A word with Gloria Steinem

Media
Women
Activism
Gloria Steinem

© Seth Wenig/AP/PA Images

What can you learn from life on the road that you can’t learn at home?

You become hyper-aware how unimaginably diverse the country you live in is. Television talks about the American people like they’re one lump. If you’re open to it and not just travelling in a bubble, the road forces you to live in the present. The dominant theme of the road is surprise.

You have said that travel and adventure were traditionally seen as male, home and hearth as female…

It’s still like that in parts of the world where women are not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative, or to leave the country without a husband’s or father’s written permission. That’s an extreme, of course. Yet even in the US, Canada, Europe and other places where we’re not legally restricted as women, the road is still seen as more dangerous. But statistically speaking the most dangerous place for a woman is her own home. In many places, a woman is more likely to be beaten or murdered in her own home than on the road.

What’s your first travel memory?

Travelling with my family in a house trailer across country from snowy Michigan towards Florida or California. It’s about that first moment when you see palm trees and smell the ocean. Getting out of the car and absorbing that new world, breathing in and seeing the magical ocean.

You’ve written about how, in the 1960s and 1970s, women’s rights, human rights, civil rights, race, sexuality and environmental issues were all connected. Have they become more separate?

I think we started out more distinct and individual. We’re more connected now. Not enough, mind you. We have to make many more connections.

Naomi Klein said that the success of the climate justice movement will depend on lots of different groups uniting.

Yes. We talk about global warming, as we must, but we rarely connect it with population and the fact that millions of women around the globe are being forced to have children they don’t want. Child marriage and too-early pregnancy are the first and second cause of death among teenage girls. Unwanted population growth is a root cause of global warming.

Have we lived up to the ideas of the 1960s and 1970s, or are you disappointed more hasn’t changed?

Both. I’d have been surprised then that all of our issues have become majority issues. Things like reproductive freedom for women, gay and lesbian rights… Those were extremely controversial at the time but now have support in the polls. But I would have been surprised to learn how imperfect our democracy is. Majority support does not mean success. Because so much of our political system is controlled by a small economic slice of the country, those things haven’t been translated into legislation, much less reality.

You’ve said: ‘We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.’ What effect would that have?

A huge and very deep effect. Just as women become more whole by venturing outside the home, men become whole by venturing inside the home and being raised to raise children. There are human qualities that are wrongly called ‘feminine’, just as there are qualities wrongly called ‘masculine’. Patience, empathy, attention to detail… We all have them all, but they are developed in women because we’re raised to raise children. There’s a great book by Dorothy Dinnerstein called The Mermaid and the Minotaur that will convince you that men raising children as much as women do is the key to world peace.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem is out now, published by Oneworld.

Graeme Green is a journalist, travel writer and photographer for international publications including The Sunday Times, The Guardian, National Geographic and Wanderlust.