Gloria Steinem, lightweight icon


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.

Camille Paglia

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 leading her Korea walk

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.

Steinem and Ahn

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.

Steinem with Lahti

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?

Steinem crosses a border – and crosses a line

ahn
Christine Ahn

Yesterday we began discussing a May 24 spectacle starring women’s movement hero Gloria Steinem, who led a group of about 30 activists in a “walk for peace” across the border between the two Koreas. Noting that Steinem had kept her mouth shut about the atrocities committed by the North Korean regime – including atrocities against women – we observed that her chief collaborator on this enterprise, Korean-American activist Christine Ahn, was even more disgraceful.

ahnsteinem
Ahn and Steinem at a press conference

Who’s Christine Ahn? She’s head of a Bay Area-based group called the Korea Solidarity Committee. In the run-up to the border crossing, she criticized what she called the “Cold War mentality” that “has enabled Korea to remain divided” and maintained: “I am pro-peace. I am pro-engagement. I am pro-dialogue. I am pro-human rights.”

steinemnk
Steinem in Pyongyang

On his blog, Washington, D.C. lawyer Joshua Stanton has provided a useful catalog of Ahn’s views: she’s “opposed human rights legislation for North Korea that funded broadcasting to North Korea, and that provided for aid and asylum for North Korean refugees, calling it an effort ‘by hawkish conservatives and Christian fundamentalists with the intention of bringing regime change in North Korea.’” She’s rejected the conclusion of an international team that found North Korea responsible for the 2010 sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, in which 44 South Korean sailors were killed. She’s praised the Kims’ wacky “juche” ideology for giving the North a “well organized and highly industrialized socialist economy, largely self-sufficient, with a disciplined and productive work force” free of “the stranglehold of the United States.” And she’s blamed North Korea’s Great Famine on George W. Bush, deep-sixing, as Stanton pointed out, “the fact that that throughout much of the famine, the U.S. was the largest donor to food aid programs in North Korea.”

steinemborder
Steinem just after the border crossing, holding yet another press conference

Lizzie Crocker, in her Daily Beast essay on Steinem’s foray into Korean affairs, quoted Sue Mi Terry of Columbia University’s East Asian Institute as saying that Ahn “has a tendency to blame the U.S. and South Korea for all the problems caused by North Korea.” Terry also lamented the fact that Steinem, revered by millions as a heroine of women’s rights, seemed, like Ahn, to be deliberately overlooking Pyongyang’s monstrous treatment of women.

Terry wasn’t alone. In a Washington Post op-edAbraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Greg Scarlatoiu of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea roundly condemned Steinem’s stunt, pointing out that it “could only be undertaken with Pyongyang’s consent” and that “[i]f Pyongyang truly is interested in a peace gesture, it might start by releasing hundreds of South Korean POWs, now in their 80s and 90s, who were never allowed to return to their loved ones after the armistice.” Cooper and Scarlatoiu added:

We would urge Steinem and company to review last year’s scrupulously investigated U.N. Commission of Inquiry report, which determined that crimes against humanity have long been committed as a matter of state policy in North Korea. Those most vulnerable to these policies are North Korean women, and many are murdered by this merciless regime. In North Korea’s political prison camps and other detention facilities, starvation, humiliation and exploitation of women is rampant. Women have been subjected to medical and poison gas experimentation. They suffer forced abortions and can be coerced to witness the infanticide of their babies. Sexual violence is common.

We desperately need the voices of feminists protesting the murder, torture and exploitation of North Korean women by their own government. But any sanctioning of a peace march by North Korea can be nothing but human rights theater intended to cover up its death camps and crimes against humanity.

Shin Dong-Hyuk, North Korean defector and author of Escape from Camp 14, addressed the United Nations Human Rights Council. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on North Korea formally presented its report to the Human Rights Council March 17, 2014. U.S. Mission Geneva/ Eric Bridiers
North Korean defector Shin Dong-Hyuk

Suzanne Scholte of the North Korea Freedom Coalition also had choice words for Steinem and her clueless comrades. “It is absolutely outrageous that they completely ignore the suffering of the North Korean people, especially North Korean women,” said Scholte. North Korean exile Shin Dong-hyuk, the only prisoner ever to have escaped from a top-level internment camp in that country, agreed wholeheartedly. “I wonder if these people understand the meaning of peace,” he wrote on Facebook. Later, he added: “There really wasn[‘]t much they could do in the name of peace in the first place. Instead, they decided to be quiet about the atrocities taking place and basically went there to praise the dictator.”

Amen. With her foolish actions in Korea, feminist deity Gloria Steinem has become what Ahn already was – namely, a useful stooge of the very first order, serving the propaganda purposes of the very worst (and most woman-oppressing) regime on the entire planet. 

Sic transit Gloria

steinem
Gloria Steinem in her heyday

It won’t be news to readers of this website that Kim Jung-un presides over a country that can fairly be compared not just to a prison – that’s far too mild an analogy – but to an extermination camp. Terror and torture, arbitrary arrests and executions, the total denial of civil rights and absence of any kind of freedom, a society perpetually starving, thoroughly saturated in propaganda, utterly cut off from the outside world, and armed to the teeth, its mad leader constantly rattling his saber: this is North Korea today. There’s only one way, of course, to bring an end to this nightmare: bring in Gloria Steinem.

On May 24, the feminist icon led a group of 30 or so women on a “walk for peace” across the border between the two Koreas, starting in the north and crossing to the south. “Our purpose,” she told the Washington Post, was “to call attention to this unresolved conflict that I suspect most people or many people have forgotten.” She and her fellow activists were going to North Korea “to listen and learn, to say we care by being physically present” because there’s “no substitute for putting your bodies where your concerns are” and “conflicts are far more likely to be solved when people sit down together.”

steinem1
Steinem and her fellow activists at a pre-event press conference in Beijing

Yes, that’s the way to solve the North Korea dilemma: we need to “sit down” with Kim’s henchmen so we can “listen and learn.” Learn what? Asked whether she planned “to address women’s/human rights issues” while in North Korea, she replied: “Yes, we will say what our experience is and ask what their experience is and hope that one informs the other.” As if any North Koreans were free to say anything honest about “their experience”! Could Steinem’s entire premise be more naive, more misguided? “It’s hard to imagine any more physical symbol of the insanity of dividing human beings,” she said about the DMZ – as if the root problem were the division itself, and not Kim’s totalitarianism.

steinem2
Steinem and pals crossing the border

The title of Lizzie Crocker’s article in the Daily Beast asked the right question: “Is Gloria Steinem a Propaganda Tool For North Korea?” Crocker noted that Steinem and her co-leader in the “walk for peace,” Korean-American activist Christine Ahn, were “calling on the UN to broker a peace treaty between the North and South, and asking the U.S. to lift sanctions against the North,” but had said nothing about the “executions, rape, forced starvation, and enslavement” for which the Kim regime is responsible; indeed, Steinem’s statements had “been decidedly anodyne.”

But Ahn was even worse. Lots worse. We’ll get to her tomorrow.