Gloria Steinem: 'I am using [my feminist torch] to light other people's torches - and I'm finding they don't need me.' (photo: Richard Saker/Observer)
By Joanna Walters, Guardian UK
The women’s rights activist plans to keep fighting against injustice beyond age 82 and uplift the ‘new burst of feminist energy’ ready to take on Trump’s presidency
eminist icon Gloria Steinem intends to be at the forefront of a “full on revolt” in America against the incoming administration of Donald Trump, and has no plans to slow down at the age of 82.
“I’m going to live to 100. I’m never going to retire. Would I retire from life? This is my life!” she told the Guardian in an interview.
Steinem, 82, has been out on the streets of Manhattan in recent days, protesting the Citibank company’s investment in the oil pipeline that has sparked massive protests in North Dakota – in between attending fundraisers and tweeting about international women’s rights.
Looking ahead to activism during Trump’s administration, she hailed a “new burst of feminist energy” in the younger generations that is producing fresh national figureheads.
Steinem cited Ai-Jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, who co-founded Black Lives Matter, as a new crop of leaders.
“Ai-Jen Poo organizes household workers, healthcare workers, food service workers that is part of a women’s ‘pink-collar ghetto’, as we say, and it’s a union movement like the 30s that’s rising up, going state to state to get women covered by the labor laws,” Steinem said.
She praised the non-violent philosophy and decentralized “spontaneous but effective” structure of Black Lives Matter, and what she cited as the strength gained from greater interconnectedness among different parts of the women’s movement today.
Meanwhile, Steinem said that prevailing notions that millennials are more interested in social media commentary-style “slacktivism” than real action and that young women don’t like to call themselves feminists do not match what she is observing around her.
“I had to wait for some of my friends to be born, but they are there and they’re younger than my blue jeans,” she said.
Speaking to the Guardian at an event organized by women’s rights group Donor Direct Action, Steinem bristled at the idea of handing over her feminist torch.
“I’m not giving up my torch, thank you very much,” she said.
But she added: “I am using it to light other people’s torches – and I’m finding they don’t need me. There are vastly more activists than there were in my day ... more women and men identifying as feminists.”
Steinem rose to prominence in the late 60s as a barnstorming social and political activist and ground-breaking journalist in the US. She supported Hillary Clinton for US president.
But does her omnipresence as the most legendary living face of the feminist movement threaten to hold back the leaders of tomorrow, who are needed to advance the next wave of the women’s movement?
“My job is to bring people up. I almost never speak [at functions] alone, I bring people with me so they become better known. I try to do only what I can do. But sometimes I am the only person who can get someone on the phone. Sometime you need to send a signal to people who would otherwise not know the names,” she said.
One of the biggest setbacks for feminism in Steinem’s earlier years was the defeat, on the verge of victory, of the equal rights amendment, which seeks to prohibit discrimination against women under the constitution.
The landmark measure has had attempted comebacks since and is still on the agenda of many progressive leaders, although almost certainly not the incoming, Republican-controlled US Congress.
Steinem did not hold out hope in the near future for the support needed to make it law. But she pointed out that some of its aims, such as officially permitting women into combat, marriage equality for same-sex couples and the proliferation of gender-neutral bathrooms “have happened anyway” as a series of more piecemeal equal rights victories.
“I suspect many fewer people are going to tell me we live in a post-racist, post-feminist world now,” she said, referencing the impact of Donald Trump’s election.
The same conservative types who told her in the 70s that the second wave of feminism that swept in greater access to work, economic independence and reproductive control for women went “against God and the family” then moved on to tell her in the 80s, 90s and beyond that the feminist movement “had succeeded and is over”, she said.
No matter that the falsity of that claim was clear to most women, it will be increasingly and glaringly obvious now that Donald Trump has beaten Hillary Clinton to the White House, she said.
As women’s rights groups were voicing their fears and individuals were rushing to get birth control immediately after the election, Steinem called for renewed activism during the backlash she saw against progress towards racial and sexual equality.
“I have never in my lifetime seen a president who was such an egotist. He’s a sociopath, a racist, a sexual predator. There are great dangers because he is dealing with heads of state,” she said.
She rolled out some four-letter words. She mentioned, her voice rising, that the US constitution reads “We, the people” not “I, the president”.
“He’s not my president,” she said.
“I’m not going to leave the scene, are you kidding?”