For a public person, Gloria Steinem, 77, the writer and activist who is for many people the face of feminism, knows how to get up close and personal. Last week, at the Time Warner Center premiere for the documentary limning her life and career, Gloria Steinem: In Her Own Words, to air on HBO on August 15, most in attendance were too young to have seen her in action in the '60's and '70's, or the historic moments that defined her career and this chapter of the struggle for women's rights: her reportage as a Playboy bunny, the founding of Ms. Magazine, bra burning, Roe v. Wade, and much more.
Co-producer (with Sheila Nevins) and director Peter Kunhardt put the charismatic, slender Steinem at the film's center, but as Steinem said about the young women coming up who may or may not know the history that in many cases made their achievements possible: "It is not important that they know who I am. It is important that they know who they are."
Conversing with Candy Crowley at the evening's Q&A, Steinem said, "People respond to narrative. It is important to tell our stories, and tell them honestly. I told my story and trusted the filmmakers."
On the women's movement: If abolitionists and suffragettes took 100 years, in the quest for equality, we are only 1/3 along the way. Women have changed consciousness. Now we try to change laws for some idea of justice. Among the world's nations, we are number 70 in national representation for women. Women have transformed the workplace by flooding it, but a man will earn $2 million more in his lifetime.
Hillary Clinton changed the molecules in the air. She did not win because we associate women's power with our childhoods. Reproductive rights are a basic human right. If Palin or Bachmann were to win, it would put feminism back. It is not about getting a job for one woman, but creating opportunity for all women. If you believe that marriage is your only life changing mechanism, it's a lot like death because it is your last decision.
I used to say, Bella Abzug was the mother I wish I had. Indignant, she would say I'm not old enough. Bella was a protector; she loved conflict. I hate conflict. Betty Friedan was a decade before me. Her book The Feminist Mystique helped middle class suburban women get into the work force. Bella and I were not what Betty had in mind. Nobody can own a movement. She felt she did.
Gloria Steinem attended the reception, where many queued up to say hello. The line moved slowly because Steinem asked each one, who are you? What is your situation? Her interest in others may have been a way of deflecting attention from herself, but in today's celebrity culture, this alone was an astonishing, refreshing change.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.
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