At 69, Steinem is more outspoken than ever

Just about the time that American forces launched the first attack on Iraq, Gloria Steinem called for the impeachment of President Bush.

"George W. Bush is doing exactly what Osama bin Laden has in mind. Bush has antagonized our allies and endangered every one of us. He should be impeached," said Steinem, a foremother of modern feminism. A "whoop" of support came from part of the audience.

Steinem addressed more than 850 people attending an "Arts & Issues" lecture at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville recently. In a wide-ranging interview after the lecture, she spoke about her early days in the feminist movement, as well as the growth of that movement throughout the world.

Steinem's sharp edges, finely honed over 30 years, were softened from time to time with humor throughout the 90-minute program, but she was forthright on every point.

"We are the women our parents warned us against, and we are proud," she said, grinning. Later, she reminded the audience — made up mostly of women — that women make up the one group that gets more radical with age. Steinem just turned 69.

A native of Toledo, Ohio, Steinem is a graduate of Smith College. Working for New York magazine in 1968, Steinem embraced the new wave of feminism and became arguably the most articulate and outspoken leader of the cause. With Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm and Betty Friedan, Steinem formed the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971 to encourage active female participation in politics.

Steinem also was the founding editor of Ms. magazine, first published in 1972. She served as editor for the next 15 years, then as a columnist, and since 1988 has been a consulting editor.

Steinem also is the author of four books, including "Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions"; "Marilyn," a biography of Marilyn Monroe from a feminist perspective; and "Revolution from Within." She is working on a book about being on the road for 30 years, bringing the message of feminism to all corners of the world.

That message has been heard, Steinem said.

"More women today identify themselves as feminists than as Republicans or Democrats," she said, "but the movement is not over, and it isn't dead. The first time a magazine declared that feminism was dead was in 1969, and by now Time magazine has declared the movement dead 27 times. Think about the abolitionists and the suffragists. These other great movements seeking legal and social equality took a century. We're only 30 years into it at this point, and already we have accomplished a great deal."

Steinem said that as a society, we no longer believe that women are on Earth simply to give birth. She said we now believe that women can do what men can do, but we still do not believe that men can do what women can do.

"A critical mass of men need to develop the qualities necessary to raise children, these same qualities of nurturing and patience that men are encouraged to suppress," she said. "We need to give full humanity to our sons and daughters, and not continue to replicate old gender roles."

Those old gender roles are the deepest cause of violence in the world, she said, adding that men feel a need to prove their masculinity by being in control. As an example, Steinem named Mohammad Atta, the leader of the terrorists in the attacks on Sept. 11, whose father was said to berate him every day for not being masculine enough and who wrote that no women were to be allowed at his funeral. She named the young men, all upper-middle class and white, who have killed students in their own schools. And she named Bush, saying, "He is as Taliban as he can get in his policies toward women."

Steinem urged people to recognize the "profound linkages" among the many movements against sexual equality, racial equality and nonviolence. "Our adversaries are all the same folks."

Asked by an audience member how to handle these adversaries, Steinem said: "As individuals, we must speak out. The art of behaving ethically is believing that everything we do matters."

In an interview after her speech, Steinem spoke about the heightened awareness of the plight of women everywhere in the world. More than 20 years ago, Ms. magazine was one of the first American publications to write about women in Afghanistan. Steinem said that at this point, the situation might have improved for some women in Kabul, but that the warlords who oppose any rights for women — including education — are back in power outside the city, where lawlessness once again reigns.

"If Afghanistan is a model of the Bush administration's idea of creating a democracy after a war, then Iraq is in big trouble," Steinem said.

The media have spent little time on that angle of a hot topic, and Steinem commented on their reluctance to report news from the feminist movement.

"The ultra-right wing did three effective things: They cynically accused the press of being liberal, which isn't true, and that and a number of lawsuits caused over-reporting of right-wing views," she said. "They trained writers and spokespeople. And they purchased the media."

Then Steinem recalled a recent article in The New York Times about female cadets who were raped and attacked at the Air Force Academy. That article and a few others like it give Steinem hope.

"I think now the tide is turning," she said.