Steinem: For Feminism, A Clinton Win Would Be Helpful But 'Only One Step'

Oct 21, 2016
Originally published on October 21, 2016 9:22 am

Make no mistake. Gloria Steinem, noted feminist and author, does not see that a woman elected to the White House automatically means a win for feminists or women.

"This is not all about biology, and I think we have to be careful to always say that, because if Sarah Palin were the president it wouldn't signify change," she tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "If President Obama did not represent the majority views of Americans and of African-Americans, he would not represent change as he does. So it isn't about simple biology. It's about what we represent."


Interview Highlights

With regard to the 2016 election, are you dismayed that it's an issue-free election? Or are you thrilled that issues that are important to you are getting discussed?

I'm more dismayed than thrilled because I think the level of discourse has been lowered and that has lowered Hillary Clinton, too. She has gone from being frequently elected the most admired woman in the world to a trustworthy rating that is something like Richard Nixon's, because you have the false equivalency of a contest between two people, which means that all the objectivity requirements and habits of the press mean that you direct the same amount of negative questions to one as the other, and you try to treat them equally. And this means that [GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump] has been elevated and she has been called into question in all kinds of ways that, with a more equal colleague in opposition, she would not have been.

What happens to feminism if Clinton is elected?

First of all, we're not just talking about getting one woman a job. We're talking about getting equality for all women, so it's only one step — in a very visible place, but still, it's only one step. But it is helpful, just as it has been enormously helpful to see President Obama and Michelle Obama and their two daughters entering into a White House that was in part constructed by slaves. I'm sure that I was not the only person that was crying when I saw that happen. He has done his best, I believe, to represent equality, including of his own group and other groups.

When Obama was elected in 2008, some people said it was a sign of a post-racial society.

But that's ridiculous, isn't it? Doesn't it drive you crazy when they say that? The advent of one person does not change the intricate interweaving of racial assumptions in a whole society. It's helpful, and we're all grateful to be able to see an African-American person honored in authority, but it's only a beginning.

So we're not on the edge of a post-gender society?

No, definitely not.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The other day on the sidewalk, I saw a friend walking a dog. She turns to me. And she says, I thought this election was going to be about race. But it's about gender. We're in the season when people say things like that while walking the dog.

Of course, presidential elections are about many things. But gender is one of them in 2016. In this week's presidential debate, Donald Trump denied women's claims that he sexually assaulted them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: And I didn't even apologize to my wife, who's sitting right here, 'cause I didn't do anything. I didn't know any of these women. I didn't see these women. These women - the woman on the plane, the one - I think they want either fame - or her campaign did it. And I think it's her campaign.

INSKEEP: Mr. Trump also made a remark that went viral.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: But what we want to do is to replenish...

TRUMP: Such a nasty woman.

INSKEEP: Clinton supporters have since owned that phrase, posting remarks on social media such as this nasty woman voted early. Hillary Clinton has leaned into her possible role as the first female president. And pollsters cannot help but notice a gender gap this year. Trump is winning the men's vote but losing among women - big-league. At this unsettled moment, we brought in pioneering feminist leader Gloria Steinem, who is 82 years old and supporting Clinton.

You know, I can imagine you looking at the 2016 election and being dismayed, as so many people are, and feeling that it's an issue-free election. Or I could imagine you being thrilled that issues that you think are important are actually getting discussed. Which is it?

GLORIA STEINEM: I'm more dismayed than thrilled because I think the level of discourse has been lowered. And that has lowered Hillary Clinton, too. You know, she has gone from being frequently elected the most admired woman in the world to a trustworthy rating that is something like Richard Nixon's because you have the false equivalency of a contest between two people, which means that all the objectivity requirements and habits of the press mean that you direct the same amount of negative questions to one as the other and you try to treat them equally.

He has been elevated. And she has been called into question in all kinds of ways that, with a more equal - colleague (laughter) in opposition, she would not have been.

INSKEEP: How different is the country in January if there's a female president?

STEINEM: You know, this is not all about biology. And I think we have to be careful to always say that because if Sarah Palin were the president, it wouldn't signify change. If President Obama did not represent the majority views of Americans and of African-Americans, he would not represent change, as he does. I mean, Clarence Thomas, who cheerfully does not stand for the majority views of his group, has had the reverse effect on the Supreme Court.

INSKEEP: Does somebody have to agree with you in order to advance society, so to speak?

STEINEM: No, absolutely not. No. No. It's not - it's just once you have somebody who stands for the equality - the simple human equality - of the group from which they come, then, after that, there come to be all kinds of considerations about how they do it and how well they do it and so on. It's about content first and form second.

INSKEEP: So if Hillary Clinton gets into office, and there she is, not only being a woman but having the positions that she has, what happens to feminism then?

STEINEM: You know, first of all, we're not just talking about getting one woman a job. We're talking about equality for all women. So it's only one step in a very visible place. But still, it's only one step. But it is helpful.

I mean, just as it has been enormously helpful to see President Obama and Michelle Obama and their two daughters entering into a White House that was, in part, constructed by slaves, I'm sure that I was not the only person that was crying (laughter), you know, when I saw that happen. And he has done his best, I believe, to represent equality, including of his own group and other groups.

INSKEEP: That leads to one other thing. When President Obama was elected in 2008, there were people who said this is a sign of a post-racial society.

STEINEM: Oh, but that's ridiculous, isn't it? Doesn't it drive you crazy when they say that? I mean, the advent of one person does not change the intricate interweaving of racial assumptions in a whole society. It's helpful. And we're all grateful to be able to see an African-American person honored in authority, but it's only a beginning.

INSKEEP: So we're not on the edge of a post-gender society, then?

STEINEM: No, definitely not. No. (Laughter) No.

INSKEEP: Gloria Steinem, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

STEINEM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.