Katie Couric recently interviewed writer Gloria Steinem, who is known as the godmother of the women’s movement, and Jehmu Greene of the Women’s Media Center about women in the workplace, today’s feminism, and shifting dynamics in American families.
Couric kicked off the interview with a discussion of a recent article in The Atlantic titled “The End of Men.” The article points out that women now make up the majority of the workforce and are making strides in acquiring management roles. But why does this have to mean the end of men?
Steinem, never one to bite her tongue, called the title stupid and explained how it perpetuates the idea that the women’s movement is some sort of contest between women and men, that in life someone has to win. Mainstream society continues to make feminism about domination instead of equality.
This really hit home with me. This year in my classroom I discussed feminism with my students while we were studying Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, a 19th century novel that challenged the notion of motherhood being an all-consuming identity and addressed female sexuality in a way that was risqué at the time. When I asked my class if a man be a feminist, one of my male students answered, Of course not. He said if he’s winning a race why would he want to help the other person catch up. I was floored by his comment. Furthermore, even some of my female students seemed to view a challenge to patriarchy as women attempting to completely dominate men.
Despite this, there is evidence that, contrary to all the Is Feminism Dead? articles that crop up about once a year, the women’s movement is growing. Steinem even challenged the notion that young women don’t identify with the movement, pointing out that 90 percent of young women, as opposed to 70 percent of older women, support the movement. “I think young women should sue for libel because they are so distorted in their real views,” she said with a chuckle.
The feminist movement is so successful, she said, that even conservative politicians are jumping on the bandwagon in hopes of garnering more votes. Just look at Sarah Palin, who has declared herself a feminist. But is she really?
Steinem says Palin has a right to call herself whatever she wants but added that a true feminist would not want to criminalize abortion. She said that even if a woman would never consider abortion as an option for herself, it is un-feminist for that woman to desire to take away that option for all other women.
The progress women have made is undeniable even with just a look at education. As Couric notes in the discussion, women are 60 percent of all college graduates, 68 percent of those with master’s degrees and account for most doctorate degrees. But Steinem reminds us of the sobering truth: despite these statistics women still earn 25 percent less than men and many women feel they must get college degrees because it is nearly impossible for them to break into well-paying careers that do not require a college education such as plumbing.
Greene pointed out the lack of women in management roles in the media field and the objectification of women that results in part because of this. She also touched on the fact that sexism seems so accepted in the media, evident in the treatment of the female political candidates in the last presidential campaign and the lack of outrage over that treatment. “Sexism needs to become as repugnant as racism,” she said.
Furthermore, Steinem observes, we need to stop measuring the success of the movement simply by women doing things that traditionally only men do. We also need to see more men moving into roles that were traditionally considered solely for women, such as the role of nurturing parent.
Again, this goes back to thwarting the idea that men and women are somehow competing in the game of life. I preach this constantly when talking about relationships, but we’re all in this together. Men and women need to start acting like we’re on the same team. Or as Steinem stated, we need to stop living in an either/or society and embrace an and culture. We need to stop ranking and start linking.
Watch the interview in its entirety below and let me know what you think.