Earlier this week, Gloria Steinem headlined the first annual Makers conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, a spin-off of the PBS documentary series “Makers,” about the women who “make” America.
Jennifer Aniston interviewed Steinem before a crowd of powerful women executives, activists and journalists. “I don’t do this. I’m an actress, not an interviewer,” Aniston confessed. She stumbled a bit, but when it came time to hear from the audience, the questions were sharp and to the point.
Here is a condensed version of the Q&A with Steinem:
What does the next generation of feminists have to do?
I think they know. I don’t think they need me to tell them. When people say to me, “What should I tell my daughter, what do you want her to do?” I always say, “I don’t want her to listen to me, I want her to listen to herself.”
What do you think the biggest problem is with feminism today?
Anti-feminism. The biggest problem we don’t talk about is the economic structure. The work mostly women do is given no economic value. But we all know that. I think what we don’t talk about enough is religion. Spirituality is one thing, but religion is just politics in the sky. If God looks like the ruling class, you know you are in trouble. And that’s what religion is for, to make the ruling class look like God.
What is the one action item you recommend for women?
Remember that we are all examples. If a woman passes a mirror and looks in and criticizes her body, a girl is watching. If she smiles and giggles when she’s mad, the person she is talking to doesn’t know she’s mad. If she doesn’t make sure that the office staff is properly paid when she is an executive, she is part of the problem, not the solution. It may sound corny, but be sure and vote; it’s the one place on Earth where the poorest person equals the richest person. We are discouraged from voting by people who don’t want us to vote. Be active politically and be active every day. Change doesn’t come from the top. It does come from the bottom. So just do what you can do.
How do women build bridges across racial lines so we don’t just become a movement for upper-class women?
Women of color and especially African American women have always been in the leadership of this movement, and far ahead -- more likely to be in the labor force…. If we act like this movement belongs to white women, we have rendered invisible the [women who have been the] leaders of the movement all along. We need to know each other. Nothing works without trust. [The poet] bell hooks has a great rule: If you buy shoes together, you can do politics together.
Is the portrayal of women and girls onscreen improving?
We still have to be younger than the guys. That’s a problem onscreen. What I am even more worried about is pornography. Pornography is about violence. The combination of the right wing suppressing sex education in schools and the availability of pornography is making pornography into sex education, and it’s really, really dangerous. I support the 1st Amendment. I am not going to censor people. But [women need to say], “I’m not going to have this in my house.” Pornography is to women as fascist literature is to Jews.
How do you feel about women using their sex appeal to advance their careers?
If women could sleep their way to the top, there would be a lot more women at the top.