children speak 127 different languages. Yet that school district is subject to the uniform paper test of the district and on top of that, since school spending is heavily based on real estate taxes those students who need the most get the least. If these kids who speak different languages just have a little boost in the beginning they are going to be the source of immigrant energy that this country has been created by and they are also going to be links to other countries in the world.
Robin: It makes you crazy.
Gloria: And yet they are getting even less of an investment than the kids who uniformly come to school speaking English. So if we just, go on the road so to speak- which is where I spend my life- if we just look at the reality, we can make so much better decisions and uniformity is not a virtue. People who experience something are the experts at deciding what to do about it.
Robin: That’s always been the theme of the women’s movement, that each woman is an expert in her own life. Starting back when rape in marriage was not a crime, she needed to be to be able to say, “I don’t want this.” Anyway, we’re going to have to take a break shortly and then we’re going to come back and maybe talk about the conventions that are starting- good news or bad news- I’m not sure, and about some new ideas that you and I have discussed that sound really very exciting to me.
..Let’s talk for just a minute, not too long, about the conventions because they used to actually mean something and they’re now weeklong commercials and yet as a news junkie I’m probably gonna watch them anyway. The Republican one will be, you know, you can go snow blind from watching it because it’ll be so white and the Democratic one will be a bit more representative. And I must say, kudos to them on the platform plank about gay marriage; they should have praise where praise is due. But you think there’s anything salvageable in the conventions?
Gloria: You know, I do, if you consider the level of reality TV we usually watch on television, these are far, far more real and they do have a virtue in the sense that people are together in all five senses. We are so used to the Web and looking at a screen that we forget that the reflector cells in our brains don’t work that way that the chemicals of empathy don’t work that way. There’s a virtue to people being physically together as these people are. I don’t think we should turn our noses up at that. I would like to say one thing about the conventions, however, which is that the platform of the Democratic Party represents the majority views of Democrats but the platform of the Republican Party does not reflect the majority views of republicans because the Republican party has been taken over by a right-wing, extremist group, many of whom used to be democrats. I always feel I should apologize to the republicans; they’re the old southern democrats who beginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 left the democratic party and gradually took over the Republican party. I think women especially feel this deeply because they are republican by heritage and the republican party was the first to support the Equal Rights Amendment and in many ways more supportive of equality than the democrats for many many years. They have not left the republican party but the republican party has left them. If we just look at the issues and vote for ourselves, I think we’ll be fine, but we need to get ourselves out of this polarized situation in which half of the equation isn’t even representing the people so-named.
Robin: There’s a group of young republicans- women and me- who are, sort of young turks who are rising against this and particularly the social conservatism. They may be fiscally conservative but they are pro-abortion rights, they’re pro-contraception, they’re pro-women’s rights, gay rights, gay marriage. We’re gonna have one of these women on the show in a few weeks, I hope. To encourage this, you know. They should take back their party.
Gloria: Yes, there could be nothing more important than that, really, than taking back the republican party because since we only have two parties and one of them is controlled by a very small minority, we’re just stymied. You see it in Congress most obviously but you see it in the two sides to every question- you know, one side saying the sky is green and the other saying it’s blue.
Robin: Well also because the more right-wing they become the more the middle moves to the right so the democrats don’t have anyone holding their feet to the fire except us and that they can ignore. Remember a few weeks ago when we were playing with questions that we would like to ask the candidates- were there such a chance? You had some absolute wonderful ones- do you have any of those still in your memory?
Gloria: One is- and has become stronger now that there’s new research out showing that the single most important element in whether a country is institutionally violent or not is not poverty, hunger, democracy, or religion it is the degree of violence against women. We’ve always known that the function of the gender roles at the bottom was to get men to go to war and be masculine to get women to have babies and be feminine at the extreme. But this proves by data gathered externally that the status of women and the treatment of women is the single biggest indicator of institutional violence. So I would ask both the candidates how this plays in their foreign policy- as the single most important element of keeping the peace and keeping this spaceship Earth going- how does it play out in their foreign policy?
Robin: That’s a wonderful one. It’s also nice to have scholarship validate what women have been saying all along.
Gloria: Yes, it’s helpful because it’s an objective view from the outside.
Robin: Do you remember any of the other ones? There were so many good ones that you had. At a certain age, you know, our estrogen goes and our memory just goes with it.
Gloria: I have my issues I’ve fallen in love with, can I talk about those?
Robin: Of course you can, this is our space; you can talk about anything ums wants to talk about.
Gloria: It suddenly occurred to me that the very good-hearted people all over the world- and especially here since this country has capital punishment and other democratic countries don’t- who are working against capital punishment that we all need to see capital punishment without gender divisions. We need to work not only against what’s perceived and what happens to a relatively few number of people as capital punishment and the stoning, all of the honor deaths, everything that is capital punishment for women. The first is state actions the second is state inaction, but both are capital punishment. I’d like to put this idea out into the world to all of the good people working against capital punishment to open both eyes and get rid of the gender division.
Robin: It’s very important, for years- and you’ll remember this- we were pounding at the doors of Amnesty International because what was considered persecution was in their mandate state persecution. But of course women don’t, in a sense, exist in the public realm, we exist primarily worldwide in the private realm, in the home. All the tortures of women—sati, purdah, battery—you name it—child marriage, female genital mutilation, didn’t qualify because they were done in the home—and AI has changed over the years, thank goodness, and that’s a real step forward, a great leap forward. But to put it in terms of state action or inaction, I think covers that and this would make such a huge difference in repositioning the stonings, the beheadings…
Gloria: I want to write about it, to get the facts out about it and I will do that but I think that another way of saying it is definitional. What happens to men is “political,” and what happens to women is “cultural.” But actually it is all political. It can be changed.
Robin: It’s like, when men make it it’s art, when women make it it’s crafts?
Gloria: Yes, exactly.
Robin: What are some of your other wonderful ideas that you had? You said you had a wishlist of ideas.
Gloria: Because of all the recent disasters, certainly gun control has been with us as an issue for a long time. But because of the recent killings domestically, and the demonstration at the United Nations, that our gun control forces are favoring the sale of arms all over the world; they are very, very powerful at the United Nations. It seems to me that only the women’s movement is going to take up gun control and this needs to be a big mainstream movement like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. We certainly have a right to, because guns in the home are much more likely to be possessed by battering men, people who are violent and also much more likely to hurt or kill someone who is in the home than to kill any intruder. Yet the whole gun issue is spoken of as if somehow its protecting us. Both by default and by right, the women’s movement, per se, needs to take up gun control.
Robin: It seems that a woman’s work is never done, is it? I mean, first of all, as soon as we win some, we never get credit. If I hear one more person say, “They gave women the vote”- 50 years, 100 years, and women won it. But it never ends, I think my dying word will be “Actually!” and then splat, because I would love to stick around to see how it ends, but it won’t ever end because there will be more issues and somehow it’ll be up to us. More and more men are taking up the cudgels and joining in so that’s encouraging.
Gloria: Absolutely. And if the public opinion polls had the wit to ask men and issues, and who is a feminist and who isn’t they would be very surprised.
Robin: They would be surprised. We have time for maybe one more idea if you have one more idea to lay on the world.
Gloria: I would go back to basics and say, if I had one wish for the women’s movement worldwide, or people who are trying to achieve a world in which we are linked rather than ranked- whether we’re male or female or whatever country we came from- I would wish (and this may make you laugh but I think it’s true) for a worldwide AA- Alcoholics Anonymous. That is a grassroots movement of small groups meeting by the Zambezi River, by the YWCA, in a church basement, all over the world, as with AA groups where you know even if you move from one city to the next, wherever you move you know that you can find a group. They’re leaderless, they’re democratic, they’re free. We are communal creatures so we need to have each other’s support. If we’re isolated and alone, we come to feel crazy. It’s of course where all social justice movements start—black churches in the South in the civil rights movement or the Chinese revolution or the women’s movement and consciousness raising and now we call them book clubs- it’s where movements start and I think we forget that. We especially forget that in the Internet age. Even though you can’t raise a baby on the Internet, you can’t raise yourself or change yourself on the Internet; the highest purpose of the Internet is to bring us together physically and especially in small groups….
Robin: Thank you and bless you. I love you and we miss you! Take care of yourself and think more good thoughts and smell that lavender.
Gloria: Yes, and I’ll see you very soon and congratulations on this very first show for Women’s Equality Day; it’s great.

You go girls! Hundreds of thousands of girls are with you.


  1. says

    I remember watching a documentary series called Ice Road Truckers. One episode featured a woman driving over frozen lakes and slippery mountain passes to deliver portable buildings etc. to arctic oilfields. But there were no women in the highway patrol.

    In the UK and some other countries there are women who drive buses, and in many countries there are bicycle repair centers entirely run by women. In Saudi Arabia women are currently not allowed to drive, and women’s cycling is not safe from unwanted attention by the authorities.

    People need to have some stratagy to end gender stereotyping, which may require a sort of cultural revolution in some places… possibly even parts of the USA.

  2. danielimms says

    I honestly think ‘Women’s Equality Day’ does some good work, but is sexist. What would be wrong with ‘World Equality Day’?

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