Sunday, January 27, 2008

Who is Gloria Steinem?

I heard Gloria Steinem muse about Hilary Clinton on CBC radio last week, and I was thinking about how many of my peers don't know who she is. Then I read a Globe and Mail editorial called "It's official: Feminism is out of style" by Karen von Hahn on Saturday. Here is a snippet that struck a chord:

The revelation that I should be stuffed and put on display in some sort of museum of women's liberation came to me while playing a board game over the holidays with my 26-year-old niece and 18-year-old daughter. The game is called Hoopla: You pick a card and act out the person, place or thing named on it for the group to guess. After drawing her card, my hip and literate niece asked whether she could choose another. "I don't have any idea who this is," she said, passing the card to my daughter. "Me neither," shrugged my well-informed Sophie. They passed it to me. The woman on the card was Gloria Steinem.

A couple of years ago I found Gloria Steinem's book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (1983) in a free book pile at the UVic library. I knew her name because I'm an avid fan of Bust Magazine, so I grabbed the book and read most of it before passing it onto my sister. It was so good that it made me sad. I wish I had read it sooner! I wish it was required reading in high school! I was especially struck by her thoughts on women changing their last names when they marry (because this is a debate that I constantly bring up with anyone who will engage me) and of course, there's her once famous article that exposes the experience of Playboy Bunnies (it's only ok to aspire to this occupation if you are Stephin Merrit of Magnetic Fields).

Gloria Steinem is a feminist icon and founder of Ms. Magazine, but one of the things that I like best about her is that she is comfortable changing her mind; after denouncing marriage for years, she married David Bale - Christian Bale's father - in 2000.

Even if you don't identify with second wave feminism like I do, I hope that you agree that Gloria Steinem is an important name to remember.

I tried to find a clip from last week's CBC interview to include with this post, but I found a crazy video clip instead. Watch it for the cantaloupe shot alone. It's from 1968 interview with CBC, and you can see the whole interview here. Tell me what you think!

Update: I just watched the whole interview. It's really strange in quite a few ways. What's up with the ironing? And the comments about her looks? Not a hateful looker? Really? I do like what she says about what she wants to be when she grows up: "free and old and a little mean."


Anonymous said...


Good post friend!

I just read that Globe and Mail article. I think this is a really interesting time in our culture, with the whole Barack/Hillary thing. I find it seriously problematic to assert that in order to support women I need to support (if only we could vote there) Hillary Clinton. I'm not saying that's what you're saying, but that's certainly what the article says, and it's so divisive and reductionist that I can't imagine it gaining traction, and yet it's a dominant argument.

Arguments or logic about who has historically been screwed over more by white men ("black men were given the vote a half-century before women") leave me COLD. This is not progress.

To me, a woman who has undoubtedly benefited from the efforts of the feminist movement(s), I appreciate the choices that have been made available to me. I can work any job I want, and I can not get married (or get married), change my name or not, have kids or not, and express whatever thoughts I have. They have just as much value as Marc's thoughts. They don't have more value though.

Just the same value.

It has to be said that Hillary Clinton is not a new presence in Washington. She's as seasoned as it gets, and connected as it gets. I thought Americans already had a good taste of what that gets them.

The fact that she's a woman is great, but policy-wise, it's a red herring.

Erin Riley said...

Jen! I was going to write a little more about Hilary Clinton in this post, but it got too complicated, especially when I really wanted to express my love for Gloria. You said what I would have said: It's really exciting that a woman may run for president, but that is not reason enough to vote for her.

Anonymous said...

This having been said: Gloria Steinem! I think a thorough history curriculum should talk about her and the women's movement!

Thanks for the YouTube1

Trying to actually answer the question! Haha!

::: Erin! Ya. I went off on a tangent there. Your writing instincts are excellent Erin! Sticking to the topic! Ah politics. This year is going to be interesting! And there's nothing wrong with that!

Anonymous said...

Also: "a chick with a good sense of the vibrations"!

Anonymous said...

Hi Erin - I found my way here from your comment on the Shameless blog. Erin Riley? hey!

I've had this conversation with a couple of friends before. I don't think this a new problem for feminism. When I was in high school (15 years ago?), in one of our classes a teacher asked how many people identified themselves as feminists. Three of us put up our hands, 12 other girls didn't. Yet I don't think any one of them would say no if they were asked if they supported issues like equal pay, accessible child care, or reproduction rights.

It seems too simple to say feminism has an image problem, but I think when some people hear the word, they imagine angry, butch, ballbusting women and don't want to associate themselves with it. There was an interesting article in Bitch about the Spice Girls and Girl Power - have you read it?

Erin Riley said...

Hi Jen Kot. I'm glad you found my blog! That's the first time I've posted on a non-friend blog, so it's pretty funny that you found it.

Brie told me about Shameless Magazine a while ago, and I just checked it out in time to see that they posted on the same editorial I did:

"Just because you don’t recognize [feminism] any more doesn’t mean it isn’t still 'in style' - and to say so is dismissive and quite frankly, patronizing."

Check out Your feminism doesn't go with your shoes in its entirety.

As you know, I just focussed on the Gloria Steinem bit of the article, and I see from the comments on the Shameless blog that she is not well loved by everyone. I agree that people need not know who she is to consider themselves feminists (this was true for me), but understanding where you came from is as healthy in this context as it is in any other. I can't comment on her recent political views, mostly because I don't know the particulars.

Erin Riley said...

Also, I haven't read that article in Bitch, but I know some Spice Girls fans who'd be interested...

Anonymous said...

I thought everyone knew who Gloria Steinem was! I sure do and I'd hardly consider myself to be tapped in.

Anyways, upon your recommendation, I have ordered her book from the library. Turns out there is only one copy in the entire Toronto Public Library system. Hmm.

Also, personal opinion: Karen von Hahn and that Leah McLaren woman at the Globe can't write for shit, don't write about shit, and don't write about anything that I give a shit about. You should get a job there and start churning out some quality material.

Good post kiddo,
Erin C.

sarah said...

I saw a bit of that Globe and Mail article somewhere as well. I would probably stop on the street to read a headline that said feminism was out of style, just to have something to rant about later.

The headline seems like a silly attention getter, but I think there really *is* a problem with knowledge being lost, and with lack of continuity. Second wavers had to rediscover a bunch of earlier women's movements and reinvent a bunch of ideas, and now it's happening again.

Sarah Hunt and I were talking a little bit at the last craft date about how women's studies departments (and I think, a lot of activists out in the world) solve the same problems over and over again. It is pretty intense how much people are still isolated and segregated and sheltered, cut off from all the people who have already figured out the same shit. If that reporter didn't manage to teach her daughter about Gloria Steinem, I somehow doubt she got around to Audre Lorde or bell hooks. When I was little, my dad stayed home with us babies because my mum had a better job, and neither of my parents mentioned feminism to me. You know? That doesn't really work, to try to take things for granted. It just means I had a harder time finding what I wanted at the library.

Gloria herself is still refusing to connect a lot of knowledge. She's still the spokesperson for white American feminists who don't understand their own racism, who don't have a productive analysis of complex oppression, who think gender can be separated from everything else. The blog reactions I've seen to her NYT article are the same arguments people have been giving her since the '70s. (Jen-- totally. Black people versus female people is useless.)

So yeah! Thanks for posting Erin! I like finding out about people and books and ideas that have been meaningful to my friends. It's important!

Anonymous said...

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