Gloria Steinem in Clearwater: domestic abuse used to just be life

10/22/12 Janelle Irwin
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Feminist Gloria Steinem was in Pinellas County over the weekend to rally against proposed constitutional amendments on the Florida ballot – including one that could allow Florida to outlaw abortions if Roe verses Wade were ever overturned. I spoke with Steinem about how she got involved in the women’s liberation movement and what continued anti-abortion legislation across the country means for women.

"When I was growing up I really was lucky in a way because I didn't go to school very much until I was 12 so I think what got preserved, just by luck, was that little kid sense of "it's not fair, you are not the boss of me". Then I got submerged by the so called feminine roles beginning in teenage years and didn't come out again until my late 30's when the women's movement came along and said "no, you're right, it's not fair and together we can do something about it".

What are some things that you've seen over the decades that have been positive changes for women?

"Well, first of all we know if we think we're full human beings we're not crazy. You know, the system is crazy, we're not crazy. And that's huge because we were, in the past, made to feel like there was something wrong with us if we didn't accept less pay or want to marry our identity rather than gaining it ourselves and all kinds of other measures. We understand that our sense of justice and fair play is logical and a majority believe in that and that makes a huge, huge difference. Also we now have names for things that we didn't have any name for before. Domestic violence had no name it was just called life. The idea that you didn't get equal pay was justified, 'well they're just working for pin money'. Now, at least we have names for what's wrong, we have laws to remedy them, we have a majority that supports a remedy for them. We haven't achieved equal pay yet but we've moved toward it and that is what's important and I think we need to remember that it took a hundred years to gain a legal identity as human beings for men of color and women of all races in the suffragist and abolitionist movement. It's going to take a century to gain legal and social equality and we're about, what, forty years into it."

I've talked to a lot of women who have argued that even though there has been a lot of progress over the past couple of years we've actually taken some major steps backward. How do you feel about that? Do you think there's an argument to be made for that?

"Well, because we have majority support we have a backlash. Now the people who, through no fault of theirs probably got born into a system that said there was a hierarchy in the family, there was a racial or a class hierarchy, and so on, it was natural. They are in the minority now so they're in backlash. The backlash is the proof of the frontlash. See what I mean? There wouldn't be a backlash if we hadn't succeeded in changing the consciousness and the minds and hearts of most folks in this country."

What about the nationwide push to overturn components of Roe v. Wade, attacks on women's reproductive health? Here in Florida we have Amendment 6, which I'm sure you're familiar with, which says it's no public funding for abortion but also has some privacy components involved in it as well. How do you feel about these efforts on a nationwide level?

"First of all, it's a very relatively small group because most Americans overwhelmingly believe that reproductive freedom is like freedom of speech, it belongs to the individual and we don't want politicians and government making these decisions for us. So what we've seen is a backlash in the most right wing parts of the government which means state legislatures which are the most likely to be controlled in a non-democratic way. We have to take some blame for that. Most of us in this country probably don't know the names of our state legislators so they've been functioning in a way that's controlled by the industries they regulate, in many cases, certainly not in all cases but the insurance industry, the liquor industry, the real estate industry and so on. It doesn't...the fact that it's nationwide doesn't make it a majority. So we have the right to demand reproductive freedom, like freedom of speech. And these measures, especially in Romney's Republican Party platform, the Human Life Amendment would declare the fertilized egg to be a person, not a woman. So throughout our child bearing years our bodies would be nationalized. And he has tne nerve to then pretend to go on television and say he has no plans to overturn Roe v. Wade when, in fact, it's the heart of the Republican Party platform. I would say he has the biggest distance I've ever seen in a candidate between what he says and what he does."

What can women do?

"Women can vote for themselves. Whether they're Republican or Democratic or Independent or have never voted before. Vote for your own dignity and right to make decisions and right to have equal pay which Romney has refused to support. Forget about party labels and vote for yourself, vote for democracy."

That was longtime feminist Gloria Steinem at Wildflower Café in Clearwater where she met with more than 30 women on Saturday. Steinem is a best selling author and co-founder of the Women’s Media Center.

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