In Defense of Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem deserves our respect, period.
Gloria Steinem deserves our respect, period.

In an interview with Bill Maher Friday evening, longtime feminist icon and political activist Gloria Steinem seemed to make a misstep of enormous proportions. When responding to Bernie Sanders’s widespread popularity among female millennials, Steinem was quoted as saying, “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.”

Steinem seemed to be implying that young feminists are passively inactive and vote according to the interests of their male counterparts, not according to their own choices. It could even be construed that she believes young women do so in the interests of romance. And while this statement is certainly problematic and merits attention, it did not deserve the overwhelming amount of negative criticism and backlash aimed at Steinem.

Young feminists everywhere began demanding some sort of apology and contrite mea culpa from Steinem. And, while she corrected herself publicly in a Facebook post, it immediately became clear that that wasn’t good enough for the incensed masses of the Internet.

She followed up her original statement, saying, “Young women are active, and mad as hell…Whether they gravitate to Bernie or Hillary, young women are activist and feminist in greater numbers than ever before.”

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Steinem’s remarks have everything to do with her generation, not her understanding of women. Recall a time when women were encouraged to vote according to their husband’s preference in order to gain peacefulness in the home. While we may all laugh at the very idea, this was a real issue within feminism of the last century. 

And speaking of the church-fueled patriarchy and antiquated ideas from the last century, Madeleine Albright’s latest advice for women in regards to voting raises far more alarm than Steinem’s ever could. She suggests that all women vote for Hillary Clinton and “…there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” Albright's comment is a direct insult to any woman who votes using her own assessments.

For many women, we acknowledge Clinton has a vagina, but it’s not enough. Her wavering stance on important issues over the years, in addition to her pandering and disconnect with the mainstream democratic voter, is a serious concern. While she may be flirting with issues of import such as hefty student loan burdens, her attempt at reaching younger constituents has been a colossal failure. Unintentionally comedic was her tweet “How does your student loan debt make you feel? Tell us in three emojis or less.”

Sure, she didn’t write that, and some hapless campaign manager eager for millennial votes did, but it doesn’t matter. Nobody wants to be told for whom he or she should vote, even when it comes from our progressive feminist icons. For far too long, women have been told exactly what to do and what not to do.

And while that sentiment is legitimate and real, the Internet outrage over Steinem is enough. There is a sense of entitlement so grand and widespread over this non-issue that it speaks to something broken within this generation. There is no sense of grace or forgiveness toward a woman who will celebrate her 82nd birthday this year. No pass for misspeaking, no excuse for an icon whose slight has caused an uproar.

The ire from the commenters on her Facebook post — people purporting to be feminists themselves — used hateful and inflammatory comments that seemed to echo the very people who would embrace feminism retroactively stepping back 100 years. Young feminists began roasting their very own leader in a cannibalistic display only Donald Trump could love. And probably did.

Shame on you. Here’s the thing: Steinem doesn’t owe you anything, not even an apology, and here’s why.

We’d rather join a discussion group spouting the latest feminist buzzwords in some kind of self-congratulatory display than actually do things like create a feminist journal, organize a national movement, join a myriad presidential campaigns to encourage female rights…you know, all things Steinem actually did and still does at 81 years of age.

This is the sad state of feminism today. Feminists are content to argue with strangers on social media and shamelessly call themselves activists. It’s a fake fight; it’s all luchador wrestling. Bandwagon hating at full abandon, articles started appearing everywhere that tore the icon to pieces. One article even recalled her connection to the CIA and threw doubt on her Presidential Medal of Freedom in the name of women’s rights. What’s next? Tin-foil hats and Illuminati ties?

While we angrily type away at one another on the Internet, there are grand human rights issues ignored — such as the fact that women’s rights are still not protected by the Constitution of our country — and that deserves far more energy than outrage over a misstep in an interview. These are rights for which Steinem is still actively fighting. It invites the question: What is this generation doing for equality?

Well?

It’s the height of hypocrisy how women can demand to have their feelings assuaged by the woman who is the reason many of us even understand what feminism actually is. For a woman who has dedicated her entire life to the advancement of equality, it’s hard to imagine that there would be masses of people who concurrently support her human rights agenda and now call for her demise.

What are you doing for women's rights?
What are you doing for women's rights?

In a sweeping occurrence of dramatic irony, the critics who demand her retraction stand on the threshold of privilege she helped design. It was her determination to battle forces that refused to acknowledge her place on this earth as an equal human being that won the very rights women now enjoy. These feminists stand on the shoulders of Steinem.

It’s a gross miscarriage of progressivism that we’d rather fight about who said what on the Internet than actually form a real protest, organize a rally and move forward with a petition that could improve the lives of women.

The fight for rights and equality has never been about feelings, being offended or demanding apologies. The fights are about real issues concerning safe access to reproductive care, wage equality and women’s rights, among dozens of other real concerns. And, when we lose sight of that, we’ve lost the battle.


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