Allebest: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. This past year I watched the TV series Mad Men, which depicts life in 1960’s and 70’s America, especially focusing on gender dynamics. One of the most striking bits of dialogue - and it wasn’t emphasized so at a different time in my life it might have flown right past me without me noticing - happened in a scene set in about 1965 in New York City, when the Civil Rights Movement was starting to really pick up steam, and a woman is talking about how she is not allowed to join certain clubs or be served in certain restaurants or get a room at a hotel or a credit card, and many jobs aren’t available to her, and even in the job she currently has she’s paid far less than her male counterparts…. all because she’s a woman. And one of her male coworkers jeers, “What, do you want a women’s march?” The show does such a good job creating the world that you can feel how utterly preposterous that sounded - a women’s march. There hadn’t been demonstrations for women’s rights since the days of the suffragettes, and as we learned from Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, those feminists were looked down on in the 1950’s and 60’s. But then as a viewer you also have that dramatic irony of realizing, oh my gosh, the women’s movement was about to start but they didn’t know that yet! So with that historical context in mind, we’re going to start today’s episode with a recording from 1970, when that idea of a women’s march had become a reality, and thousands of women were taking to the streets to demand equal rights.
(Sound clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eP_8a7PSik)
That was Gloria Steinem, in a speech at a Women’s Liberation March in about 1970, and today we are going to read a similar speech by Steinem, called “Living the Revolution”. But before we start, I want to introduce my reading partner, Amy Pal. Hi, Amy!
Pal: Hello! I’m very happy to be here.
Allebest: Amy and I met in about 2011, in the same church congregation and our kids attended the same Spanish Immersion elementary school. And fun fact: Amy was my daughter Lindsay’s Math teacher for about a year, and I taught her son in Literature circles when he was in 4th grade. Amy is one of the most wise, even-tempered, rational people I know, and I have benefited immeasurably from the hours and hours we’ve spent talking as we’ve run together in the hills of Northern California. So can we start by having you talk a bit about yourself?
Pal: Sure. So, I was born in California but mostly raised in Salt Lake City. I grew up in a large family - I have one brother and five sisters - and I absolutely loved being part of a big, bustling family environment. I was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, and I’m active in my local congregation. My parents both have professional degrees and both worked in their fields of study. To me, as a kid, my mom was seemingly always around and readily available to me, but she, in fact, worked quite a lot in both paying and non-paying positions. She is a highly accomplished musician. While I was growing up, she was teaching and performing a lot, working on big music projects, involved in a lot of great things. Her job afforded her some flexibility - she could do some of her teaching and practicing from our home, but she also needed to attend committee meetings and a lot of rehearsals. Seeing my mom engaged in worthwhile activities both inside and outside of our home had an immense influence on my understanding of a woman’s role in society. And, she certainly provided an example to me of balancing children and career, so I grew up believing that was doable with some planning and a supportive partner. Both of my parents strongly encouraged me to attain higher education degrees. I never considered not going to college. I completed my undergrad and graduate degrees in Boston. I studied speech and language pathology but I almost switched my major to psychology because I found that subject so fascinating. Luckily, there were plenty of ways that my psychology instruction could and did inform my speech and language practice, so my coursework was well utilized. While I was in school, I met a fantastic man and we married after we graduated. We stayed in Boston several more years, working and doing a bit more schooling, before moving to California. We have two terrific boys, now young men, really, which I’m still trying to process. Along the way, I’ve tried out a few different career paths besides the speech and language work. They have all been part-time because I wanted to be around while my kids were growing up and I was fortunate enough to have that option. I found a lot of joy and stimulation being at home with my kids. I also found a lot of joy and stimulation in learning new skills and trying them out in various jobs. My husband has been extremely supportive of whatever I wanted to try and provided me space and time to explore my interests.
Allebest: And then what does the term “Breaking Down Patriarchy” mean to you?
Pal: When I hear “Breaking Down Patriarchy”, I visualize the deconstruction of a brick and mortar building. It is a rigid, solid, heavy, strongly adhered building and it takes time to break that building down, but it can be done. I believe it requires unlearning, as Steinem actually mentions in this speech, unlearning for women and men. And once the old building is down, there is a period of re-building - constructing a new foundation, a new footprint, new rooms with new purposes - and the rebuilding is planned, approved, and completed by all who will use it. So, there’s a lot of negotiating and cooperating to get this new building up. This building is stronger and roomier and built to last. New learning can happen during the building process and it can happen inside the building itself once it is completed - and that new learning involves everyone, not just one class or gender or race. Everyone has the capacity to teach, learn, lead, and love in that building.
Allebest: So on one of our runs, Amy, you were talking about the TV series “Mrs. America, which chronicles the battle over the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970’s, and you were talking about Gloria Steinem… and meanwhile I had been thinking that I needed to add in iconic Steinem speech to the list of essential texts, so it worked out perfectly! So let’s get our listeners acquainted with Gloria Steinem - she’s such a fascinating woman and a cultural icon, so like Mary Wollstonecraft and Sojourner Truth and Pauli Murray we’re going to spend some more time on her than on some of our other authors, so we’ll each share some of her bio. Amy, can you start us off?
Pal: Gloria Steinem Bio
Gloria Steinem was born on March 25, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio, the daughter of Ruth and Leo Steinem. Her mother was Presbyterian, mostly of German and some Scottish descent. Her father was Jewish, the son of immigrants from Germany and Poland. Her paternal grandmother, Pauline Perlmutter Steinem, was a suffragette who worked for women’s rights in many different capacities, and also rescued many members of her family from the Holocaust.
The Steinems lived and traveled in a trailer, from which Leo carried out his trade as a roaming antiques dealer. Before Gloria was born, her mother, Ruth, then age 34, had a "nervous breakdown," which left her unable to walk, trapped in delusional fantasies that occasionally turned violent. She changed "from someone she described as energetic, fun-loving, book-loving" into "someone who was afraid to be alone, who could not hang on to reality long enough to hold a job, and who could rarely concentrate enough to read a book". Ruth spent long periods in and out of sanatoriums for people dealing with mental illness. Steinem was ten years old when her parents finally separated in 1944. Her father went to California to find work, while she and her mother continued to live together in Toledo.
Steinem did not attribute her parents’ divorce to male chauvinism on the father's part—she claims to have "understood and never blamed him for the breakup". Nevertheless, the impact of these events had a formative effect on her personality: while her father, a traveling salesman, had never provided much financial stability to the family, his exit aggravated their situation. Steinem concluded that her mother's inability to hold on to a job was evidence of general hostility towards working women. She also concluded that the general apathy of doctors towards her mother emerged from a similar anti-woman prejudice. Years later, Steinem described her mother's experience as pivotal to her understanding that women lacked social and political equality.
In 1957, Steinem had an abortion. The procedure was performed by Dr. John Sharpe, a British physician, when abortion was still illegal. Years later, Steinem dedicated her memoir My Life on the Road (2015) to him. She wrote: "Dr. John Sharpe of London, who in 1957, a decade before physicians in England could legally perform an abortion for any reason other than the health of the woman, took the considerable risk of referring for an abortion a twenty-two-year-old American on her way to India. Knowing only that she had broken an engagement at home to seek an unknown fate, he said, 'You must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.'"
Steinem’s first “serious assignment” as a journalist was a 1962 article about the way in which women are forced to choose between a career and marriage. [This article is, as listeners will remember, on the same topic as Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique, and was published a year before Friedan’s book was published.
In 1963, while working on an article for Huntington Hartford's Show magazine, Steinem went undercover as a Playboy Bunny at the New York Playboy Club. The article, published in 1963 as "A Bunny's Tale", featured a photo of Steinem in Bunny uniform and detailed how women were treated at those clubs, and you can still see that photo online if you look it up! Steinem has maintained that she is proud of the work she did publicizing the exploitative working conditions of the bunnies and especially the sexual demands made of them, which were barely legal. But for a brief period after the article was published, Steinem was unable to land other assignments; in her words, this was "because I had now become a Bunny—and it didn't matter why."
Steinem was often referred to as “the pretty one” in the feminist movement and some tried to dismiss her because of her looks. As if a woman couldn’t be pretty and an activist or pretty and a journalist. Maybe her looks worked in her favor in some cases - perhaps to get in the door with politicians or others in seats of power - but I would imagine that was due more to her intelligence and wit, her skills of persuasion and listening, than to her being attractive.
In 1969, she covered an abortion speak-out for New York Magazine, which was held in a church basement in Greenwich Village, New York. She felt what she called a "big click" at the speak-out, and later said she didn't begin her life as an active feminist until that day. As she recalled, "Abortion is supposed to make us a bad person. But I must say, I never felt that. I used to sit and try and figure out how old the child would be, trying to make myself feel guilty. But I never could! Speaking for myself, I knew it was the first time I had taken responsibility for my own life. I wasn't going to let things happen to me. I was going to direct my life, and therefore it felt positive. But still, I didn't tell anyone. Because I knew that out there it wasn't." She also said, "In later years, if I'm remembered at all it will be for inventing a phrase like 'reproductive freedom' ... as a phrase it includes the freedom to have children or not to. So it makes it possible for us to make a coalition."
In 1969, she published an article, "After Black Power, Women's Liberation" which brought her to national fame as a feminist leader. As such she campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in its favor in 1970. And we’re going to talk about the ERA on our very next episode! That same year she published her essay on a utopia of gender equality, "What It Would Be Like If Women Win", in Time magazine.
On July 10, 1971, Steinem was one of over three hundred women who founded the National Women's Political Caucus (NWPC), including such notables as Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, and Shirley Chisholm. As a co-convener of the Caucus, she delivered the speech "Address to the Women of America", stating in part:
“This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race because they are easy and visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen or those earned. We are really talking about humanism.”
In 1972, she co-founded the feminist-themed magazine Ms. alongside several other founding editors. Its 300,000 test copies sold out nationwide in eight days, and within weeks, Ms. had received 26,000 subscription orders and over 20,000 reader letters. [And if listeners want to look at the cover of the first episode of Ms magazine, you can see it on our Facebook or Instagram accounts, @bdownpatriarchy, where we post visuals and other supplemental content.] Also, it’s worth talking about the title “Ms.” Men don’t have a distinguishing title to announce whether they’re married or not! That’s a powerful political act for a woman to refuse to be defined by her marital status - whether or not she belongs to a man.
In 1976, the first women-only Passover seder was held in Esther M. Broner's New York City apartment and led by Broner, with 13 women attending, including Steinem. And here I have to comment about the disproportionately large number of Jewish women who have made world-changing contributions to women’s studies. Just on this podcast we have read: Riane Eisler, Gerda Lerner, Betty Friedan, later we’ll read Naomi Wolf and Peggy Orenstein, and Rebecca Solnit’s dad was Jewish… I’m so amazed and impressed and grateful for the work of Jewish women!
Anyway, jumping ahead a bit, in 1984, Steinem was arrested along with a number of members of Congress and civil rights activists for disorderly conduct outside the South African embassy while protesting against the South African apartheid system.
She has spoken out against female genital cutting, among many other issues. Interestingly, she is very anti- pornography, which she distinguishes from erotica, writing: "Erotica is as different from pornography as love is from rape, as dignity is from humiliation, as partnership is from slavery, as pleasure is from pain."Steinem's argument hinges on the distinction between reciprocity versus domination, as she writes, "Blatant or subtle, pornography involves no equal power or mutuality. In fact, much of the tension and drama comes from the clear idea that one person is dominating the other."
Other interesting facts: Contrary to popular belief, Steinem did not coin the feminist slogan "A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." When Time magazine published an article attributing the saying to Steinem, Steinem wrote a letter saying the phrase had been coined by Irina Dunn.
Another phrase sometimes wrongly attributed to Steinem is, "If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." (which you shared earlier, Amy.) Steinem herself attributed it to "an old Irish woman taxi driver in Boston."
Steinem has frequently talked about the highbrow, inaccessible writing of feminist academic theorists. One quote that reflects this frustration: "Nobody cares about feminist academic writing. That's careerism. These poor women in academia have to talk this silly language that nobody can understand in order to be accepted ... But I recognize the fact that we have this ridiculous system of tenure, that the whole thrust of academia is one that values education, in my opinion, in inverse ratio to its usefulness—and what you write in inverse relationship to its understandability." Steinem also said "I always wanted to put a sign up on the road to Yale saying, 'Beware: Deconstruction Ahead'. Academics are forced to write in language no one can understand so that they get tenure. They have to say 'discourse', not 'talk'. Knowledge that is not accessible is not helpful. It becomes aerialised—and I think it's important that women's experiences be given a narrative."
Steinem married once, at the age of 66. On September 3, 2000, she married David Bale, father of actor Christian Bale. [What the heck?! I did not know that!] The wedding was performed at the home of her friend Wilma Mankiller, the first female Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Steinem and Bale were married for only three years before he died of brain lymphoma on December 30, 2003, at age 62.
Steinem now lives in New York City.
One last thing by way of introduction is that I want to note where this speech comes in the historical timeline. Remember that we just read Pauli Murray’s “Jane Crow and the Law” article about Title VII in 1965, and just last week we discussed Frances Beal’s “Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female” in 1969, and we talked a bit about how the Civil Rights movement inspired and trained women to start the women’s movement - similar to the pattern in the 19th Century, where the anti-slavery movement started the women’s movement that led to women’s right to vote. In both cases it was a messy process, where too frequently white women would talk about “women’s rights” but what they meant was “white women” and they didn’t even have women of color on their radar. I was really happy to see Steinem mention racism and include BIPOC women several times throughout the speech, and my understanding is that Steinem really had an inclusive, all-encompassing vision for the movement, right, Amy?
Pal: She truly did and, from more recent publications I’ve read by her or about her, she continues to have that same broad outlook. Steinem highlights this right at the beginning of her speech when she says: “We are ...spending this time together, considering the larger implications of a movement that some call ‘feminist’ but should more accurately be called humanist; a movement that is an integral part of rescuing this country from its old, expensive patterns of elitism, racism, and violence.”
I love that Steinem said feminism is really a humanist movement and connects gender discrimination to other forms of oppression and prejudice. The word in this quote that really jumps out at me is “expensive”. Our old patterns are expensive in so many ways. Yes, economically, there is great cost in discriminating against women and limiting their options in the workforce. I learned about this in sociology coursework and through studies by a whole host of organizations like the IMF and S&P Global, but I’ve also read about it over the years in mainstream publications like Forbes, Bloomberg, and Harvard Business Review, so it’s a well-studied issue. It’s in our economy’s best interest to encourage women to enter the workforce and then to provide women a safe and engaging work environment to increase retention rates.
I also believe our old ways are expensive to our spirits. If a man is relegated to the workplace and the woman is relegated to the home, both genders are losing out. The either/or model is so restrictive. I can be either a homemaker or a marine biologist. I can be either an attorney or a caretaker. When I was growing up, we’d listen to “Free to Be You and Me” in the car during our family road trips. There was this song I loved called “William Wants a Doll”. It was about this boy William who wanted a doll and kept asking for one, but that wasn’t what he was supposed to want. He was supposed to want trains or a basketball and so his parents would give him that instead. Finally, his grandma asks him what he likes and he tells her, sure, I like baseball, but I really want a doll. William’s grandma gives him a doll and explains to his parents that he wants to practice with a doll so that he can be a good father someday. He wants to be comfortable holding that doll, dressing that doll, and all the rest of it. I remember thinking, yeah, William wants a baseball and a doll. Sure. So, play with both. Do your sports and feed your doll. Meanwhile, I wanted to build with Legos in my room, and shoot hoops with friends at recess, and play with my baby sister. It’s not an either/or situation at all. Legos and basketball and babysitting all helped me in my parenting and they all helped me in my careers. I believe when we confine people and tell them where they go, we lose the richness of people, the multifacetedness of humans. And I think we can crush people’s spirits because we are incomplete if we have limited choices or no choices and we can’t develop our various interests.
Wow!! Now I know some more about why you are the amazing person you are! I must add that that’s not a typical cassette tape choice for a conservative religious family in the 1980’s! Was that just who your parents were?
I’ve never gone back and asked my mom and dad, why were you playing “Free to Be, You and Me” because I think they answered the question simply by owning the cassette and sharing it with us. As I was growing up, I realized they were quite open-minded and slow to judge others. I imagine they were influenced by the family cultures they grew up in and, maybe, by living in big cities, and having the opportunity to be in a minority position, and gaining some perspective by seeing how other people live.
Pal: So the next part I wanted to highlight is this - The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to un-learn. We are filled with the Popular Wisdom of several centuries just past, and we are terrified to give it up. Patriotism means obedience, age means wisdom, woman means submission, black means inferior - these are preconceptions embedded so deeply in our thinking that we honestly may not know that they are there.
This is a big one and I think un-learning takes a tremendous amount of work - a lot of time and energy. And it’s constant work and ongoing work. For me, I don’t think the work will ever end. Since we’re sponges from day one, we’ve already absorbed a great deal before we even know what learning means. We’re picking stuff up everywhere - preschool, home, church, the grocery store, the park. For me, as an adult, it’s like peeling an onion to un-learn harmful stereotypes and conventions. Maybe I un-learn a couple really blatant stereotypes, so I’ve peeled off the skin of the onion. But now, I’m realizing there are all of these subtler biases and prejudices I have. And, I peel those back and then I’m working on the next layer. It’s a work in progress.
One stereotype I had to un-learn was related to my place in the classroom. That I wasn’t capable of excelling or shouldn’t excel in certain subjects, that perhaps I was even in the way, and that I should play down my book smarts. I did not learn this in my childhood home. In my family of origin, developing one’s mind and expanding one’s cultural and intellectual horizons was encouraged and praised regardless of one’s gender. I learned it in school. I took a lot of slack in middle and high school for being a “brain”. I vividly remember times when I didn’t raise my hand in high school physics or chemistry because I was tired of the heckling, the dumb blonde jokes. The boys didn’t get taunted, just the girls at the top of the class. The comments came from both peers and teachers. And, by the way, you couldn’t win as a girl. Girls got teased for being smart and teased for being “airheads”, but the smart girls seemed to be more of a threat. A few key high school teachers and many of my college professors assisted with my un-learning process. My family of origin helped a great deal, without knowing it. I didn’t report the verbal jeering I experienced to any of my family members, but I imagine some of my sisters experienced this as well. They are all much smarter than me and, as far as I could tell, were completely unapologetic about the fact that they were dynamite students. My parents were and are very proud of our academic and professional achievements and that helped me un-learn as well. I also had this friend in college who was in the same major as me and she was just brimming with confidence. I mean, it was dripping off of her and it was not an overcompensation due to underlying insecurities. It was just genuine, healthy confidence. She was smart and she owned it. I loved being around her. Between my sisters and that friend, I had terrific examples encouraging me to use my intelligence to improve the world, that it wasn’t something to be ashamed of or to hide from others. It made me realize how critical it is to have women working as professors, CEOs, astronauts, judges, congresswomen for growing girls to observe and emulate.
Unfortunately, authorities who write textbooks are sometimes subject to the same Popular Wisdom as the rest of us. They gather their proof around it, and end by becoming the theoreticians of the status quo. Using the most respectable of scholarly methods, for instance, English scientists proved definitively that the English were descended from the angels, while the Irish were descended from the apes. It was beautifully, done, complete with comparative skull-measurements, and it was a rationale for the English domination of the Irish for more than 100 years. I try to remember that when I’m reading Arthur Jensen’s current and very impressive work on the limitation of black intelligence. Or when I’m reading Lionel Tiger on the inability of women to act in groups.
And I try to remember it when I’m reading Jordan Peterson repeat the same old stories that women are “chaotic” and women aren’t fit for certain jobs because they report more anxiety (which is the oldest trick in the book - people struggle with discrimination, they’re told they don’t belong there, and thus feel anxiety, and then are blamed for that anxiety, and told again that they don’t belong there - it’s a vicious cycle that reminds me of Virginia Woolf responding to critics who were saying that women couldn’t write. You’re making it worse!!!). Peterson loves those old archetypes, and actually there was an article in Time magazine where he says how much he hates the movie “Frozen” and instead prefers “Sleeping Beauty” because the active, conscious archetype is male, and the unconscious archetype is female. In Frozen the women are conscious, proactive characters who love men but don’t need to be saved by men, and he says that’s “propaganda.” [And people I know and love listen to him like he’s a prophet!!]
Who are some other authorities or writings that gather proof around false ideas, causing ongoing harm because people continue to believe those ideas?
Every day we see small obvious truths that we had missed before. Our histories, for instance, have generally been written for and about white men. Inhabited countries were “discovered” when the first white male set foot there, and most of us learned more about any one European country than we did about Africa and Asia combined.
Too many of us have been allowed from a “good” education to believe that everything from political power to scientific discovery was the province of white males. I don’t know about Vassar, but at Smith we learned almost nothing about women.
This moment in the speech is where my jaw dropped. Here Steinem is a student at a Women’s College, an institution created so that women could have access to higher education, and she is taught “almost nothing” about women. That is astonishing to me. Smith College’s first six presidents were men. In 1975, Smith inaugurated its first woman president and since then, all of the presidents have been women. I would be curious to know how much time was and is devoted to learning about women’s historical contributions across all facets of society since 1975, when the women presidents started coming in. Steinem’s college experience demonstrates why a diverse faculty and board is important for institutions. And a diverse library. If we want to provide a balanced and honest education for all of the students, we need to provide representation - because seeing is believing.
I attended college about 40 years after Steinem and what I found was that I learned a lot about women in some courses and virtually nothing about women in others. My field of study was dominated by women, so there were a lot of women in leadership roles and substantial research published by women. My professors in psychology and sociology had quite a lot to say about women, and many of those professors were women themselves. I heard little to nothing about women in my general science and mathematics classes. Same with philosophy.
Lindsay is learning much more about women than I did - of course she’s at Boston University, your alma mater, and not at BYU, where I attended, and that’s huge! But she still says it’s not nearly enough.
We knew a great deal more about the outdated, male-supremacist theories of Sigmund Freud than we did about societies in which women had equal responsibility, or even ruled.
I have to throw this in here because I did learn a ton about Freud in a high school Psychology class, and then again in college, and no one ever provided any caveat to say we shouldn’t just gulp it all down as gospel truth. So I did!!! Then finally we read Freud during my Master’s program and my professor did say “Freud did more damage to women than almost anyone else in the 20th Century” - and I was like “what???”
So I want to share a bit of Freud here - Betty Freidan devoted a whole chapter to Freud in The Feminist Mystique, and Marta and I wanted to talk about it but we didn’t have time, so I want to read some quotes here. Freud was publishing his work from the late 1800’s through the 1930’s, and his work hugely influenced the way people thought of their own lives and their own minds. [
“The fact is that to Freud, even more than to the magazine editors on Madison Avenue today, women were a strange, inferior, less-than-human species. He saw them as childlike dolls, who existed in terms only of man’s love, to love man and serve his needs. It was the same kind of unconscious solipsism that made man for many centuries see the sun only as a bright object that revolved around the earth. Freud grew up with this attitude built in by his culture - not only the culture of Victorian Europe, but that Jewish culture in which men said the daily prayer: ‘I thank Thee, Lord, that Thou has not created me a woman.’.... It was woman’s nature to be ruled by man, and her sickness to envy him.” (The Feminine Mystique, 87)
[From Freud’s letters to his wife]:
I know, after all, how sweet you are, how you can turn a house into a paradise, how you will share in my interests, how gentle yet painstaking you will be. I will let you rule the house as much as you wish, and you will reward me with your sweet love and by rising above all those weaknesses for which women are so often despised. As far as my activities allow, we shall read together what we want to learn, and I will initiate you into things which could not interest a girl as long as she is unfamiliar with her future companion and his occupation…
[In another letter, he says]:
You are far too soft, and this is something I have got to correct. ...You are my precious little woman and even if you make a mistake, you are nonetheless so… But you know all this, my sweet child…”
Can I jump in here and say: I feel like I’m going to vomit.
One quick one:
An Equal Rights Amendment, now up again before the Senate, has been delayed by a male-chauvinist Congress for 47 years.
47 years in 1970, + 51 years since then = 98 years. That’s our next episode!
[Steinem talks about myths that are still believed about women, the first being that women are biologically inferior to men. The second is that women are already being treated equally in society. She says they are not. She says]:
…In many parts of the country, New York City, for instance, a woman has no legally-guaranteed right to rent an apartment, buy a house, get accommodations in a hotel, or be served in a public restaurant. She can be refused simply because of her sex. In some states, women cannot own property, and get longer jail sentences for the same crime. Women on welfare must routinely answer humiliating personal questions; male welfare recipients do not. A woman is the last to be hired, the first to be fired. Equal pay for equal work is the exception. Equal chance for advancement, especially at upper levels or at any level with authority over men, is rare enough to be displayed in a museum.
It is easy for me to take all of this progress for granted. I have many women, including Steinem, and some men as well to thank for my ability to have my own bank account and credit card, for my right to rent my own apartment, to own property, to attain a job in various fields. What I admire so much about Steinem is her desire to listen and empathize, to encourage peace in our world. She likely would not agree with all of my beliefs and I don’t agree with all of her stances, but I am confident that she would be willing to listen and try to understand what I believe and why I believe it. Listening to one another and working to understand one another is, to me, a critical component of being a humanist; and it is vital to the re-building process that needs to happen in cooperation with men.
I love this. Right now I’m reading Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, which we’ll talk about on a future episode, and she keeps talking about the importance of openly acknowledging our differences, because that dialectic of opposing sides sparks creativity. And that doesn’t happen if we pretend to agree with each other when we don’t, and it doesn’t happen if we fight with each other. It happens when peers listen to each other with the intent to really understand.
The whole system reinforces this feeling of being a mere appendage. It’s hard for a man to realize just how full of self-doubt we become as a result.
This makes me think back to the episode on “Killing the Angel in the House” where in the beginning of the episode Rachelle and I talked about the Victorian cult of domesticity wherein women were praised and adored for being helpers and facilitators, always orbiting men and making sure they pleased the men. And then later in the same episode we were talking about we were so full of self-doubt all the time. Perhaps it literally is being peripheral - an appendage - that causes that self-doubt! Especially considering what Woolf was saying about “soothe, flatter, don’t make him mad, make sure you please him.” Being an appendage means you’re just at the service of something else and you have no real power of your own, no sovereignty, always at the mercy and whim of the person you’re trying to please. So no wonder that creates anxiety and self-doubt! Reading that connection from Steinem really clicked for me.
Anthropologist Geofrey Corer discovered that the few peaceful human tribes had a common characteristic: sex roles were not polarized, boys weren’t taught that manhood depended on aggression … and girls weren’t taught that womanhood depended on submission.
So, here again I think of William who wanted a doll. Let’s give space for William to have a doll and to co-raise any children he has down the road. I think when we allow men and women to work in partnership, we find more fluidity in family roles and more fulfillment, too. If my husband and I have a relationship that is an equal partnership, then we discuss and decide together how we will each contribute to the relationship. And it’s not fixed. Maybe we start out both working in careers we choose, we both help with housework and household errands. We revisit our roles now and again, do some shuffling. We have some kids. I decide I want to work in the home for a while, or maybe my husband wants that. Or maybe we decide to split it up 50/50 and both work part-time in our careers outside of the home. Think of the benefits for society and for children. In the workplace, now both this woman and this man can make some contributions. Maybe the woman will come up with a key component needed to capture carbon. Or maybe the man will develop a new negotiation technique that helps with nuclear arms agreements. Now, we can have access to both. In the home, the kids have access to both mom’s and dad’s natural talents and skill sets. Maybe dad has a great eye for art and tremendous patience. Maybe mom is a mathematics whiz and has a great sense of humor. Well, now their kids can have access to all of these traits and skills. That enriches their lives and it enriches their parents’ lives. And to both society’s benefit and the family’s benefit, these kids are learning that mom and dad can both actively participate in all aspects of parenting, that they both can contribute to the community outside of the home through a variety of means including their careers.
That’s powerful. And it reminds me of one last quote from the speech, where Steinem says:
For those who still fear that Women Liberation involves some loss of manhood, let me quote from the Black Panther code. Certainly, if the fear with which they are being met is any standard, the Panthers are currently the most potent male symbol of all. In Service the Time, Bobby Seals writes, “Where there’s a Panther house, we try to live socialism. When there’s cooking to be done, both brothers and sisters cook. Both wash the dishes. The sisters don’t just serve and wait on the brothers. A lot of black nationalist organizations have the idea of relegating women to the role of serving their men, and they relate this to black manhood. But a real manhood is based on humanism, and is not based on any form of oppression.”
I want to post that everywhere!! “Real manhood is based on humanism, and is not based on any form of oppression.” And it accomplishes what you just talked about Amy, which is enabling all human beings to be the fullest expressions of themselves.
What is a major takeaway from this speech, Amy?
Pal: I would say Steinem sums it up beautifully when she says “Women’s Liberation really is Men’s Liberation, too.” By letting go of our “old, expensive patterns”, we actually open up more options and more possibilities to our lives. We would have access to more people’s creativity and ideas. I think it is very exciting! As a person who doesn’t always love change, I can understand a reluctance to shake up the status quo. This is where we can emulate Steinem’s example of being empathic and kind. If we respectfully listen to one another about fears that are preventing us from releasing those “expensive patterns”, we may be able to help one another move past these fears and create a more fulfilling and peaceful world..
Allebest: I love that positive perspective, Amy! Let’s leave that as the last word.
Thank you so much for being here!
Next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy, we will be talking about the Equal Rights Amendment. It’s only one sentence long, so you don’t have anything to read this week, but if you want to do some preparation, you could watch the FX series Mrs. America, where you can also learn more about Gloria Steinem, and about Phyllis Schlafly, whom my daughter Lindsay says she is going to do battle with in the afterlife. Or you could watch John Oliver’s show on The Equal Rights Amendment on June 9, 2019, if you don’t mind some language. Or you could simply look it up online and read this incredibly important 24-word text, and then join us for the discussion of the Equal Rights Amendment, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy.
…The power women have as consumers is comparable to that power all of us currently have as voters: we can choose among items presented to us, but we have little chance to influence the presentation. Women’s greatest power to date is her nuisance value. The civil rights, peace, and consumer movements are impressive examples of that. In fact, the myth of economic matriarchy in this country is less testimony to our power than to the resentment of the little power we do have.
You may wonder why we have submitted to such humiliations all these years; why, indeed, women will sometimes deny that they are second class citizens at all. The answer lies in the psychology of second-classness. Like all such groups, we come to accept what society says about us. And that is the most terrible punishment of all.
Even when we come to understand that we, as individuals, are not second class, we still accept society’s assessment of our group – a phenomenon psychologists refer to as Internalized Aggression. From this stems the desire to be the only woman in an office, an academic department, or any other part of the man’s world. From this also stems women who put down their sisters – and my own profession of journalism has some of them. By writing or speaking of their non-conformist sisters in a disapproving, conformist way, [some women] are essentially saying, “See what a real woman I am,” and expecting to be rewarded by ruling-class approval and favors.
I don’t want to give the impression though that we want to join society exactly as it is. I don’t think most women want to pick up slimline briefcases and march off to meaningless, de-personalized jobs. Nor do we want to be drafted – and women certainly should be drafted: even the readers of Seventeen Magazine were recently polled as being overwhelmingly in favor of women in National Service – to serve in an unconstitutional, racist, body-count war like the one in Indochina. We want to liberate men from those inhuman roles as well. We want to share the work and the responsibility, and to have men share equal responsibility for the children.
3. Probably the ultimate myth is that children must have full time mothers, and that liberated women make bad ones. To get back to the sanity of the agrarian or joint-family system, we need free universal daycare. With that aid, as in Scandinavian countries, and with laws that permit women equal work and equal pay, men will be relieved of their role as sole breadwinner and stranger to his own children.
No more so-called “Jewish mothers,” who are simply normal ambitious human beings with all their ambitions confined to the house. No more wives who fall apart with the first wrinkle, because they’ve been taught their total identity depends on their outsides. No more responsibility for another adult human being who has never been told she is responsible for her own life, and who sooner or later comes up with some version of, “If I hadn’t married you, I could have been a star.” ...Women’s Liberation really is Men’s Liberation, too.
The point is that Women’s Liberation is not destroying the American family: it is trying to build a human, compassionate alternative out of its ruins. Engels said that the paternalistic, 19th Century family system was the prototype of capitalism - with man, the capitalist; woman, the means of production; children the labor - and that the family would only change as the economic system did.
4. One final myth: that women are more moral than men. We are not more moral, we are only uncorrupted by power. [Because women had no access to positions of power]
Much of the trouble this country is in has to do with the Masculine Mystique: the idea that manhood somehow depends on the subjugation of other people. It’s a bipartisan problem.
The truth is none of us can be liberated if other groups are not. Women’s Liberation is a bridge between black and white women, but also between the construction workers and the suburbanites, between Nixon’s Silent majority and the young people they hate and fear.
Could feminism play a role in the rift in America now?
One more thing, especially to the sisters, because I wish someone had said it to me; it would have saved me so much time: You don’t have to play one role in this revolutionary age above all others. If you’re willing to pay the price for it, you can do anything you want to do. And the price is worth it.
Is this true? Can women do anything they want to do? Can they do everything they want to do, and is that a different question? What is the price? Can men do anything they want? Everything they want? What is their price?