The 'F' Word: On feminism, sluts, and Gloria Steinem
Published Saturday, October 15, 2011 6:43PM EDT
Gloria Steinem is the co-founder of MS magazine, a best-selling author, and a leading figure in the Women's Liberation Movement. In an interview with W5 that covers the personal and political side of this world-renowned feminist, Steinem revealed why she wants to engrave "Here lies a slut from East Toledo" on her tombstone.
This intimate revelation led us on a special mission: to bring Steinem face to face with the founders of "Slutwalk" -- an international movement that started in Toronto.
On January 24th, 2011, at York university, a representative of the Toronto Police stated that: "Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." This comment inspired a protest march in Toronto and subsequently, similar "Slutwalks" around the world.
W5 set up a meeting with the world's most famous feminist and some of the founders of Toronto's Slutwalk. Sandie Rinaldo interviewed Laura McLean, Jeanette Janzen, Colleen Westendorf and Heather Jarvis just after their star-struck encounter with the legendary activist.
SANDIE RINALDO: I was certainly excited to meet her because I grew up at that time when the feminist movement and women's movement was at the forefront. So what was it like for you meeting her?
COLLEEN WESTENDORF: Surreal… definitely surreal.
SANDIE RINALDO: She's a real person right and yet she hates the word icon, but she is such an icon.
LAURA MCLEAN: Yeah she's very down to earth. It's an exciting opportunity because anyone that is interested in feminism knows who she is.
SANDIE RINALDO: And what do you walk away with from having spoken to her?
HEATHER JARVIS: I think it's really nice to hear that it's not all dark and gloomy and scary. There are fights and they're tough fights and they need to happen but even just hearing her say it's fun and it's a good thing to try to make the world a better place. And there are growing pains and there are learning curves
COLLEEN WESTENDORF: Especially somebody who's been doing this for as long as Gloria has. I mean, she's not somebody who kind of you know worked as a profession and then at a certain age stopped working. She's always working and she's still working. She was saying that you know MS magazine is still her baby to this day.
SANDIE RINALDO: Many younger women we spoke to had no idea who Gloria Steinem was. How did you learn about her?
HEATHER JARVIS: I have identified as a feminist for about a decade so I knew who she was. She's one of the names you recognize because she was a pioneer.
COLLEEN WESTENDORF: I've been reading MS magazine for years -- ever since I started to develop what I guess you could call a feminist consciousness. I mean, like Heather was saying, Gloria Steinem is just one of those names that you recognize as a pioneer -- as somebody who first started these conversations and the dialogues and created these spaces that younger feminists are working with and working from to continue to move things forward and I think we are all very grateful to Gloria Steinem for having done that.
SANDIE RINALDO: Well do you look to any women today who are mentors?
HEATHER JARVIS: I think what's amazing about where we are now in regards to trends like social media and interconnectivity around the world is the fact that we hear about issues and activists and articles from everywhere. It's not just MS Magazine. So there are amazing people, young voices, older voices, new voices um from so many different backgrounds that are amazing.
SANDIE RINALDO: And so, is she the woman you look to for inspiration?
COLLEEN WESTENDORF: She's definitely one of the people yes but there are so many it's you know… you can't just look up to one.
HEATHER JARVIS: I think we get so caught off guard by these questions because we hear about so many amazing voices and that's the whole point. So there are activists in South Africa, there are activists in the U.K., there are activists in Europe, there are activists that are driving revolutions in the Middle East and in the States and in South America. And you turn to them for their voices and it's, it's hard to say we look to this one person because nobody can do it all… nobody can understand it all. We have to work together.
SANDIE RINALDO: We've gone through 40 years of change. Is feminism a bad word today?
LAURA MACLEAN: I think it's getting better I think it still has a negative stereotype with it like man haters and you know bra burning and stuff like that. But I think it's getting better. More people are willing to identify as a feminist whereas before it still had a negative connotation with it.
JEANETTE JANZEN: I think in the past decade, women made the assumption that oh it's done. Women's rights are done. We don't have to worry about this anymore. That's mind blowing to me. I could never understand that. I think we have a long way to go. I think like Gloria says it's not over it's not ever going to be over -- not in our lifetime anyways.
HEATHER JARVIS: I didn't grow up learning feminism was a bad word but a definitely misunderstood word. Feminism gripped me and it gripped several of us and a lot of other younger people who could relate to the struggle. But a lot of people don't have the right information and it's a hard conversation to get into when people have a lot of misconceptions and there are a lot of different perspectives. Feminism doesn't have one identifier, one representation… there are a lot of feminisms.
SANDIE RINALDO: So what do you think are the primary issues still facing your generation of women?
COLLEEN WESTENDORF: I think reproductive health is a really big one. I volunteer for Planned Parenthood. In the states recently we're seeing this comeback of the abortion wars with the closing of a lot of clinics everywhere. It's really scary, but those things are basic health services and something that should be considered a basic human right is still in jeopardy what 50 years after Roe versus Wade.
HEATHER JARVIS: I think we're also seeing a lot of people talk about the representation of men and women in social media and TV and magazines. All these images are pushed our way, and what is this doing to ourselves around sexuality and pornography? There's a lot of different issues that are right front and centre in our faces. How do we deal with all of this without feeling like we're a pawn or a victim. Figuring that out is tough and it's going to be a long process and it's going to be an ever changing process - who we are sexually, who we are in relationships, who we are in our own communities.