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?

The Rev. Jackson’s Cuba sojourns

June 26-27, 1984, Havana, Cuba --- Jesse Jackson smokes Cuban cigars with Fidel Castro during a controversial visit to Havana in June 1984. Jackson, a candidate for President of the United States, caused a stir in the U.S. government and press by visiting with the Communist leader. --- Image by © Jacques M. Chenet/CORBIS
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Fidel Castro, June 1984

Jesse Jackson is such a patently unsavory creature – a shameless race hustler, an inveterate shakedown artist, a hardcore anti-Semite (remember “Hymietown”?), a sleazy player posing as a man of the cloth – that his coziness with the Castro government should hardly seem a surprise. Yet it’s important that this aspect of his slimy character not be lost in the mix.

27 Aug 1984, Havana, Cuba --- Original caption: Reverend Jesse Jackson (L) is seated next to Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro during negotiations for the release of a group of prisoners to Jackson. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
Jackson and Castro, August 1984

For one thing, unlike other useful Castro stooges, Jackson hasn’t just visited the island prison once or twice. Over the decades, he’s been there so many times – and met Castro so many times – that it’s hard to come up with an exact count. On a couple of these visits he attempted to secure the release of political prisoners, but any objective observer of his career would find it difficult to see these supposedly humanitarian efforts as anything other than cynical bids for attention, power, and positive PR. They were, in any event, clear breaches of the Logan Act of 1799, violation of which is a felony. (In addition to Cuba, Jackson was able to persuade the governments of Syria, Iraq, and Yugoslavia to release prisoners at various points in the 1980s and 90s – actions they presumably took because his involvement enabled them to receive very prominent and very positive press in the U.S. while making the U.S. government itself look impotent.)

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Jackson and Castro, 1993

Anyway, here’s a brief overview of Jackson’s Cuba adventures. In 1984, while he was running for President, he flew to Havana, where Fidel Castro welcomed him at the airport and, according to BBC correspondent Alastair Cooke, was treated “as if he were already president of the United States.” Giving a speech at the University of Havana, he shouted “Viva Fidel!” and “Viva Che Guevara!” He raised his fists: “Long live our cry of freedom!” During that trip, Castro praised Jackson as “brilliant” and “sincere,” a man full of “honesty” and free of “demagoguery.”

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Okay, he didn’t really say that, as far as we know. Jackson at the Hotel Nacional in Havana, 2013

Jackson didn’t return home alone: he took back with him to the U.S. sixteen American and seven Cuban political prisoners whom Castro had released as a sort of gift for the good reverend. (Castro himself said that he had made the gesture “as a result of Rev. Jackson’s visit. I did it for him and for the people of the United States.”) 

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Alastair Cooke

Upon their arrival at Dulles Airport, one of the released Cuban prisoners, Andres Vargas Gomez, an anti-Castro activist who’d been incarcerated for 21 years, spoke to reporters. He didn’t have kind words for either Castro or Jackson. “To go to Cuba to join in a moral offensive with Fidel Castro,” he said, referring to Jackson, “is more than morally offensive, it is a moral offense.” Cooke called the prisoner release “a very small price that Castro has to pay for helping to advertise among his people, and other Central American peoples, the fact that here is an actual candidate for the presidency of the United States, who is as much against the Central American policies of the detested Reagan as they are.” Jackson, pronounced Cooke, had been “used”; he was “a patsy” who’d made it “all the harder” for the U.S. government to improve relations with Cuba.

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Jackson at a religious service in Havana, September 2013

Oh, and let’s not forget that this patsy, this serial violator of the Logan Act, this man who shouted “Viva Fidel!” at the University of Havana in 1984 became, in the 1990s, the Clinton Administration’s house preacher. During the Lewinsky crisis, he reportedly prayed with Hillary and gave Bill “emotional solace and political advice” (not necessarily in that order). In 2000, President Clinton actually presented this champion of Castro’s dictatorship – who as recently as 1993 had vacationed in Havana and hung with Castro – with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The award citation stated that Jackson “has preached a gospel of hope, unity and responsibility and has helped establish common ground across lines of race, class, gender, nationality and faith.”

U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson (C) walks at the National hotel in Havana September 27, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa
Back at the Hotel Nacional, 2013

In September 2013, Jackson went to Cuba yet again. He wanted, he declared, to try to secure the freedom of Alan Gross, an American who’d been imprisoned there since 2009.  This time, however, Castro didn’t deign to meet with him; perhaps he’d decided that Jackson’s star was on the wane and his Logan Act violations were no longer the front-page news they’d once been. (Gross was finally released last December.) But Jackson’s time wasn’t wasted: during the same visit, he met with leaders of FARC, the far-left Colombian terrorist group, and gave a talk advocating actions against the U.S. economic blockade. 

Jackson claims to be delighted at the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. But is he? When every American can legally travel to Cuba, who’s going to care anymore when he makes the trip?