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3 Mar, 2009 17:00

It’ll take Obama two terms to clear all Bush’s mistakes - Gloria Steinem

It'll take two terms of a Barack Obama presidency to undo all the bad-will created by the Bush administration says Gloria Steinem a feminist writer and peace activist.

Q (RT's Sophie Shevarnadze): Hello, Gloria. Thank you very much for being with us today. So many different people have different perceptions of feminism. What’s feminism to you?

A: Well, feminism I think is what is in the dictionary. It means the belief in the full social, economic, political equality of males and females – that’s it. So a man can be a feminist, a woman can be a feminist. It is very simple, and yet its implications are huge, because we are not living in a feminist society or a feminist world.

Q: Sometimes I get the idea that people tend to think that we don’t live in a feminist society, but I also feel it’s our fault, women’s fault, because they don’t really make known to man or to the society what they really want and their needs because they have a fear of change

A: I agree with you. But our failure to speak is not the reason that most violence in the world is perpetrated against women. It’s not the reason that controlling reproduction, and therefore controlling the bodies of women, is a primary political impulse of so many religions, tribes, nations. It’s all about controlling reproduction, and that’s how we got into second class status in the first place.

Q: You know I thought about gender equality issues long before I came to the interview and can women really do everything that man can do and then I started asking myself: can I be a construction worker? No, I probably wouldn’t go through lunch break. Can I be a miner? No, I’d suffocate in three days. Can I be a really good director? You know what – probably not, cause I’m too sentimental. So there are really things that women in my view can’t do that man do, then how fair is it to ask men to be equal? Maybe the equality is not really the right term, maybe it’s really accepting each other’s differences versus the equality of genders, maybe it’s terminology…

A: Well, equality does not mean the same…

Q: What does it mean?

A: It just means an equal opportunity. However there are women miners, who actually…the advent of women miners greatly helped men, because they made it more safe there, because women organized, and so on. There are women construction workers, there are women directors.

Q: So you are convinced that any woman if willing can do anything that men can?

A: No, of course not. And neither can any man do anything that women can. I’m just saying that each of us is a unique individual, the result of millennia of environment and heredity combined in way that could never happen before and could never happen again.

And it is that balance between individuality and using your own talents and community which we all need that is the point – and to just forget about group judgments.

Q: Once you talked about women who were overwhelmed with family and work duties. Stress is good, the kind that is not good is when you feel that you have no choice. Don’t you always have choice though?

A: Well, you have a very diminished choice if you are a single mother with little money, small children, no child care, you know, choice can be very diminished. But you were speaking about if women can do what men can do, I think we’ve demonstrated in pretty much every field that women can do what men can do, but what we have yet to demonstrate is that men can do what women can do. Because until men are raising children as much as women are it won’t work.

Q: You said once talking about former Republican Vice-President Nominee Sarah Palin – the woman’s movement, it’s about content, not form, and it’s not about biology as destiny. Now you are talking about men having to be as nurturing…

A: They don’t have to be. They can be.

Q: They can be, yeah, but how is biology not destiny to women when actually carrying a human being in your womb and giving birth is the only thing that really men can’t do that women can…

A: And that’s why we are in trouble, it’s because of the desire to control that. But I have never had a child.

Q: Do you think things would be different for you if you had a child?

A: Yes, sure they would. But there is no reason why everyone with a womb should have a child and why everyone with vocal chords should be an opera singer. It’s a choice. So the question is how we got into patriarchic cultures in which creating life is less valued than taking it in a war. That’s wrong.

Q: You are a strong critic of reproductive freedom – actually a term that you’ve helped to popularize. In the documentary that’s named “I had an abortion” you take part in it, and you said that actually the abortion that you had when you were younger living in England was one of the most pivotal and constructive that you’ve had in my life. How is it constructive?

A: Because it was the first time that I stopped being passive and just letting life happen to me. I actually took responsibility for my own life.

Q: We talk about women’s choice and women living in a male dominated world. I mean surely you’d agree that a lot of women… it also depends on culture and places, a lot of women choose to live in a male dominated world.

A: No, they don’t have a choice. I mean they might choose it if they had a choice.

Q: I can give you an example of couple of women that I know personally who are Muslims. They’re married. And their husband has another two wives and another three wives. They’re fine with it. They’d rather… they have a choice to leave them because they live in Europe, they have enough money. But they’d rather be one of the wives and live under his domination than go off and live their dream. They have their choice.

A: Well, if you’re raised in a particular way, you know, you might say that also about say Mormon women who live in a household with other wives. And their point is that it helps with the housework, it helps to protect them against the violence of their husband because there are other women present. And that, you know, they may have made the best choice in what is available. But if more had been available when they were born, if they had not been in a religion that told them God looked like a man and therefore man as God, they might’ve made a different choice.

Q: You still didn’t convince me, I‘m sorry. Because I know people who choose to be housewives, who choose to be dominated by the men they’re next to. I know a lot of beautiful rich girls who have a choice of go off and study and do their careers, or not even… do anything they want to.

A: Yes, I know.

Q: But no, “we want to stay home, we want to be the husband’s wives.”

A: Well, you know, I respect them, and they are choosing the best that is available but more could be available.

Q: But then because there are people like them I think many are confused, where do they draw a line between women who actually want to be housewives and dominated by their men, and women like you, or me or…

A: Well I think that men who are secure and not addicted to masculinity can afford to choose an equal rather than marrying a housekeeper or their maid. They get lonely.

Q: What’s the percentage of those men, Gloria!

A: No, but… I mean, think about it. Men are often lonely because they don’t have a friend, a comrade, you know. They have someone who’s very different in interests, very different in education, very different in what they do all day. And it’s hard on men too.

Q: It’s your first time in Russia. What do you think of the way Russian women live? Is there something you would change right away?

A: You know, it’s not for me to say how… We are here to support each other in making choices and making life better.

Q: Is it wrong to use your sex appeal?

A: Well, not if you’re hungry.

Q: Is it the only reason you should use it?

A: Probably. Because you know, if women could sleep their way to the top there would be many more women at the top. You don’t see. I mean, it’s just a lie that, you know, usually that you can sleep your way to the top.

I would also get the job first. I mean if you’re going to have to do it, make sure it works.

Q: Smart advice. Now, the conference that you’re going to be key speaker of here in Russia is called “Building bridges across conflicts: the role of women journalists”. How can women build bridges differently from men in conflicts in journalism?

A: Well, a very important point in women is we don’t have our masculinity to prove. And so this is not about biology, ok, I mean there are women who love war and there are men who love peace. So it’s just not about biology, but because the cultures, the male and female cultures are so different, or the masculine and feminine cultures – female journalists have demonstrably been more likely to cover the cost of war, to cover what happens to families, to cover rape as a war crime, which only has been ruled a war crime because there was a woman on the international criminal court. But the exposure of it was largely due to female journalists where male journalists were not seeing it as part of war or they were seeing it as inevitable. So that’s just one of a thousand examples of the way the cultural difference is important, and therefore it’s important we have women as well as male journalists.

Q: You were a strong supporter of Barack Obama and Senator Clinton during their presidential election campaign. Now they are both in power, one as the Secretary of State and the other one as President. What do you think will change for the women of America with them in power?

A: Well, I’m tempted to say everything because the last eight years have been so painful. The Bush administration certainly has been the worst administration in my lifetime, and historians say ever. But of course it’s going to take a long time to heal the wounds and to bring back some of… just to get back where we were, is going to take quite a long time. But just as one concrete example, President Obama has reversed what was called the gag rule which meant that if you received US foreign aid, you know, in any needy country, you not only could not provide safe and legal abortion, you couldn’t even talk about it. It’s a rule that would be illegal in the United States, because it has to do with freedom of speech. But it was imposed on other countries. And it was causing the injury and death of thousands, perhaps millions. It was incredibly destructive. With a stroke of a pen he reversed that. That was worth all my campaigning right there.

Q: What do you think is the biggest strength of a woman?

A: That we are human beings.

Q: Thank you very much.