Active in feminism and civil rights since the 1960s, Steinem co-founded Ms. magazine in 1972, where she was an editor for 15 years and continues to serve as a consulting editor, playing an integral part in the magazine’s move to be published by the Feminist Majority Foundation. In 1968, she helped to found New York Magazine, where she was a political columnist and wrote feature articles. She has been recognized for her magazine, television and documentary screenwriting.
“We should be past the point of seeing issues that especially affect female human beings as separate from other issues,” Steinem said. “Or issues that have to do with race, sexuality or class as separate from others. They’re not separate. They’re all of a piece. We as country, we’re missing remedies that would help all of us because we divide ourselves in that way.”
Steinem says one of those remedies is equal pay, something she calls the single, greatest economic stimulus policy. Turning 80 in late March, Steinem continues to draw attention to what she calls systemic and institutional problems in America.
“We have the least family-friendly work policies of any democracy on Earth,” she said. “We don’t have any national system of child care. The expense of child care now surpasses the expense of a college education.”
Steinem’s focus is not limited to just the United States or the Western world. She draws upon an argument made in a 2012 book by Valerie Hudson called Sex and World Peace.“It shows that the most reliable predictor of whether there is violence internal to a country, in the street or whether a country is likely to use military violence against another country is not poverty, natural resources, religion or even degree of democracy,” Steinem said. “It’s violence against females.”
Before her presentation at MCLA, Steinem was asked if she thinks young women today know who is she is and what she’s done.
“I must say I don’t care if they know who I am or not,” she said. “I just want them to know who they are.”
MCLA president Mary Grant says Steinem and others of her generation helped smooth the road for women to get a college education and enter leadership roles. But Grant says there is room for improvement, saying not enough women are on the boards of Fortune 500 companies or serve as college presidents. And ensuring equal pay for equal work remains a major concern.
“There’s a body of work that Gloria Steinem has accumulated over a lifetime,” Grant said. “She will be 80 years-old in March and she’s still not done. So I think that in itself is inspirational of what you can do if you devote yourself to making a difference no matter what that difference is.”
Melissa Williams is a junior studying English at MCLA hoping to enter a career in journalism.
“I think it’s important to bring the new generation to say ‘what can we do?” to continue this,” Williams said. “Because sometimes it feels like the feminist movement is at a standstill, it’s at a plateau. It’s good to refresh it and say ‘where are we going from here?”
Steinem is writing a book detailing her more than 30 years on the road as a feminist organizer. The speech was the latest in MCLA’s public policy lecture series.