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Gloria Steinem’s advice to young women: Listen to yourselves, not to me

November 9, 2015 at 6:15 PM EDT
Gloria Steinem, writer, editor and feminist activist, has been at the forefront of the women's movement for more than half a century. Much of her life has unfolded on the road, from her childhood with an itinerant family to years spent traveling in support of her causes. Steinem sits down with Jeffrey Brown to discuss her new memoir and her journey as an advocate for gender equality.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: She is a writer, editor, but, above all, a feminist activist.

Gloria Steinem has been in the forefront of the women’s movement in this country for more than half-a-century. Now at 81, she has penned her memoir, “My Life on the Road,” our newest addition to the NewsHour bookshelf.

She talked to Jeffrey Brown recently at the historic Sewall-Belmont House and Museum of the women’s suffrage and equal rights movement here in Washington.

JEFFREY BROWN: You write here early on about your father, who taught you something through his — quote — “ability to live with and even love insecurity.”

That’s an interesting trait.

GLORIA STEINEM, Author, “My Life on the Road”: Well, it certainly was necessary for a freelance writer like me, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I just thought that that’s the way life was. And he always said, “If I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, it could be wonderful.”

JEFFREY BROWN: And that became your life in a sense, or something you could live by?

GLORIA STEINEM: Well, not quite, because, of course, you want to be like the other kids, you know?

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

GLORIA STEINEM: So, I looked at the movies and I saw how kids went to school and fathers had jobs.

And — but my parents were kind and loving and wonderful people, so I was lucky in that way. And I, of course, didn’t know yet that the idea of living with insecurity would be really helpful in later life, both as a writer and a person in movements.

JEFFREY BROWN: You write a book about life on the road. When you look back now, does it look like it was a life that you chose? Or did it just happen, unfold?

GLORIA STEINEM: You know, that’s a deep question.

JEFFREY BROWN: Good.

(LAUGHTER)

GLORIA STEINEM: I think both, because what we grow up with feels like home. So, in that sense, it was destined.

But I also spent all the middle years of my life assuming that I would have to settle down and live like everybody else. And it was only after I had been living this on-the-road life for quite a long time, I mean, until I was 50, that I realized, wait a minute, this isn’t just something on the way to something else. This is it.

JEFFREY BROWN: This is it.

GLORIA STEINEM: Yes, right.

JEFFREY BROWN: This is who you are.

GLORIA STEINEM: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Sure.

GLORIA STEINEM: And that — well, I think, in a real way, because my father had no home, I mean, he was a total wanderer, and my mother had no journey of her own, because she had to give up the career as a writer and a journalist, and, you know, she kind of gave up everything she loved.

So, it took me while to realize that it isn’t either/or. It’s and.

JEFFREY BROWN: What about today? Do you see the same commitment, the same focus in young women?

GLORIA STEINEM: Oh, yes, more, way, way, way more.

We were like 12 crazy ladies in the beginning. You know, we were definitely the core of something, but not the something. And now all of these issues are majority issues. And young women are way more likely to just assume that they are going to be likely to use all of their human talents.

In fact, they get radicalized as they get older, because they get into the labor force, and they discover that maybe equal pay is not happening.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, the idea that we’re in a post-feminist society?

GLORIA STEINEM: Oh, that’s ridiculous.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ridiculous.

GLORIA STEINEM: Ridiculous. You know who’s saying that? I can guarantee you they’re the same people who were saying to me in the beginning, you can’t do this. It’s against God, Freud, somebody.

(LAUGHTER)

GLORIA STEINEM: And now the new form of obstructionism is to say, well, it’s over, you know, just to keep you from doing anything more.

It’s so just begun.

JEFFREY BROWN: The book tells about many successes along the way. I’m wondering about what you think of as the greatest failures.

GLORIA STEINEM: The confidence to tell the truth about our lives.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meaning?

GLORIA STEINEM: Well, for instance, one in three American women has needed at some time in her life an abortion. And there’s still enough shame to it, or, you know, controversy at least, so that it’s difficult for people to say that.

JEFFREY BROWN: When you look at things like abortion rights, outlawing discrimination in the workplace, a lot of successes along the way, but, even now, on the defensive in some areas, right, as these battles unfold in statehouses. They continue to unfold.

GLORIA STEINEM: Well, yes.

Essentially, the people who are against reproductive freedom kind of lost what they wanted in Washington, so now they are striving to gain it in state legislatures.

JEFFREY BROWN: But opponents of these things — and this has been the case for all your life, I’m sure — come to these issues with the same certainty that you do, the same sense of being right as you.

GLORIA STEINEM: Well, but here’s the difference. We are protecting their rights.

We are protecting — reproductive freedom protects the right to have children. They are not protecting our right to decide when and whether to have children.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you, finally, are you able to imagine yourself as a young woman in today’s society? You’re with young women all the time. You’re still talking to them.

GLORIA STEINEM: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY BROWN: What advice do you give to them?

GLORIA STEINEM: Here’s my advice: Do not listen to me.

(LAUGHTER)

GLORIA STEINEM: Really.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do not?

GLORIA STEINEM: No.

I want to support their listening to themselves. Each of them has things that they love, things that they do that they love so much, they forget what time it is, which is a good measure, when they’re doing it.

They know their own life and situations. I’m here to support that and say, OK you’re — you’re not — OK, you’re not more important than somebody else, but you’re not less important either.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, “My Life on the Road.”

Gloria Steinem, thank you so much.

GLORIA STEINEM: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: You don’t find a lot of people who will say, “Do not listen to me,” after all this time on the public stage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You sure don’t.

Boy, she’s been fighting those battles all this time, but still — still seems to have the energy to keep fighting.

GWEN IFILL: Yes.

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