HBICs, take note: Gloria Steinem has some wisdom to share. The activist sat down with editor Joanna Coles on Wednesday to share snippets from her new memoir, My Life on the Road, plus stories from her decades at the forefront of the feminist movement. Coles quoted Steinem at the start, recalling how she advised women respond to men who call them bitches with "thank you" as a tactic to throw them off.
For the trailblazer, gratitude is a favored theme. Her book is dedicated to "Dr. John Sharpe of London," who risked his practice and livelihood to refer Steinem for an abortion when the procedure was still outlawed and Steinem was 22. The doctor made her make two promises. First, he insisted that she not tell anyone his name. Second, he made her swear: "You will do what you want to do with your life.'"
"I've done the best I could with my life," Steinem writes. "This book is for you."
Assuming the cheers in the room were any indication, she's done pretty well. We rounded up some of the best moments of the evening, including her high hopes for Hillary Clinton's sex life, her "good girl" adolescence, and why we should all be activists.
On whether Carly Fiorina is good or bad for feminism:
"Good for feminism, because she demonstrates that it's not about biology. It's about consciousness. Bad for feminism, because she doesn't represent the majority interests according even to public opinion polls of women in this country.
"You know, it's so hard. There's always someone who looks like you and behaves like them. This is one of them. ... I suppose it's proof of the success of the women's movement in some ways—that they have to get somebody who's betraying women. ... Otherwise they wouldn't bother. So in that sense it's heartening. But I certainly would vote against her every step of the way."
On whom she would put on the $10 bill:
"Someone did ask me that question...and I said Sojourner Truth, because I thought she stood for universal adult suffrage on the part of women of all races for women of all races and black men. She was a majoritarian and such an enormously courageous woman. But I thought, actually, it should be the $20 [that we replace], because that has Andrew Jackson, who was really the pits about Native Americans. He disobeyed the Supreme Court. He's the only president of the United States who has ever disobeyed the Supreme Court in order to banish Native Americans on the Trail of Tears. He was terrible. Really outrageous. So I thought maybe we could replace him with Wilma Mankiller, who was the first woman principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. I thought that would be really symbolic and great."
On how she would rate Hillary Clinton's presidential bid:
"I would give it 8 out of 10. I think it's quite good. ... She is just more experienced and braver than anybody else. If I had been her, I would never have wanted to see Washington again—much less run for the U.S. Senate. ... I would have been so Washington-shy. I don't know where the miracle of her courage comes from. It's quite amazing."
On why it doesn't matter that Hillary is married to a former president:
"I think she should have a button saying, 'I wasn't born a Clinton,' and I do wish that Bush hadn't had a son. But if it's okay to be a son, it's okay to be a spouse. ... She's so independent, and actually they're independent of each other. When I was with Wilma Mankiller in the White House, because she was getting a Medal of Freedom, it was the first time I had ever seen them together in a room full of fascinating people. ... They were at least as interested in talking to each other as they were in talking to anybody else. ... How many long-term married couples can you say that about? These folks have a good marriage. I hope she's having a nice sex life, too, someplace else, but I don't know."
On the future of Roe v. Wade:
"Well, it has been already overturned for poor women who are dependent on government funding. It has been already overturned for, say, women who are raped in other countries and are dependent on health services that are funded by us or even not funded by us, because we won't pay for abortions because of the Hyde Amendment. It's partly overturned already. However, I think...the anti-abortion groups have understood that they can't overturn it at a Supreme Court level, and that's why they are focused on state legislatures...where there's much more likely to be very right-wing or commercial or small groups that control the state legislature. ... Most Americans don't know who their state legislators are. We have to pay much more attention to who they are."
"When you don't have it, it becomes much more important. Have you ever noticed that?"
On why she tried to be "a good girl":
"I grew up in a factory-working neighborhood in Toledo. People generally got married right out of high school or maybe before, because girls got pregnant, which was a great shame. People would count how long it was until the first birth. ... If a girl got to be known as a 'not-nice girl,' she was fair game for anyone. It was a really scary fate, so we tried very hard to present ourselves as 'good girls.' It was dangerous not be seen as a good girl. Sex was literally important by its absence."
On Donald Trump:
"I would bet that he's not going to be president of the United States. Even putting a baseball cap over his weave won't do much for him."
On her proudest accomplishment:
"You know, the honest answer is I haven't done it yet. I live in the future. I'm not saying that's a good life, because we can only live in the present, but I do live in the future. Some other reporter once asked me that and he look at me appalled [when I answered] and said, 'In this life?!' I should point out that I'm 81. I say that to people on the street, because I'm trying to convince myself. I didn't know that you remained your own self for a very long time, and I worry that young women and men now think that if they aren't successful by 30 it's all over. No. It is definitely not over. I just have so much more I want to do, so much more I want to write, so much I'm excited by."
On why we should all be activists:
"Life is an organizing problem. It's why I love being an organizer. Because you look at something and you think, That's not fair, but if we did this or that, maybe that would happen. It's just infinitely interesting. It's so much fun. Don't accept things the way they are. It's so boring. I really mean that. Being an organizer...is like being a social entrepreneur. Does that make sense? You look at these different elements and see how you can put them together. And the reward for yourself is huge. You've made a difference. And not only that, but somebody in your office or in your family on the street will come up to you and say, 'Thank you. You inspired me. I did this. You supported me.' What's better than that?"
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