Podcast #89: Gloria Steinem on Sex, Justice, and Magazines

By Tracy O'Neill, Social Media Curator
December 1, 2015

Subscribe on iTunes.

Gloria Steinem is a writer, political activist, and the creator of the magazine Ms., and a founder of the Women's Media Center. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and this year, she was named a Library Lion. For this week's episode of the New York Public Library podcast, we're proud to present Gloria Steinem in conversation with Roberta Kaplan, author of Then Comes Marriage, discussing sex, justice, and magazines. 

Roberta Kaplan and Gloria Steinem
Roberta Kaplan and Gloria Steinem

Steinem invests heavily in an ethos of truth-telling, and she considers it a form of "ordinary magic." She elaborated:

"I think the shared magic, it isn’t exactly magic, the ordinary magic, is telling the truth, you know, and I think that the women’s movement allowed women to say, 'Here is my dream and I’m not doing it,' or 'I’m getting beaten up at home,' or 'I’m not getting paid,' or whatever it is, just telling the truth and that is the source of all liberation movements, really, one person tells the truth and then three others say, 'You feel like that? I thought only I did. It was only happening to me.'"

One way that Steinem has helped to bring truth-telling into public spheres of discourse is through her magazine Ms. In response to a question about the influence of the publication, she responded:

"What’s been the impact of Ms.? You know we hear stories of people who saw the first cover about battered women and started a shelter or the piece we did that turned into a movie or this—there’s tons of stories that we hear but I suspect that those of you in the audience know better than I do what the impact—It’s still the only magazine for women that’s controlled by women and it is the only one that isn’t influenced by advertising. So as you may notice in other women’s magazines especially, because they’re catalogs, even though the editors are always trying to get something in there, the articles are mostly about products and we don’t have to do that. In fact, we’ve lost fiction and poetry from women’s magazines, too, because the advertisers won’t pay to be next to it, so we haven’t had as much impact as I would like, but I think we’ve had quite a lot of impact."

Both in Ms. and beyond, Steinem has consistently advocated for reproductive rights. It is so important to her that she dedicated her book My Life on the Road to Dr. John Sharpe, a doctor who performed an abortion for her in 1957:

"Reproductive freedom, reproductive justice, is a fundamental human right like freedom of speech or anything else, so you wouldn’t vote for somebody who’s against freedom of speech, so you know just treat it like the fundamental human right that it truly is. And that means the freedom to have children, as well as not to have children, you know, it really—it’s both things... I dedicated my book to an abortionist, and I’m glad every day that I—maybe I should explain what I mean by that, what I meant, because it’s quite personal, because I think we have to tell the truth personally. Okay, 'This book is dedicated to Dr. John Sharpe of London, who in 1957, a decade before physicians in England could legally perform an abortion for any reason other than the health of a woman, took the considerable risk of referring for an abortion a twenty-two-year-old American on her way to India. Knowing only that she had broken an engagement at home to seek an unknown fate, he said, ‘You must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.’ Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust would not mind if I say this so long after your death. I’ve done the best I could with my life. This book is for you.'”

You can subscribe to the New York Public Library Podcast to hear more conversations with wonderful artists, writers, and intellectuals. Join the conversation today!