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"Feminist" Is An Eight-Letter Word: Talking with Gloria Steinem

09/13/2006 08:50 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

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Not long ago I had the opportunity to speak with Gloria Steinem about her recent project, GreenStone Media, which is a new national radio network and the only national network owned by women. Gloria, Jane Fonda, and Robin Morgan (among other women) decided it was time for an alternative to what is currently out there. This was no small task in a predominantly male field, and probably not always well received. So I was curious about her approach.

Growing up as I did, in a very red state in a very conservative community in a very religious family, the word "Feminist" was a bad word. Being a feminist was considered not only radical but also leading away from family and God.

It wasn't until I was in my late twenties, when I also started examining what I believed about religion and God, that I looked again at that word: Feminism. I was mildly surprised to find out that the definition had nothing to do with emasculating men, let alone evil or fangs. It simply meant the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Such a simple and altruistic idea. Why do so many people belittle, demonize, and strive to eradicate the idea and any progress made in that direction?

I believe it is Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Being on a first name basis with fear myself, my motto is usually, Do the hard thing first! People are often afraid to embrace new things and I'm no different. It's natural. It's human. We get comfortable with the status quo and subconsciously work to keep things that way.

We sometimes respond to situations on a purely knee-jerk level, never questioning our feelings or reactions when actually, self-examination needs to become a regular part of our lives if we are ever to get past what we internalized during our childhoods. We all learned things that may or may not be true. The only way to find out if our beliefs hold water is to look at them.

I asked Gloria if she ever felt afraid. I've watched her and Jane Fonda my whole life and wondered how it would feel to be at the forefront of such controversy. Could I take it? Or, would the negativity of others drag me down? Gloria told me that when she gets to the forefront of the conflict, she might feel afraid. But, she talks to herself to get ready and charges in because she realizes that it is difficult to say or do the hard thing. But, it's harder not to. If she sensors herself, it's harder in the long run, looking at what she didn't do or say, which could turn out to be worse than if she went ahead and did it.

However, Gloria also said that she engages in conflict in a way that she, herself, would want to be on the other end of. She treats people like she would want to be treated. She doesn't accuse. She discusses. That sounds very close to the Golden Rule to me.

She told me that Fear is a sign of growth. She intentionally follows it. She surrounds herself with a support system, a community of people that she has spent time cultivating, to give her strength. Her advice to me was to be fearless in cutting out of my life what was unhealthy and leave in what is good. Find people that share my values, which I can now that I'm getting a clearer view of what my values are.

When we understand our beliefs and where they came from, being open to change becomes less scary. We have a solid foundation to work from and often times we find there is room for others and their beliefs right alongside ours, without feeling threatened. Diversity between peoples and sexes is what makes our world so interesting and delightful. And learning to live through fear and celebrating our differences is the key, I believe, to peace within ourselves. And without.

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