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Gloria Steinem: Women Can’t ‘Have It All’ Until There’s Equality

February 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
A new PBS documentary, "MAKERS: Women Who Make America," looks at the women's movement and the groundbreaking contributions and struggles made by women today. Judy Woodruff interviews activist Gloria Steinem about the film and about the current state of feminism and gender equality.
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TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Finally tonight, we look at the role of the moderate women’s movement in shaping our country.  That’s the focus of a new documentary, “MAKERS: Women Who Make America,” airing on PBS tonight. 

We begin with an excerpt where the film begins, the story of Kathrine Switzer and the marathon that changed her life. 

ANNOUNCER:  A record field of 601 starters braved chilly winds and a steady drizzle in the 71st Boston Marathon. 

NARRATOR:  The 1967 Boston Marathon was run in some of the worst conditions in race history.  While most of the crowd was focused on the front of the pack, another runner was making a stir far behind. 

KATHRINE SWITZER, Distance Runner:  The idea of running long distance was always considered very questionable for women, because, you know, an arduous activity would mean that you’re going to get big legs and grow a moustache and hair on your chest and your uterus was going to fall out. 

NARRATOR:  In 1967, Kathrine Switzer was a junior at Syracuse University.  Because Syracuse had no women’s track team, she began training with the manager of the men’s team, a part-time mailman named Arnie Briggs. 

KATHRINE SWITZER:  It was Arnie who told me about the greatest day in his life every year, which was the Boston Marathon.  And we were out running.  And Arnie began telling me another Boston Marathon story.  And I said, oh, Arnie, why don’t you just quit talking about the darned marathon and run it?

And my dream then became to prove that I could run 26 miles, 385 yards. 

NARRATOR:  For 70 years, the Boston Marathon had excluded women.  But Switzer entered using just her initials. 

KATHRINE SWITZER:  We walked to the start and the gun went off.  And down the street we went.  So there we were, Arnie Briggs, the 50-year-old mailman, and me, the 20-year-old college student and my boyfriend, Tom Miller, the ex-All American Football player. 

When other runners would come by, they would say, oh, it’s a girl.  And they were so excited.  And all of a sudden, the press truck is in front of us.  And they’re taking, you know, pictures of us.  On this truck was the race director, feisty guy by the name of Jock Semple.  He just stopped the bus, jumped off and ran after me.  And he just grabbed me and screamed at me, “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers.”

He had the fiercest face of any guy I had ever seen.  And all of a sudden, big Tom, my boyfriend, came with a streak and gave Jock the most incredible cross-body block and sent Jock flying right through the air and landed on the curb. 

And all of this happened in front of the press truck.  Journalists got very energetic.  What are you trying to prove?  Are you a suffragette?  Are you a crusader, whatever that is, you know?  And I said, what?  I’m just trying to run. 

Then it got very quiet.  Snow’s coming down.  Nobody is saying anything.  And I turned to Arnie.  And I said, Arnie, I’m going to finish this race on my hands and my knees if I have to.  If I don’t finish this race, then everybody is going to believe women can’t do it.  I have got to finish this race. 

I finished that race in four hours 20 minutes.  It wasn’t until we stopped on the throughway to get an ice cream and some coffee that we see the newspapers and the coverage front and back of all the different editions with the pictures.  And I realized that now this was very, very important.  And this was going to change my life.  And it was probably going to change women’s sports.  

There is an expression in a marathon that you do go through sort of a lifetime of experience.  And I often say that I started the Boston Marathon as a girl and I finished the Boston Marathon as a grown woman. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  One of the most compelling voices featured in “Makers” is that of Gloria Steinem.  A writer, an activist and co-founder of Ms. Magazine, she’s been a leader of the women’s movement for more than four decades. 

Gloria Steinem joins me now from New York. 

Welcome to the program. 

And I have to say, as somebody who grew up alongside the women’s movement, this is a really impressive film.  Why did you decide to get behind it to support it? 

GLORIA STEINEM, Author and Feminist Activist:  Well, we have only been getting a fraction of history, as you and I understand. 

So I thought it was super important that people understand the incredible number and diversity of the women who composed the women’s movement.  It’s not just three or four people.  It’s not about stars.  It’s about neighborhoods, and, as you just saw, a woman running in a way that has allowed thousands, perhaps millions of women to enter races ever since. 

So you will meet all kinds of incredible heroines here that I inform us about history, and most of us all, I hope, inspire us to keep going. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, as you say, the film does feature some well-known women.  You are certainly featured, Gloria Steinem.  You’re very much a part of the film, Betty Friedan, the Supreme Court justices, Hillary Clinton.

But there are also ordinary women who are heroines, heroes of this film, a woman who was working for a telephone company in Atlanta who challenged her employer, a woman who worked for a mining company.  Where did those women get that courage that they displayed? 

GLORIA STEINEM:  Well, I think we get it from each other.  And that’s why it’s so important to see this film, because we do what we see, not what we’re told. 

And in my textbook, when I was in college, there was one sentence that said women were given the vote.  And that was it.  So, we were left thinking that, you know, we got privileges from on high, which just isn’t the way it works. 

And to see the coal miner and to see a great woman in history like Aileen Hernandez, who was on the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and who was a president of NOW, who played a huge role certainly at least as much as me, more, and yet people don’t know her.  So this is a real mix of totally unknown, should be well known, a few who are well known. 

It’s real life.  And it is, to me, in a way the beginning of history, because it’s remedial history.  So, one day, we will have human history. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  At the end of the film, it’s clear that for all the effort that has been put into the women’s movement, many of today’s young women don’t really identify with it. 

There’s Marissa Mayer, who is the CEO of Yahoo!, 37 years old, and she’s quoted as saying — she said she doesn’t have that militancy or that chip on her shoulder. 

Is that militancy no longer necessary? 

GLORIA STEINEM:  Well, not everybody in this film is a heroine either. 

And she just eliminated the ability to work at home for all of her employees.  I mean, it’s trying to be realistic about where we really are, but also remember that we’re just halfway into a century.  I mean, the suffragist abolitionist wave lasted a century in order to achieve a legal identity, because women of all races and men of color were literally ownable until then as chattel. 

And that took a century.  So, now we’re striving for equality.  That will no doubt take another century.  So, really, this is the beginning of a more whole history and at least 50 more years. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And, given that, let me ask you, one of the big debates raging right now, at least if you read what the media is writing about, is this question about whether women can have it all.  We’re still asking that question. 

GLORIA STEINEM:  You know, it’s a ridiculous question. 

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Well, what’s your answer when people ask you, can women have it all? 

GLORIA STEINEM:  No, of course, women can’t have it all as long as we have to do it all, until — I mean, we have realized — and the majority of Americans fully agree — that women can do what men can do.  But we haven’t yet realized that men can do what women do. 

So women are supposed to do two jobs, one inside the home and one out.  And that is simply impossible.  And also this country is the worst in the developed democratic world for having no child care, for having obsessive work patterns that are now even more obsessed than Japanese work patterns, for not even having paid sick days. 

And all of these are problems for women even more than men, because we have more than half the responsibility for children, as well as lower-wage jobs.  But we have come — I don’t want to be discouraging, because we have come a huge, huge distance.  I mean, before this wave of the women’s movement, the whole idea was that women were working for pin money.  They didn’t really need the money. 

And women were, you know, help wanted female and help wanted male segregated ads, and were totally unwelcome in a lot of professions.  So, I hope that this documentary makes clear we have made huge progress and we’re going to have a lot of fun and excitement continuing. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And what — I mean, just finally, Gloria Steinem, what is standing in the way of the women’s movement realizing what it ultimately is asking for?  Now, you’re saying it’s going to take, did I hear you say another 50 years? 

GLORIA STEINEM:  Yes.  Well, by historical precedent, it will take another 50 years. 

Well, what is standing in the way is that we have had, not for all of human history, but for the last 5 percent of it, a hierarchical view of human beings that was based on sex and race and class.  And that became, you know — since the good news is we’re adaptable, but the bad news is we’re adaptable, that became normal, and many people profited from it. 

And with women, the key is that the desire of the hierarchical system to control reproduction and therefore to control the bodies of women.  So this is not — you know, this is really a transformation we’re talking about to get to societies in which once again, as we once were, we are linked, not ranked, in which the paradigm of culture is the circle, not the pyramid, in which we understand that each individual is unique and could never have happened before or again, and is also part of the human community, and we stop looking at each other in groups. 

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Gloria Steinem, one of the leading voices in this documentary that airs tonight on PBS, we thank you for being with us. 

GLORIA STEINEM:  No, thank you.