Feminist and political activist Gloria Steinem spoke to a packed house at a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania on April 16. Steinem, the founder of Ms. Magazine, was heartened at the future of feminism by seeing “so many in the room that were not even born when I first published Ms. Magazine.” She gave all the men in the room a “free pass on the sins that they have committed or might commit in the future.”
Steinem, who recently celebrated her 79th birthday, shocked the room with this chilling statistic: “More American women have died at the hands of the husbands or boyfriends since September 11, 2001 than the total of Americans that died on 9/11 and in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
She explained why this concerns all of us.
“Studies have shown that societies that mistreat women are more likely to breed terrorism,” she said.
Steinem touched on local concerns by voicing her disappointment with the gender gap in Pennsylvania politics.
“Pennsylvania has very few women in the legislature. We need more women at the table because they concentrate on issues that are of concern to all of us such as health and welfare.”
Pennsylvania ranks 42 nationally for number of women elected to political office in the state. Although women are a majority of the registered voters in this state, they make up only 17.8% of the General Assembly. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz is the lone woman that represents Pennsylvania in Congress.
She graciously ceded to former Pennsylvania State Senator Connie Williams, who made an emotional plea for the women in the audience to run for office.
Steinem took aim at the Pennsylvania legislature, which spent 1/3 of their last legislative session debating abortion. The legislature has passed through committees in both houses bill that would prohibit insurance companies from paying for an abortion except in the case of rape and incest. An abortion, which is needed to save the life of a mother, would have to be paid out of pocket by the woman.
“We have a problem with the Pennsylvania Legislature,” she said. “The abortion lobby is similar to the NRA. Both are controlled by extremists that do not represent the views of the majority of the members.”
Steinem is not surprised that the battle over legalized abortion and birth control continues even though many feminists thought it was settled in the 1970’s.
“It should be a women’s health issue,” she emphatically declared. “Instead it is about a need to control, racism, nationalism, and cheap labor. America did not have a problem with birth control until the Europeans came over with their monotheistic religions. “
Steinem poked holes in the current GOP attack line against abortion, victims of rape can’t get pregnant. She stressed that the promulgation of this falsehood during the 2012 election cycle was not about a lack of anatomy knowledge.
“This Republican line of attack mystifies feminists the most. It is all about blaming the victim. If the women does get pregnant that means she wasn’t raped.”
Meeting Gloria Steinem in person, you realize why she has stayed relevant for this long. She is humble and modest about her achievements. A greeting of “it’s an honor to meet you” is returned with “It’s an honor to meet you.”
In an interview before the event, Steinem took sides in the feminist debate du jour over Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” This is not surprising because Steinem’s brand of feminism, as opposed to Betty Friedan’s, has always been inclusive.
“Former Planned Parenthood CEO and President Gloria Feldt wrote a similar book, “No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power” and was not criticized,” she noted. “Sheryl is being attacked because she is successful. In order to maintain the unequal gender roles, if we are women we have to be persuaded that we will not be loved if we are successful. If we are men, we will not be loved if we are not successful.”
She dismissed criticism that Sandberg’s approach was too elitist by noting “domestics in New York are forming “Lean in” circles. She specifically endorsed her idea of co-parenting.
“Couples should not agree to have children unless the man agrees to parent equally,” she said.
Steinem’s latest project, Women Under Siege Project hearkens back to her Jewish roots, which may surprise many that do not think of Steinem as a Jewish feminist.
“My father was Jewish,” she said. “When someone says something anti-Semitic, believe me I am Jewish. I have attended a feminist Seder for thirty years. I believe in spirituality not paternalistic hierarchies. I attended a regular Seder once and was shocked at what I was reading.”
We had a good laugh that the 4 sons not sons and daughters ask the questions in the Passover Haggadah.
The Women Under Siege Project is attempting to chronicle the accounts of victims of sexual abuse during war or military conflict starting with the Holocaust and extending to present day conflicts in the Congo, Egypt and Syria.
“Sexual violence is a weapon of war. The judges at Nuremberg would not allow the testimony of women that had been sexually abused by the Nazis in the courtroom. The proceedings were horrific enough. They did not want tears in the courtroom,” said Steinem.