Feminist Gloria Steinem Finds Herself Free Of The ‘Demands Of Gender’

GROSS: If I asked you to make a list of the five most important issues for women today, what would be on that list?

STEINEM: Well, I can do it. But I would like to say that the most important issues are those to the women who are listening. I mean, it’s not about dictating to each other what’s important but supporting each other and solving the ones that are in our daily lives.

GROSS: I like that point that you just made (laughter).

STEINEM: However, if you add up, you know, in terms of the numbers of people, I would say that competing for No. 1 would be violence against females worldwide. If you add up all the forms of violence, whether it’s domestic violence in this country, which is at an enormously high rate – I mean, the most dangerous place for a woman in this country is her own home. And she’s most likely to be beaten or killed by some – by a man she knows. Or it is FGM – female genital mutilation – or it is female infanticide or honor killings or child marriage and too-early childbirth, which is a major cause of death among adolescent girls worldwide. So, you know, violence has reached an emergency – well, it’s – I mean, any violence is an emergency. But, you know, collectively…

GROSS: What – well, the sense of emergency has certainly increased with groups like the Taliban and ISIS…

STEINEM: Yes, yes.

GROSS: Truly attacking women and denying them any form of rights.

STEINEM: Yes. No, it’s the extreme forms of patriarchy, often religious – so-called religious – and the violence against females in warzones – sexualized violence in the Congo and, you know, many in the former Yugoslavia. You know, and all of these have mounted up to a real emergency. But tied, I would say, for first place is the ability of women to decide when and whether to have children because that is a major cause of death. The lack of that ability is a major cause of death. And it is also a major cause of inability to be educated or to be free outside the home or to be healthy. You know, so I would say those two concerns, violence – sexualized violence against women and reproductive freedom or reproductive justice are right up there in our focus in every country.

Rogers Ailes, Hillary Clinton and Me

The Fox News makeup treatment is unlike any other in journalism. It involves false lashes, layers and layers of foundation and heavy applications of come-hither lip gloss.

.. Sexing up female reporters — even those from The New York Times — was part of the Fox News look as conceived by Roger Ailes

.. he had specific ideas about how women should treat him off-camera, as well.

While Mr. Ailes doled out attractive female anchors in revealing outfits as eye candy, his empire thrived partly on its audience’s widespread fear of the only woman who has ever had a real shot at the presidency, the person I was there that day to discuss: Hillary Clinton.

.. Over two decades, Fox News made Mrs. Clinton one of the longest-running villains on TV. Mr. Ailes would rewrite her part over the years:

  • In the 1990s, she was a bra-burning affront to stay-at-home mothers;
  • in her Senate race, she was an entitled wife riding on her husband’s coattails;
  • by the 2008 primary, she was Lady MacBeth, desperate to star in her own production.

.. But Fox News also gave something to Mrs. Clinton: proof of the “vast right-wing conspiracy

.. If there was any poetic justice, it was that a woman caused the downfall of Mr. Ailes in the end.

Roger Ailes’s (Other) Legacy

Remembering the founder of Fox News also demands remembering the many women in his orbit—women who refused to be silent.

Ailes took her to the day after she accepted her job with the network. During it, she claims, Ailes asked her, “When did you first discover you were sexy?” When she replied that “I am finding this conversation very embarrassing,” her new boss persisted. “He continued to explain,” she recalls, “how much he believed in loyalty and how much he believed the best expression of that loyalty comes in the form of a ‘sexual alliance.’”

.. Other women at Fox remembered Ailes asking them a litany of personal questions, ostensibly to expose vulnerabilities that he might exploit later on. “He asked, ‘Am I in a relationship?’” one woman recalled. “‘What are my familial ties?’ It was all to see how stable or unstable I was.”

“Roger had made sure I knew the stakes, telling me: ‘I don’t like to fight, but when I do, I fight to kill.’ The message could not have been clearer: ‘If you tell anyone, I will destroy you.’”

.. But Ailes, in the end, had aged into a new context—one in which women have access to recording devices, and in which, through the internet, women have access to each others’ stories, and in which, in general, women have had enough. Secrets, now, have a way of getting out. The sins of the past have a way of becoming the scandals of the present. Women today have more ways than ever of fighting back.

How Mormon Polygamy In The 19th Century Fueled Women’s Activism

Many states still followed the common law Doctrine of Coverture, which declared a woman civilly dead once she married. It’s not just…

GROSS: So she had no legal rights over her money, her property. She had no ownership over them.

ULRICH: Her money, her – her money, her property – she couldn’t sue or take a case to court except under a father or a husband – so dependency. The right to divorce – although divorce laws were greatly liberalized in the 19th century in most parts of the country, it was definitely – you had to prove either adultery – it took a while for physical abuse to be grounds for divorce.

.. Utah had no fault divorce from the beginning. It was very, very open and pretty common. And particularly, I think that made plural marriage workable. If you didn’t like it, you could leave.

.. It’s a very different world than we imagine. And so instead of comparing plural marriage in the 19th century to our notions of women’s rights today, we need to compare plural marriage, monogamy and then other institutions that really distressed people in the 19th century, like prostitution for example, different kinds of bigamous relationships.

So Mormons would argue, many American men have multiple sexual partners. They’re just not responsible. They don’t acknowledge them. They don’t give them dignity. They don’t legitimate their children. So polygamy is a solution to the horrendous licentiousness of other Americans.


.. So one of the things you’re famous for is a phrase that you originated in – I think it was like an academic paper in the 1970s – and the phrase has since shown up on like T-shirts and bumper stickers. I know you’re asked about this all the time, but the phrase is well-behaved women seldom make history.

Now, knowing your work, knowing that you write about, quote, “ordinary women” who kept journals, and you’re trying to understand what the lives of, like, ordinary women were in their time, I interpret that quote as meaning if you’re just looking at history, you won’t understand the lives of ordinary women because ordinary women seldom make history. But I suspect that that has been – that quote has been interpreted as ordinary women seldom make history so women don’t be ordinary, do something special so you can make history. Don’t be ordinary.

.. Yes. It’s been turned upside-down. On the other hand, you know, I was an ordinary girl from Idaho who got involved in the feminist movement and I’ve been on a collective bargaining team, and my former university, you know – I’ve done a lot of not very well-behaved things. And so I guess I embrace both sides. I embrace the contradiction of that crazy accidental slogan.