Gloria Steinem On Feminism And LGBT Rights: “I Don’t See It As An Intersection, I See It As A Circle”

Last night, Gloria Steinem sat down with Roberta A. Kaplan at the New York Public Library and talked about feminism past and present, LGBT rights, intersectionality, her abortion at age 22 and so much more. Gloria Steinem, of course, is a feminist icon who’s been working tirelessly for women’s rights since the 1960s; Roberta A. Kaplan is the LGBT activist and lawyer who successfully argued that the Supreme Court invalidate a crucial section of DOMA in United States Vs. Windsor.


The first question set the tone for the night, with Kaplan talking about her experiences as a lesbian. “For me, growing up, even though I think I had inklings and glimmerings that I was a lesbian, the much bigger issue for me was being a woman,” she said.

“Would I be able to leave, would I be able to move to New York and be like you? Would I be able to fulfill the dreams that I read in New York magazine and Ms. magazine? That was the bigger issue, because being gay, I just figured I’d keep it in the closet. And then there were many years when being gay was the big issue. Now I think I’ll have come full circle, because today, for me at least, being a woman is a tougher issue in the rarified world I live in than being a lesbian.

“So my first question to you is, how do you see that intersection? I know you have a long record on this, but how do you see both the relationship and the way the two movements have evolved over time?”

Kaplan and Steinem. Courtesy Jori Klein/The New York Public Library

Steinem answered, “In my heart, I don’t see it as an intersection, I see it as a circle, and we’re coming at our goal of being unique humans and also sharing our humanity. We’re coming at that central goal from different places, but I would say it’s like this” - making a circle with her hands - “and not a hierarchy, it’s like this, and we are all linked, we are not ranked.

“What worries me sometimes is I that think our adversaries know - somehow we all have the same adversaries - they know we’re linked! But if you think about it in the most basic terms, you can understand why because the whole idea of a male-dominant or patriarchal or anthro-whatever-you-want-to-call-it system is all about controlling reproduction.

“That is the basic thing: how many workers, how many soldiers, who do they belong to, and also if you have race or class or caste, as in India, then it becomes even more important to control reproduction so you can keep these groups separate. And because it’s all about reproduction, it demonizes any sexual expression that can’t end in reproduction. So sex between two men or between two women is terrible to the same people who are against contraception or against everything we know.

“It’s so important that we not see ourselves in silos, but we understand ourselves to be absolutely, intrinsically aligned.”

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You can watch the entire talk below.



Top image via gloriasteinem.com


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Erika W. Smith is BUST's digital editorial director. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @erikawynn and email her at erikawsmith@bust.com.

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