Alt-hero, author, and philosopher Robert Anton Wilson said as we age we must fight ferocious battles with ourselves to avoid becoming calcified, resistant to change, and scornful of new ideas. He never succumbed, staying alive to new ideas until his death. By contrast, Gloria Steinem apparently gave up that fight long ago. Sometimes the revolutionary from two generations ago becomes a quaint anachronism or worse to the current generation, who mostly then shakes their head about crazy old people and ignores them. “One generation got old, one generation got soul,” as the Jefferson Airplane sang long ago.
Steinem came to prominence during the end of first-wave feminism / beginning of second-wave feminism. Third-wave feminists find her views, especially about young women supporting Sanders to attract boys, clueless, condescending, and insulting. Third-wave feminists are often intersectionalists, believing that fighting for gender equality must also include issues of race and class. That, they say, is what Steinem ignores.
Your “joke” came as young women are constantly being told we have to support Clinton because she’s a woman, as though having women in leadership equals an automatic feminist paradise. (You know, like Thatcher’s Britain!)
Your sexist, dismissive words about millennial feminists and Bernie supporters suggest a growing chasm between your brand of feminism and the intersectional feminism that young activists have been leading the charge on. And your bias toward the Democratic Party’s brand of insular, upper-class white feminism—the brand of feminism Clinton herself is so closely associated with—is evident in more than this one controversial statement.
In 2002 you joined other liberal feminists like Eleanor Smeal and Eve Ensler in calling for U.S. intervention to “liberate Afghan women from abuse and oppression,” a campaign that wound up providing ideological cover to Bush’s “War on Terror.” And when it comes to sex workers, you’ve argued that all sex work is rape and that sex workers should be rescued by the carceral state. In addition, though in 2013 you apologized for your 1970s position on transgender issues, during the Real Time interview you participated in transphobic humor with Maher, laughing at his comment that “the Woman of the Year has a dick.”
One of the primary divides between second- and third-wave feminism is – to oversimplify – second-wave believes if it has a penis, it’s male. Third-wave is much more likely to accept gradients of sexuality and doesn’t tie gender strictly to biology. Heat-seeking missiles are being lobbed in this debate. There are plenty of smart, savvy people arguing both sides of this argument. The culture at large is changing as a result of it. Yet Steinem isn’t even on the second-wave side to any appreciable extent. She mostly seems to have left the battlefield. Except when she beams in from Arcturus.
This doesn’t just happen in feminism. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones recently made silly comments about how rap isn’t music, insulted metal and the Beatles too. Yeah, whatever Mr Geezer. You’ve upholstered your rut, and appear comfortable living in it.
“One generation got old” indeed. Don’t let it happen to you. And since for many of you, I am old, I can say this without being ageist! And completely agree with Robert Anton Wilson about the ferocious fight.