Camille Paglia has neatly summed up the positive side of Gloria Steinem: “I hugely admired the early role that Steinem played in second-wave feminism because she was very good as a spokesperson in the 1970s. She had a very soothing manner that made it seem perfectly reasonable for people to adopt feminist principles…Also, I credit her for co-founding Ms. magazine and thereby contributing that very useful word, Ms., to the English language, which allows us to refer to a woman without signaling her marital status.”
But as it happens, it’s Paglia, too, who has best summed up what’s wrong with Steinem. For one thing, “that animus of hers against men.” For another, her lifelong fixation on the supposed oppression of upper-middle-class white American women such as herself, who in fact were, and are, among the most privileged people the world has ever seen.
Then there’s “the simplistic level of Steinem’s thinking,” as exemplified by her comment that “women reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.” (Or her attack on Paglia, about whom Steinem once actually said: “Her calling herself a feminist is sort of like a Nazi saying he’s not anti-Semitic.”) Then there’s Steinem’s “having turned feminism into a covert adjunct of the Democratic party,” one consequence of which was that she hypocritically kept her mouth shut during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
In 2015, we reported on Steinem’s latest stratagem: a “walk for peace” from North Korea to South Korea, the point being, as she explained beforehand, “to call attention to this unresolved conflict that I suspect most people or many people have forgotten.” Or perhaps the point was to get her own name back in the headlines again, since she feared many people had forgotten her?
Steinem quickly made it clear that she understood nothing whatsoever about North Korea. She planned, she said, to meet with North Korean women so they could compare their “experiences” as women in different societies. As if women in North Korea could speak honestly about their experiences without risking execution! The Daily Beast ran an article by Lizzie Crocker headlined: “Is Gloria Steinem a Propaganda Tool For North Korea?” Indeed, it was interesting to note that Steinem, who had made a career out of savaging postwar America’s supposed mistreatment of the female sex, said nothing in her Korea remarks about the nightmarish abuse of both men and women in the Hermit Kingdom.
It was even more interesting to note that Steinem’s partner in this inane enterprise was Christine Ahn, head of something called the Korea Solidarity Committee and a shameless apologist for the Kim regime. To judge by Steinem’s remarks about Korea, she had swallowed wholesale everything Ahn had told her about the topic. Why is Korea divided? Not because the northern part is a totalitarian dictatorship governed by a bloodthirsty tyrant, but because of the “Cold War mentality,” Steinem pronounced.
After years of such pathetic stunts, Steinem should be an object of ridicule. Paglia’s view of her should be the world’s view of her. But no, she’s remained a darling of the cultural elite. She’s the subject of an upcoming Off-Broadway play, Gloria: A Life, in which she’ll be played by Christine Lahti. A New York Times article took us into “the cool tranquillity of Ms. Steinem’s Upper East Side duplex,” where Lahti and Steinem fielded softball questions about the production. (Presumably the obvious title for the play, Oppressed in an Upper East Side Duplex, was too long for the marquee.) The Times noted that Steinem is also the subject of not one but two forthcoming movies: My Life on the Road, starring Julianne Moore as Steinem, and An Uncivil War, with Carey Mulligan as Steinem.
In 2018, does the American playgoing and moviegoing public really want to see dramas about the purported heroism of Gloria Steinem? This is, after all, a woman who, in the Times piece, is actually quoted as saying “it isn’t just that we live in a patriarchy. The patriarchy lives in us.” Isn’t it clear by now that, as an intellectual, she’s a lightweight? That, as an activist, she’s as domesticated a creature as you could imagine? And that, as a so-called oppressed person, she’s the very model of privilege?