Gloria Steinem Tells: How to Change the World in 5 Steps

The feminist icon, in celebration of the release of the 200th video from the MAKERScollection of women's stories, shares her best advice on blazing a trail.

Compiled by Daryl Chen
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    Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

    Feel the fear. Then do it anyway.

    This was one of the classic slogans from the feminist movement. I'm not fearless, and I doubt anyone is. But know that fear is a sign of growth because you're doing what you're not used to. I feared public speaking and avoided it until I was in my 30s. Then feminism came along. Since I couldn't persuade editors to let me write about it, I was forced to speak. I was only able to speak as a team with another activist, but I discovered that I didn't die after all and the audience heard more than one person's experience. Sometimes, it can be helpful to admit your fear and nervousness out loud—the people you're worried about are likely to empathize. And the best way for us to cultivate fearlessness in our daughters and other young women is by example. If they see their mothers and other women in their lives going forward despite fear, they'll know it's possible.

    Cindy Ord/Getty Images

    Don't go it alone.

    Humans are communal animals, so when we're alone, we come to feel wrong, at fault, unable to think and act. It's crucial for us to have a chosen family of friends and mentors. Bella Abzug was a great mentor for me because she was creative in conflict and I was fearful of it. From her, I learned that opposing force can create a solution that neither party could have imagined. From Alice Walker, I learned to always strive to be honest and authentic in the moment. From Wilma Mankiller, the chief of the Cherokee Nation, I learned that much of what we strive for now existed in the past. Seeking a world in which people are linked, not ranked—and we are linked to the natural world—is possible.

    I've also been motivated by my peers—Suzanne Braun Levine, who founded Ms. Magazine and was its real editor even though others thought I was, is the most talented editor I know. Robin Morgan [above, right] has such honesty and fierceness and vision in her writing. And every single one of these women has taught me about friendship.

    Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    Start with your own story.

    If you want to launch a grassroots organization, begin by telling your own story of why you want to start it, ask others to respond with their own, and see what experiences and hopes emerge. Be sure to seek out a variety of people who are experiencing the same problem; if only one group starts an organization, it can be seen as their property and it's harder to diversify later. Remember, social change grows from the bottom up, like a tree. Small acts can be the seeds of very big change.

    Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

    Question the status quo.

    Women in the U.S. are paid on average only 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. At our own jobs, we can ask ourselves what a white male worker would be getting for the same work—and then ask for it. Too often, women just don't ask. By doing this, we will be part of the greatest economic stimulus that this nation could possibly have. Also, we can seek jobs outside the "pink collar" sector of overwhelmingly female job categories. About 70 percent of workers are in jobs that are at least two-thirds one sex or the other, and the historically male occupations are better paid. Even the average parking lot attendant is paid more than the average child care attendant. Finally, we can invest in ourselves with education and training, in our "insides" more than our "outsides." And we can save our money for the purchase of land, an apartment or a house—the home equity gap is even bigger than the salary gap.

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    See beyond the traditional.

    The best way to cross boundaries in society is through our own behavior. Are we working or living in a white ghetto? We can object on our own behalf. Are we only thinking about young women as babysitters for our kids? There are great young men we can hire, too, and our children will see that males can be nurturing and patient. Is our state legislature using our money to build prisons instead of universities? Lobby them, defeat them, or run for office yourself. The art of behaving effectively is behaving as if everything we do matters—because we can't know what will change the future.

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    Your Comments

    • BaliHai84

      Gloria Steinem made me feel bad about myself for decades. She told women they could be 100% as mothers and wives while working full time. A true woman could bring home the bacon with a baby attached to her tit, and neither her work, her parenting or her marriage would suffer. What a crock! When I finally realized it was a lie, I was able to make the correct adjustments in my life. She also basically has relegated the status of men to mere sperm donors. Her favorite saying was “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”. I would hardly take her advise now.

    • gotideas

      I wish feminists had kept their mouths shut and their bras on. All they did was create a mess for us. Now we have equal rights which means we have the right to earn the bacon–we work just as hard as men but we don’t get paid the same. Then we get to home and still cook the bacon, and clean, raise the kids, do laundry. At least before feminism all we had to do was cook, clean and raise the kids. Way to go–we gave up the bra for this?

      • Mary

        Yes,as a female do you know how many men cannot be bread winners due to job sourcing? I am concerned this long term effect this has on family structure.
        many time men have asked me for money,so easy to say No when I am poor,but it is sad…But I do like to go bra less.itchy restraining things…I believe in GOD’s rules, do you?

      • FreedomFromTeaQueda

        Please feel free to go back to smoking in the basement, being a baby machine, being beholden to and held in bondage by a man and not being free to enjoy your own passions. It’s nobody’s fault if you haven’t trained your man to take part in the family.

        • MMA FIGHTER ALPHA MAN

          LOL You femnazis want it both ways, you want to be able to work but whine about working and then you want to whine about doing housework too. Women are fking up society with this sht and all feminists need to gtfo and go to canada or some other backwards country and act all manipulative there.

          • rosmunder

            sounds like a troll, talks like a troll…is a troll.

      • Rilriia

        How dare you? First of all, women have every right to receive equal pay for equal work as men. And there are women who work in construction and technology and science–jobs they would not have been able to hold had misogynists like you had their way. (And you can be a woman and hate women… so if your excuse is that you’re female, sorry, but no dice.) You wanna blame someone about the lack of equal pay? Blame the status quo of male law makers and decision makers because it was like that for DECADES BEFORE FEMINISM you twit.

        Secondly, women have the right to choose what happens to their bodies–JUST LIKE MEN. You don’t see legislature being pushed around dictating a man’s reproductive systems. Yet women… oh we’re just brood mares. Here to give birth and suckle children.

        Not happening Skippy. Your husband/guy/whatever doesn’t help you? Feminism says get up off of your butt and have an EGALITARIAN relationship.

        Don’t you read before you shoot your mouth off? –Like read about what you’re shooting your mouth off before you open it and make yourself look like a moron? Under feminist ideologies, raising children, housework, bread winning–the whole shebang was EQUAL WORK FOR BOTH PARTIES.

        Third, feminism gives you the right TO CHOOSE whether you want to stay at home as a mother—OR–to work. You’re not confined into a role just because of your gender. You’re not supposed to be seen as intellectually or physically inferior (as in the need for fainting couches, NOT the physical differences that do exist between men and women) just because you have ovaries.

        Do I agree with everything Steinem wrote? Of course not, but that’s the thing about philosophy; you’re supposed to take what fits and leave out what doesn’t. So if you’re too stupid to do that, you have only yourself to blame. And if you’re too stupid to make your life better, do not have the indecency to blame feminists.

        Blame the person who stares back at you in your mirror.