“Trust me,” Steinem says about the perception of feminism when she began, “it was viewed as bizarre.”
Things have changed, and they haven’t.
Last month on one of America’s most popular radio programs, “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” Limbaugh cited an Italian study noting the average size of a penis is 10 percent smaller than it was 50 years ago. While the researchers attributed the change to air pollution. Limbaugh blamed “feminism.”
“I think if it’s tied to the last 50 years … it has to be the feminazis,” he said.
As strange as the comment may sound, it is one of the ways feminism is being demonized by extremists today, Steinem says.
Steinem will give a free address at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4 at the ASUI Kibbie Dome in Moscow. Her appearance marks the 40th anniversary of the University of Idaho Women’s Center and the biennial, “Women’s Legacies, Inspiring Our Future,” UI Women’s Leadership Conference.
At 40 years old, the UI Women’s Center was a pioneer in the women’s movement, said Steinem in a phone interview from her home and office in New York City.
“I also appreciate their description of themselves as ‘necessary to the future,’ ” she says. “Gender equity has not been achieved in any country in the world. One of the current dangers is the idea that the movement is over. The very same people who, 30 or 40 years ago, were saying it was unnatural and unnecessary are now impeding it by saying it used to be necessary, but not anymore.”
It’s good to recall that progress has been made, she says. When she began, women who held high offices were rare. Women made 51 cents to every dollar a man earned. Today, women make up 17 percent of Congress and make 77 cents per dollar to every man.
“We do have equal pay legislation. Romney doesn’t support it. He refused to say he would support the last equal pay act. It passed, of course,” she notes.
It’s not only equal pay that matters but comparable pay, she says, pointing out that entire professions where women hold the majority of jobs are underpaid, like home health care and food service. Compare nurses whose training resembles that of pharmacists and the male-dominated profession of pharmacy pays more than the female-dominated field of nursing.
Steinem doesn’t just talk about problems; she has solutions. Equal pay for women and all racial groups would provide the economic stimulus the nation needs right now, she says, putting $200 billion into the economy. The women who would receive it are the most likely to need it, as they make up the majority of the poor. Their spending would create jobs.
“There’s still some idiotic notion that women’s issues don’t affect the nation, in spite of the fact that we’re more than half of it,” she says.
The first solution to fixing problems Americans are facing this election year is for an overwhelming majority of Americans to vote, she says. Statistics show that a majority in the U.S. supports social justice and environmental issues but people have been persuaded into believing their vote doesn’t matter, she says. She attributes this to a “conscious campaign that began during the Nixon administration.” Today, a lower percentage of people vote in the U.S. than in India, she says.
“The poor in India view voting as very important. It’s the one time they’re equal to anyone else is in the voting booth. Our statistics show that older, richer and whiter Americans are far more likely to vote.”
Of almost equal importance would be the taking back of the Republican Party by Republicans, Steinem says.
“It’s very dangerous to have one of our two great parties controlled by extremists,” she says. It drives people to vote for the opposition without necessarily looking at the content of the opposition.
It’s been a great joy to be able to travel and speak to women around the world, Steinem says.
“It’s such a gift to be able to be in the same physical space with people who are striving to create more justice and more kindness in the world, and from who I learn.”
What: Gloria Steinem
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4
Where: ASUI Kibbie Dome