Gloria Steinem is the living symbol of the Women's Movement In America. With the possible, exception of Simone de Beauvoir, she has become identified with the struggle for female rights In society more than any other 20th century person. She is an articulate speaker, a talented writer, and as even other women have been quick to point out-she looks fantastic in a miniskirt, Levi's or a burlap bag.
Emerging from a deprived childhood in the slums of Toledo, Ohio, she was graduated from Smith College in 1956, a remiss cum laude in political science. Her college record earned her a two-year fellowship in India after which she worked for a group in Cambridge, Massachusetts (which was later exposed as an operation supported by the Central Intelligence Agency) that encouraged American students to attend Communist youth festivals abroad.
Her May, 1963 diary of her experiences working, in a Playboy Club as a Bunny, published in SHOW magazine, launched her career as a freelance writer. Her work began appearing in leading magazines and newspapers in the United States and Europe, including ESQUIRE, VOGUE McCALL'S and NEW YORK. She also wrote for the TV program THAT WAS THE WEEK THAT WAS, and for Cesar Chavez' United Farm Workers. In. 1968 she became a contributing editor and political columnist for NEW YORK.
In 1968, Gloria also discovered feminism. Attending a meeting of a Women's Liberation, group called the Redstockings, she became instantly drawn into the maze of emotions, problems and struggles that have engrossed her since. She began to devote increasing amounts of her time and writing to feminist causes, earning her the NEWSWEEK cover photo In its 1971 Issue on "The New Women" and McCALL'S 'Woman of the Year' Award In January of this year.
In between meeting with groups of women all over California from the Women's Political Caucus to unorganized gatherings of black and chicano feminists-she stumped on radio and TV shows for her most recent extension of the Women's Movement: MS. magazine. The first Issue appeared in January and has sold 300,000 copies since then, heralding a promising future for the publication which will begin to appear on a monthly basis this summer. As editor of MS. and a determined woman, she expressed her viewpoints about the Women's Movement and the female situation with special reference to California and contemporary changes in society.
Q: What we the special problems of women in California, and what can be done about them?
STEINEM: I think that all the Problems that work against people work against women. And in California the problems, like everything else, are extreme.' We talk about how in agricultural times the family always worked together in, more communal manner; then the industrial revolution took the later out of the home, changing the family structure. In California, where the distances are greater and the alternatives fewer, the problem is more extreme. There are really a lot of women who are isolated and. not, making it by themselves. Not living on alimony.
Q: You mean a lot of divorced women don't get alimony?
STEINEM: Yes. According to a new survey just done only about 10 percent of divorced women receive alimony. There are a lot of women struggling with the California laws. For instance, when a man dies in California, his widow becomes responsible for his debts. One woman who had a teen-age daughter spent her whole life trying to pay off her husband's debts. But when a woman dies there, the husband is not responsible for her debts. You can see how many women are really living OR the, edge but struggling as carhops, vying to raise children. Those were the women I met-isolated. Trying to raise children. Several years ago I came here 'to interview women bra movie I was' writing, mostly women who Worked in topless bars. They weren't prostitutes, or "loose women"-they were topless dancers in order to support their children. One of them had six children.
The difference here in California is truly asocial one. The difference is in one's activity, one's scope of social contacts. .For 'a woman, life is: much harder with the lack of freedom in California. If you have a social life it's because you limit yourself to a very proscribed circle. All too often -not always, but too often-the woman becomes involved in a group of other forlorn, lost women. And -the older the woman, the more difficult it gets. The idea is that marriage is your only identity, and if you aren't married you're gone. That's why it's very difficult for these women to find anyone else except more lonely, forlorn women. There's not much more for them in the East, either, but at least there's a little bit more variety because, spatial relations are closer.
Q: What do you feel is the specific situation of the black woman in California?
STEINEM: Black women and white women everywhere have more in common than they have dividing them Women of an racial groups, whites,. Puerto Ricans, chicanos and blacks, are joined together in the battle against sexism. In California and in the South I feel that -.black and white women share- a common self-interest to 'organize together. I think we've begun to realize that the white woman who exploits her black sister as a maid is really saying that housework isn't worth anything. She's admitting her own lack of respect for a woman's role. My impression, based on very little experience, is that the exchange between black and white is better in Los Angeles. It seems to me that when I was here last year, going to different campuses, black people in general were more at ease -and open than in New York City. It's easier to have an initial open contact here. But maybe that's because. I'm talking to women. '
Q: What do you mean by "open?"
STEINEM: Well. I mean you don't have to go through so many layers of mistrust to feel each other out. You arrive at that point-sooner. Os There it a greater sense of political confrontation out here, but the social and economic separations are greater than ever. At least in New York people have ridden through Harlem and Puerto Rican sections in taxis. I guarantee you that in California, at least 90 percent of the white population has never seen Watts.
STEINEM: That's true. In the South, where the situation is very bad, female lilies get along pretty well. They may be of different racial groups, but when there are so few of them, they huddle together. Here, if you get that at all it's a surprise. Was it Mencken who said that if you- toured the country on its end everything loose would fall into California?' People who are detached' from their lives, their jobs, and- so forth kind of person comes to California to begin with are people who say that they owe themselves one last good turn, so they come.
'People are always telling me that California is the harbinger, the cutting edge of the American life style, which the country follows. But I think it's because people don't care out here. It's the same with people in poverty. People say what the hell, it's only a social convention, and so people do whatever they want to do. The fact is that women really have much less income than men in California. And there are many more single women here, either through age, attrition of husbands or divorce. The no-fault divorce hasn't helped; it's really been a hardship for women. Now there's the transitional tragedy of women who can be divorced much more easily, but who still don't have alternatives.
Q: I don't think the divorced woman is in any worse shape than a non-married woman, unless she has children That seems to be the differential.
STEINEM: That's right. It's the enormous, tragic differential. But a woman doesn't have the life alternatives and if she's been married for a long time -and out of the job force, unlike a single woman, she's probably had no experience, so it is more difficult to adjust. The alternative is to fix them to work. But that doesn't give the woman the option of staying home and taking care of her kids, which is also a job. One of the major things working against the forced-work provisions of welfare – by which I mean that a mother of children older than three has to put her children in a care center and go off and take a job -what's working, against it is that it's costing the state four times more to take care of her two children than it was paying, her on welfare. So the economies it; makes some impact, but not enough to counter the desire t punish these women.
Q: It seems to me that divorce is an especially acute problem in California.
STEINEM: Yes. You have the phenomenon in California of divorced women living in isolated houses bringing men home to stay out of loneliness, in addition to all the usual reasons. And the men keep changing. They may stay a month, two months or six months. It affects the children not because of the morality of it because they get the feeling that people are expendable, too. The geography is an important factor, because two people can't really face each other easily unless they move in together.
The ill-fated movie I was writing, never produced, was called Callie, about a young, 20-something girl, who is very smut, gifted and kind of magical, but who has no tools to cope with the world. She has no skills, and she has a mother who's more a girlfriend than a mother. If anything, the mother is less secure than the daughter. They live above a crazy pet shop, where a lady takes care of rich people's poodles, and Callie just wanders around, making various kinds of liaisons. Symbolically, California means to me a person walking by a highway alone while everybody else drives by. Anyway, all the things in this movie meant California to me. It's- the Coca-Cola dinners and going to movies in the afternoon and falling to sleep with the television on and waking up and looking at that test pattern. There's no structure to days, no structure to space. That was the kind of life this woman was living and eventually it destroyed her. That is, it reduced her to her mother's situation. You can see the generations going on, like welfare generations. The conventional remedy doesn't necessarily work, either. The return to the nuclear family might be worse.
Q: Well, bad families are a historical problem There are very few people who are qualified to bring up children.
STEINEM: But if in some way we just let people choose, and if society didn't make people feel crazy for not having children, then there would be a natural selection of people who really wanted to have children. I think you're still considered a little bit crazy if you don't show an interest in having children. And you're, even crazier if you have them and dare to suggest that you're not a very good parent. The guilt of that.
Q: Doesn't all that pressure and guilt from society work against .the Women's Movement? Aren't there a lot of middle-class women who are angry with you for criticizing their way of life?
STEINEM: I know what you're saying and I expected this reaction when I first went out in the lecturing programs. But it just didn't happen. Somebody said that to me on one of those call-in radio shows in Los Angeles, and seven others called in to say: that woman doesn't speak' for us. There's a reaction to the image of the Women's Movement in the press, which represents us as 'saying that women should get out of the house, that being a housewife is terrible, motherhood is terrible. But, in fact, what the Women's Movement is saying is that human work is valuable, that all dignified work should be rewarded, and that what the that what the woman does at home is an important job. Motherhood can just as easily be called superior or as inferior. And if it’s so important to do housework, men should do it, too. It's not taking away dignity or identity, it's giving it. When I stand up and say that to an audience of women, I don't get a hostile reaction.
Q: Yes, but I suspect the reason you don't get it is that by and large, the women who would be hostile to you don't come and hear you speak.
STEINEM: I spoke to a B'nai B'rith group in a middle-class suburb, outside Chicago, with not a man in the crowd. And I don't know why, but I sort of threw caution to the wind, and started talking about what Jewish mothers do to their children, saying things like: ". . . your ambitions have been restricted and you are caught up in the house, and you lay all those things on your children and your husband. And your kid's work can't be good enough because whatever it is, it isn't yours." And I talked to them about placing ambition the son because they can't put it on the daughter, because they can't do anything, because their mothers - didn't do anything. "So you Jewish women have produced this enormous, egotistical creature which you then hand on to the next generation of women. Out of consideration for the next generation of women, why don't you stop creating these monstrous sons?" And they were hysterical, they were applauding and laughing. It was amazing. And it was also amazing when I talked about the fact that men will marry women they would not hire. I said that the standards for women as brides so low that a man wouldn’t marry a woman he’d hire to work in his office. Because he's only been taught to look for a housekeeper and a mistress. If he gets divorced, he ends up leaving his kids with another kid. It was like standing in front of a black audience and telling the truth about the black situation.
Q: I guess the B'nai B'rith is hipper than I thought.
STEINEM: All women's organizations are becoming increasingly aware of this group
struggle for our rights and recognition as equal partners in life. For example, the Young
Women's Christian Association has become very feminist in the few years, even in the last few years, even radical. Did you know that they passed a resolution supporting Angela Davis?
Q: Did they really? If the Women's Movement is already taking hold on such a large scale, what role does your new magazine. Ms., play?
STEINEM: The existing mass magazines are only duplicating television. They are decent upon advertising and women usually show up in the pages as very conventional role-defined, people. A few, Esquire and Playboy, are really disgusting because they treat women as social accessories and exploitable commodities for men. Most women's magazines simply try to mold women into bigger and better consumers in the capitalist marketplace. Ms. is beginning with the unusual premise that 'women are human-beings’.
Q: How will you implement that premise?
STEINEM: As you may have seen in our first issue, we want to reflect all the capabilities, the hopes and the dreams that women have. I hope Ms. will be a forum for complaints and discussion of women’s weaknesses as well as a place for muckraking studies of female exploitation. For example, something as simple as health information isn't really available in the mass magazines at present. The health community doesn't really serve anyone, but it serves women even less. 'This isn't confronted in McCall’s or Ladies' Home Journal because they're afraid to cross The American Medical Association. In the traditional kinds of review columns, we want to look at areas like books and movies with a humanist viewpoint. We will try to see what image of women is being depicted in our arts and media.' For example, Love Story should have been reviewed as the story of a woman who was dying of self-abnegation, a woman who got cancer from doing nothing.
Q: I know that the staff is almost completely female, but will you have men writing for the magazine?
STEINEM: I suppose if the male press now can have some token females, we’ll have a few token men. Seriously, men with ideas -to, offer the Women's Movement will certainly have a place in Ms. Nick Von Hoffman wants to do an article for us on his own particular marriage arrangement. He has incorporated himself and given half the shares in the corporation to the woman he lives with They sold the house to the corporation and rented it back; each of them receives a salary from the corporation, which is a tax advantage. It's a terrific jab into the heart of the free enterprise system and is egalitarian, which the conventional marriage is not.
Q: If the intentions of the Women's Movement are not separatist why call the magazine Ms.? Why not just M.?
STEINEM: Women still have a lot of self-defining and discussing among themselves to do before we can lurk hand in hand with men for a genuine reorganization of society. Women's groups simply can't include men in them yet, because most men aren't honest in their relationships with women. This is an aspect of the whole human revolution that I think 'will be short-termed. After all, women want to live with men. No one can live separately.
A: Do you foresee other feminist activities developing out of Ms.?
STEINEM: One of our dreams is to provide feminist retreats for women to get away from their husbands or from their husbands or children and really look at their lives. Free space for women, two-week lifesavers. The problem is that women are frowned upon if they want to do something without men. It's also one of the reasons women get fat. We can't opt out with alcohol as men can, so we opt out with fat. Right now, the only form of retreat for women is a visit to the fat farm.
Q: My social commentators feel that it is significant that the movement for Women's Liberation has followed on the heels of the Pill and the whole sexual freedom vogue in the. United States. Do you think the two we related?
STEINEM: Perhaps there is a sociological relationship, but I think that the so-called sexual revolution is antithetical to Women's Liberation. It's designed to make women more available to men, without any increase of pleasure on the part of women. It doesn't enlighten anybody.
Q: I think a lot of women in the world consider some of the new sex books educational in a mass-market sense, books such as The Sensuous Woman, or Any Woman Can,
STEINEM: Any Woman Can is simply about how a woman should play the prostitute's role for her man. In that book, Dr. Reuben tries to prove that it is in the woman's self-interest to play this prostitute role, but what he never suggests is that you should change the man. It generates great hostility if I say that, because obviously a man's interest to say: what are you going to do if I don't change? If you would dare to say that you'd find another man, they’d explode. And yet, that’s a clearly logical thing to say.
Q: Female homosexuality seems to be an oft-mentioned area in the Women's Movement. How do you feel about that?
STEINEM: It's a female experience. It’s for women who are basically heterosexual and have bad several bisexual experiences, or for women who are are totally identified with men. It's all a part of what women experience. We have an interview in the first issue of Ms. which concerns two women who have such a good friendship that they discover they really love each other. And after you finish reading it saying so what else new? It's so simple. The whole idea of homosexual experience in a man's life is so much more written about only because women's homosexual isn’t taken seriously. Even when they do think about it, men think a woman homosexual could be turned around by a good night in bed with a man. They’re not threatened because they assume there couldn't be true love between two women.
Q: But isn't there a "Who needs men?" aspect to it?
STEINEM: Yes. There is that aspect. There are some women who intellectually want to be lesbians. Maybe we have been socially directed toward one sexual way, but it's too late for most women to do anything about it.
Q: Since men and women are apparently stuck with each other, don't you think this is an area which differences ought to admitted?
STEINEM: In this sexual area, in a different way from men, women are very tough. The male ego is right up there and all spread out, and therefore very vulnerable. But the woman is like an acorn-very tough, and capable of taking a lot of punishment before you get to it, but when you do, then by God-
Q: Do you really believe this?
STEINEM: Yes. Society al lows it to be true, because it allows men to have this enormous sense of honor, and so men have this big unrealistic ego, which makes them more vulnerable. The first thing that a male child learns is that he cannot do what his mother can do: he cannot reproduce himself. He is shattered. So society bolsters and protects that ego.
Q: It seems to me that the logic of it is that, because men are- so fragile, they- might he dominant in order - to survive.
STEINEM: It's a sophisticated argument.
Q: What do you mean sophisticated? It sounds like utter nonsense to me.
STEINEM: It’s sophisticated in the sense that a male practitioner is willing to admit hiss fragility. It’s double-think. It’s maintaining superiority by saying "I'm inferior." A lot of arguments are still based on physical strength, or our, "bigger brains," and so forth. Actual claims of superiority. The real problem I think is that the fragility argument doesn't allow for any sexual pleasure or for any initiative on the part of women. In the sense that women also have to have erections. It doesn't even talk about that. Basically, society has to get rid of the myth of the dominant male and the submissive female.