This week, the New Yorker published a lengthy profile on Gloria Steinem, filled with gems of wisdom for feminists young and old. The world-famous writer, speaker and advocate, who is releasing her memoir My Life on the Road on October 27, spoke to the publication about how women of color have inspired her and shaped the movement.
The article comes at a time when a call for intersectionality is at the forefront of the women’s movement. The term,
coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in her 1989 essay “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” was created to express the specific problems immigrant women of color experience – women whose identities encompass several overlapping minority statuses – and why their issues were ignored by the white feminist movement of the time. Intersectionality has since come to represent the need for inclusion of all women’s issues – gay, transgender, bisexual, disabled, etc. – in the fight for women’s equality.
And though many label Steinem as a “second wave” feminist, at 81 she’s still active in today’s movement. Here are some of the pearls of wisdom and facts we gleaned that young feminists should know:
"Women of color basically invented feminism."
The National’s Women’s Conference that happened on November 18, 1977 was organized by Steinem, and she ended up being asked by women of different ethnic groups to put collect their concerns.
Steinem had earned their trust after fighting alongside them for years, but she had also learned a lot from these women. “There is no competition of tears in feminism,” she said. “If you’ve suffered discrimination, you’re sensitive to it on every level. I learned feminism largely from black women. Women of color basically invented feminism.”
Gloria Steinem helped give women of color a platform.
For many years, Steinem wouldn’t give a lecture if there wasn’t a woman of color with her. She did this for two reasons: 1. A woman of color would be better equipped to connect with of the some struggles faced by other women of color, and, 2. stage fright.
Alicia Garza thinks Hillary Clinton can learn something from Steinem.
Alicia Garza, the 34-year-old co-founder of Black Lives Matter (BLM), spoke about a video that showed Clinton speaking to two young BLM activists. In a tense exchange, the activists ask about Clinton’s complicity in the creation of laws that have led to the mass incarceration of black men. Clinton said she didn’t believe people “change hearts” and that instead, law need to be changed. For Garza, she felt it was disappointing to see Clinton scolding two young people.
“She advocated new laws, when what she should have said is ‘The movement has made this issue front and center and changed my heart.’ Hillary should take notes from Gloria, who has always pushed boundaries around,” Garza, who works closely with Steinem, told me. “Gloria spoke to the fact—it was in her bones—that race was and has to be a feminist issue.”
Being a writer = being an activist.
It wasn’t until the women’s conference that Steinem realized just how important being a writer was. “It was the first time I realized that being a writer was also being an activist,” she said.
At that conference, she learned about the different issues women faced. For example, Mexican women were afraid to be deported, but it was the Native American women that really bowled her over. They wanted their language and their cultures to be protected.
The Internet is a great tool, but Steinem is wary of it.
Steneim said that the Internet has helped give a voice to those who previously went ignored, like black and gay feminists. But she is also wary about the Internet, which feeds on conflict.
“It’s great that we can now sidestep the editorial judgments of the mainstream media,” she said. “But it’s important to remember that conflict makes news, conflict gets attention, and the Internet thrives on conflict. You have to ask where a lot of these posts about our so-called divisions on issues like race and gender come from. What’s the context? Who’s arguing? And, remember, you have to be able to afford an iPhone or a computer; you have to be literate, which a lot of women in the world are not; and you still have to make change happen in real life, because empathy—the ability not just to know but to feel—only happens when we are together with all five senses. This is part of the reason people can be so hostile to each other on the Web, and women, especially, are subject to so much Web harassment.”