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Asturias award winner Gloria Steinem reflects on a lifetime of feminist activism

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By Tokunbo Salako
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Asturias award winner Gloria Steinem reflects on a lifetime of feminist activism
Copyright  euronews

World-renowned American activist, writer and tireless veteran campaigner for women's rights, Gloria Steinem, has received the 2021 Princess of Asturias Award for Humanities and Communication.

In an exclusive interview before receiving Spain's highest honour, she gave euronews some insight into where women's rights stand today, abortion in the USA, the recent film made about her life and more.

To watch the full interview with Gloria Steinem, click on the media player above.

Where did it all begin for you? What was the moment you first became a feminist?

Writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organiser, Gloria Steinem:

"I believe like children all over the world, in a way, I always was. When you're a child, you always say things like: 'you are not the boss of me', which I notice that children everywhere say. Then there is a long period of trying to fit in, of seeking approval, of obedience, of unequal treatment, before that kind of natural, wait a minute, we’re all equally important sense comes back to us. In my case, there wasn’t really a women’s movement at all until my late thirties. So whatever my personal feelings, I didn’t understand there could be a movement."

How would you describe the changes that have occurred over the years? Do you feel tired that you’ve been campaigning for so long? Do you feel that things have changed?

Gloria Steinem:

"No, when I look at such massive factors as very unequal pay or unequal inheritance or the inability even to keep one’s own name, then I see big injustices with sexism, with racism, with group biases. Because I was a journalist, and I never had a job, therefore I wasn’t part of a big organisation, I experienced the bias in other forms, like the kind of assignments I could get, but not in the same way as I would have had in a big organisation."

You’ve written about having an abortion in London. When you look at what’s going on in your country right now, in Texas for example, how does that make you feel?

Gloria Steinem:

"Well you can see, in Texas as you point out, where the vast majority of the people agree that a woman should be able to decide what happens to her physical body, there are four or five men in the state legislature who are impeding this. You can see the basic reason for rational, for bias, for patriarchy which is controlling reproduction. Only women have wombs, so the desire to, the political need to control women’s bodies, the very nature of patriarchy, has been with us since Hitler. I mean the first thing Hitler did when he was elected, and he was elected, we should remember, was to padlock the family planning clinics and declare abortion a crime against the state. Actually, it wasn’t the papacy who inflicted this, but it was Napoleon III who asked the Pope to make abortion illegal because Napoleon III wanted more people for his armies. So, it has always been evil, pragmatic and about control, not about religion, literally not about religion in that case, and because women happen to have wombs we’ve been fighting it. It is like racism, it is a system."

You’ve described yourself in the past as an eternal dreamer, a hope-a-holic was the term you used. What inspires you these days and what also makes you angry?

Gloria Steinem:

"Those are two such big questions. What inspires me is all the examples, the countless examples of people standing up for themselves and fairness for themselves and others against huge odds, against odds of poverty, against odds of bias, against religious teaching. So when you see that, it is inspiring and actually in every country where I’ve ever been in my life, there are little kids saying things like you are not the boss of me and that is inspiring in itself."

What makes you angry when you look at the world today?

Writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organiser, Gloria Steinem:

"What makes me angry? We've just got rid of an accidental president in the United States named Trump."

Have you heard that he’s launching his own social media firm now?

Gloria Steinem:

"I trust that no one will listen. Trump was not elected by a majority vote. It was a peculiarity of our electoral college that elected him. That was certainly very angering, very angering just because of the level of non-truth that he had to say and the fact of his very presence. You know the invasion of The Capitol by his supporters and also just simple injustice, when you see good people suffering and bad people triumphing."

What role would you say social media has played in what some are calling the third or even fourth wave of the women’s rights movement?

Gloria Steinem:

"It worries me in its origins because there are disproportionate numbers of women in the world who don’t have access to social media, who don't have access to electricity, who live in areas without those things. That worries me because it seems to mean that the world is getting polarised between technology and no access to technology, as between healthcare and no access to healthcare. So access comes even before the content. I wish there was a satellite that could beam down internet access to everybody so at least we could be equal in our communications."

You’ve spent a lot of time travelling and that has now been put on the silver screen in a big Hollywood production called 'The Glorias'. Are you happy with the result?

Gloria Steinem:

"Yes because it’s not a big Hollywood production! It’s a very particular kind of movie that used my book 'On the Road'. I trusted the movie-maker completely and I thought she did a wonderful job.

What was it like seeing the interpretations of yourself over the years?

Gloria Steinem:

"Well, of course, you never see yourself. But there were four different actresses playing me at different ages. Some of the scenes were real and I don’t know how. I mean, they weren’t even in my book so I don’t know how they became real, like being in a railway car in India, with women in India, a third-class railway car. It was exactly the scene that I remember so it was sort of mystical."

Looking back at your life and all that you have achieved, how would you like to be remembered?

Gloria Steinem:

"That’s hard, isn’t it? That’s a question I used to ask other people as a journalist so it's only fair that you ask me.

As someone who had a good heart and tried to leave the world a little more just and compassionate than it was when I arrived."

Journalist • Tokunbo Salako