Two weeks ago, immediately after walking off stage at the I Am Choice rally, Gloria Steinem took a few minutes to speak to Creative Loafing. On the eve of a presidential election, Steinem talked about the importance of voting. She also pressed that equal pay for women is about more than just gender equality, but rather a major boost for the economy laying in wait.
Arielle Stevenson: We are in a swing county, in a swing state. Why is it important to vote in this election?
Gloria Steinem: Because you're in a swing county in a swing state (laughs). As this county goes, so could the country. And especially after 2000 when 536 votes won the entire presidential election, even though later it turned out that factually gore had won popular vote. So not only is it important to vote, but to fight to vote.
In Florida, we've seen examples of voter suppression and voter intimidation. There are a lot of people here that are disenchanted with the voting process, they don't feel their vote counts or they feel that it is too hard to fight to even do it.
That is what people who benefit from a low voter turn out — which always means older, richer, whiter turn out — have systemically tried to tell us since the 1970s. That our vote doesn't count and politics is dirty. I remember when mud-throwing ads were initiated not only because they might damage candidates unjustly but also because they discouraged people from voting at all by thinking politics is dirty. So that exact myth is exactly why we should vote. The day we vote is the only day on earth in which the least powerful are equal to the most powerful.
In India for instance, with all the problems with poverty and illiteracy, a bigger percentage of qualified voters turn out than in this country. Poor people turn out more than rich people because they understand this is the one chance they have to establish some kind of democracy. So the entire idea that your vote doesn't matter, that is a head trip. It was consciously created in the early 1970s and it's absolutely not true.
It's been a very effective tool, no?
Yes, but it shouldn't be because if we talk to each other, we understand that it's wrong.
We're here at the I Am Choice rally, which is about Amendment 6. What does the I Am Choice campaign mean to you as someone who has fought for women's rights for so many years?
It simply means the right to decide whether the decision to have a child is a fundamental human right that each individual gets to make. Not the state, not the government, and not the state legislature. We do not need state legislators making that kind of decision for us. It's especially lethal on reproductive rights because reproductive rights go even deeper than the economy and they're connected to the economy, but even deeper is the ability to control how many workers soldiers we have. This is the reason for controlling women, we are the means of reproduction they're trying to control reproduction. Reproductive freedom is the key not only to our equal rights but also the key in the end to diminishing violence on earth. The trend of the patriarchal towards controlling females whether through child marriage, honor killings, domestic violence, it's all about controlling reproduction, which is fundamental to have reproductive freedom.
Amendment 6 was sponsored by female state Sen. Anitere Flores in Miami. What do you think of a woman sponsoring this kind of legislation?
Every subordinate group internalizes subordination. In the past there have been Jews who are anti-Semitic, there have always been the Clarence Thomas' of the world, who progressed because they were against majority views of a group. Or even the Sarah Palins.
How do you reason with that?
I say that I respect you, why don't you respect yourself? It's difficult because it is internalized. If we didn't internalize subordination, it wouldn't work that way. In the black community they call it crabs in the basket, in Australia they call it the tall poppy syndrome. You just have to understand it, but also the important thing is that the vast majority of women have escaped it. The only reason we still see it, is because women who haven't escaped it are valuable to the establishment as it exists. Sarah Palin, I would defend her totally against sexism, I'm defending her right to be wrong.
Feminism seems to be a word that many women today shy away from, how would you define feminism today?
Just send them to the dictionary. It means what it has always meant, which is a person, man or woman, who believes in the full social, economical, and political equality of women and men. I empathize with those women because they've been subject to 20 years of Rush Limbaugh saying fem-nazi and demonizing the word. First of all, more women and men self-identify with feminism than ever before in history, even with the misunderstanding of what it really means. When you define it, more than 60 percent of women identify. So its being demonized for a reason, its part of the backlash. It just means we believe in our community.
There have been so many pieces of legislation aimed at women's rights in the last four years. Over a thousand pieces of legislation at all levels of government. We have an economy that is struggling, we have several wars we are fighting, why is this issue being brought up right now?
Because women are fundamental to all of that. I mean, the more women are in power, the fewer wars we have. And not because we are morally superior to men, we're not. But just because if you don't have your masculinity to prove, you're less likely to feel that you have to be in control or aggressive. Equal pay for women would mean $200 billion a year, which is the biggest stimulus this country could ever have, just for women to get paid equally for comparable work. Those women are going to spend that money and create jobs; they're not going to invest in China. It's important to identify issues that are intermingled with sex, ideas of gender, race, or class or sexuality. We need to make them visible, the fact is they are intrinsically universal issues.
During the debate moderated by Candy Crowley, President Obama, when asked about equal pay, said women's issues are family issues. Why are women's issues family issues?
Well because women have families, that's why these are family issues. But I wish he had said that women's issues are national issues. Equal pay is an economic stimulus to the whole country. He's right about what he said but he could have gone further.
Finally, what is the best piece of advice you ever received?
I'm not sure I remember the exact instance, but the idea was and is to trust your own uniqueness and own wisdom. Know what you love to do so much that you forget what time it is while you're doing it. What you can uniquely do that no one else can do? I think our first challenge is to unlearn, not to learn. We all come from a unique environment, unique heredity, that comes together in a unique way. The problem is when culture tries to limit that. I try to think to myself, what can I uniquely do? If someone else can do this then they should do it, but what can I uniquely do? What is so irresistible that gives me the feeling of joy, that makes me laugh, that makes me feel like ah-hah I've understood something. I think that is the most important piece of advice.