For the last fifty years, we've known Gloria Steinem as the leader of the modern women's movement. She has spent a lifetime organizing women to advocate for better pay, better working conditions, and better lives. She helped to create New York magazine, co-founded Ms. magazine, and is the author of eight best-selling books. In 2013 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Today, at age eighty-two, she calls herself an "entrepreneur for social change."
She sums up her work by saying, "I write. I talk. I tell stories. I want to do justice to the women I meet."
Her latest book is My Life on the Road.
This interview is adapted from my live, question-and-answer session with Steinem during the eightieth anniversary gala for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin on October 14, 2016.
The interview was conducted only days before the 2016 presidential election. In response to the outcome, Ms. Steinem penned a piece for The Guardian, in which she commented:
"In my country, the white-lash and the man-lash have just created President Donald Trump, an unqualified candidate who came up not through politics, but through inheriting money, a gift for bullying, and being on television."
Steinem minced no words, saying, "The next few years are going to be hell." But she also reminded us, "Luckily, real change, like a tree, grows from the bottom up, not the top down. We have Hillary, Barack, and Michelle to guide us. We will not mourn, we will organize."
Q: In My Life on the Road, you wrote perhaps the single most poignant dedication that I've ever read in a book. I've re-read it multiple times and talked to friends about it because it is so touching. Would you share the story behind it? I have it if you'd like to read it.
Gloria Steinem: This book is dedicated to Dr. John Sharpe of London, who in 1957, a decade before physicians in England could legally perform an abortion for any reason other than the health of the woman, took the considerable risk of referring for an abortion a twenty-two-year-old American on her way to India.
Knowing only that she had broken an engagement at home to seek an unknown fate, he said, "You must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life."
Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death. I've done the best I could with my life. This book is for you.
I want to pay tribute to all the people who are guarding clinics and all the physicians who risk their safety.
It's all really about bodily integrity. It's all about the fact that we, whether were female or male...