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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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.