Feminist icon Gloria Steinem says she loves delivering speeches to young women, especially tweens and teens.
“These are the years in which the beginnings of gender-role pressure are extreme,” she said in a phone interview from California, where she’s living during the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s one reason Steinem is happy to be the speaker for Monday’s Lunch for the Girls, the annual Girls Inc. fundraiser that’s virtual this year.
She says agencies such as Girls Inc. provide a vital service for growing females who sometimes can feel isolated as they navigate becoming women.
Steinem, 86, is a writer, speaker, activist and co-founder of Ms. magazine who has been at the forefront of the women’s movement since the late 1960s.
She offered her views on the state of equality for women, the problems that women continue to face and other issues in advance of her speech.
She said feminism has grown from being an outlier to being a majority movement, encompassing women from all races and viewpoints.
“We were regarded as a small and odd group in the beginning because the idea that women would not follow the conventional paths of marriage and children was way less out there in the world at that time,” she said.
Now, “it has become a huge movement that has just put a woman vice president in the White House,” she said, adding that Kamala Harris brings a wealth of experience to the job as a lawyer, legislator and woman of color.
Black women have always played a major role in the women’s movement, Steinem said, and that has become more obvious since the yearly Women’s March started shortly after President Donald Trump was elected.
“Three young Black feminists founded Black Lives Matter,” she said.
About 81% of the participants in Girls Inc. are people of color and another 12% identify as multiracial, according to the organization’s 2019 annual report.
Though the feminist movement has burgeoned, problems still remain for women, Steinem said. She cited physical violence, both at home and on the streets, and reproductive freedom as two of the most pressing.
She also would like to see more progress on equal pay for women. More equity could put billions of dollars into the economy, she said.
On the other hand, women have made strides in equality at home, she said, with more men taking responsibility for raising children. She expects their ranks to grow.
“As long as women continue to have more responsibility (for their kids) there will always be inequality,” Steinem said. “And men won’t have the advantage of the life-expanding and emotional experience of raising children.”
Steinem declined to predict what might happen in the women’s movement in the next five years.
“(It will be) whatever we make happen,” she said. “We are not a passive bunch of people waiting for things to happen.”
Personally, she plans to continue her activism and her writing. She is working on a book that focuses on the substantial role of Black women in the feminist movement and another on the lack of gender roles in Native American culture.
“I have to make it to 100 (years old) just to meet my deadlines,” she joked.
She will bring optimism and hope for a brighter future to her talk for the Girls Inc. contingent on Monday. She says she has a special message for young women.
“Their future is as free as their imagination,” she said. “I’m not here to tell them what it should be, but I am here to support what they want it to be.”