Activist & Author Gloria Steinem On Playboy, Planned Parenthood & The Patriarchy


You know the name, and we’re pretty sure you already know what feminist activist and writer Gloria Steinem stands for. She is a representative of the Women’s Rights movement form the 1970s here in the United States and is a pioneer in the feminist media space, using her voice and experience to further the cause of equal rights. Throughout her career she has championed the cause of equal rights for women, minorities, the LGTBQ community and regularly speaks out on a number of topics, including reproductive rights.

She has just released a new book called My Life on The Road which documents her life on the road and how she became a catalyst for change. She is currently promoting the book through various media platforms and has been speaking about some very timely issues, ones that are important especially to women given that we are seeing some of them being used as political calling cards by a number of presidential candidates.

In an interview with Cosmopolitan’s editor-in-chief Joanna Coles at a live event in front of an audience at Hearst Publications in New York City, she talks about Planned Parenthood, where conservatism in America went wrong, and yes, Playboy. You may have recently read that the popular men’s magazine famous for its centerfolds as much as its owner Hugh Hefner, has decided to stop printing pictures of nude women in its pages. While it could be seen as some sort of a feminist win, Gloria doesn’t think so.

“They are so irrelevant. For Playboy to say they are no longer publishing nude photos of women is like the NRA saying we’re not selling handguns anymore because there are machine guns and assault weapons so easily available,” she said.

To expand on that a little, Playboy didn’t decide to stop printing nude images of women because of any activist group, it was simply a business decision as they cannot keep up with the giant that is online porn. Why buy a magazine to find images of naked women when you are one click away from accessing and downloading porn from your handheld device?


Given that 2016 is an election year, of course she was asked about the two female presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina. She believes Hillary is a lot braver than many of the candidates, and likes to remind people, especially those who have Bush or Clinton fatigue, than Hillary was not born a Clinton. The reason she likes her is not for the way she focuses on women, but the way she includes them in the political process.

“Only she looks at the status of women and females everywhere as part of foreign policy. And this is especially crucial now because, for the first time that we know of, there are fewer females on earth than males as a result of domestic violence in this country, sexualized violence in war zones, preference for male babies, FGM, child marriage … and only she considers it,” she said.

To add to her point, there are overwhelming amounts of research which has identified one of the major keys to alleviating poverty around the world is to empower women economically, especially in the developing world, and allowing them access to education and healthcare where it has previously been denied. It is one of the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals spearheaded by the United Nations and agreed upon by a number of world leaders in order to tackle poverty by the year 2050.

It seems like an ambitious goal, but now that we have so much research that shows when girls are educated, the economy improves, it goes from being just an ideal to an actionable mandate.

As for Carly Fiorina, who not too long ago claimed she wants to redefine the definition of feminism to being “a woman who lives the life she chooses” (except when it comes to choosing her own reproductive choices, sadly) Gloria believes there are good and bad things about her.


“[She’s] good for feminism because she demonstrates that it’s not about biology, it’s about consciousness. Bad for feminism because she doesn’t represent the majority interests, even according to public opinion polls of women in this country,” she said.

Gloria’s shares her thoughts on politics and gender in the frame of conservatism, as she believes the things conservatives focus on today are not what they were years ago.

“The ultra-right wing has taken over one of our two great parties. I hope there are Republicans here, because I want to apologize to you for all the right-wing, old racist Democrats who came in and took over your party,” she said addressing the audience at the Cosmo interview event.

“The fact is that a lot of people have been born into a system that told them that they needed that kind of status. So now they are in full backlash, and it’s why you get these very same groups that are against immigration, against sex education, against Planned Parenthood, contraception, safe and legal abortion … it’s the same groups. They’re afraid, and they’re powerful. And they could win. It depends what you and I do,” she added. And by that, she means we ALL need to vote for the candidates that are going to best represent the interests of ALL Americans, not just a select, elite few.

Given the recent issue about Planned Parenthood’s alleged profiteering off the sale of fetal tissue after a series of undercover videos were released by an anti-choice organization over the past few months, talking about women’s reproductive rights has sadly become yet another major political issue in the lead up to the 2016 US presidential election, and it’s not hard to see how this is being used as a way to clamp down on a woman’s right to choose.


Gloria was asked whether Roe v Wade, the historic Supreme Court ruling from 1973 which made abortion legal in all 50 states and became a major win for feminist activists like her during the 70s, would ever be overturned. It’s a legitimate question, given that in light of the Planned Parenthood saga, conservative candidates like Ben Carson have publicly expressed they would like to see it struck down. Gloria gave a very sobering response in regard to this question.

“It was been already overturned for poor women who are dependent on government funding. It has been already overturned for, say, women who are raped in other countries and are dependent on health services that are funded by us … it’s partly overturned, already,” she said. One of her solutions is to ensure we vote for the candidates who don’t seek to take away a woman’s access to personal and vital health care.

“State legislatures take money away from universities, so people end up graduating in debt, and use it to build prisons, which we don’t need. Most Americans don’t know who their state legislators are. We have to pay much more attention to state legislators.”

Her strong stance on this issue comes from her own experience as a young woman living in a time before Roe v Wade existed. In an interview with NPR, she told ‘Fresh Air’ host Terry Gross that as a 22 year old, she became pregnant and was terrified. Abortion was not legal at the time, and Gloria candidly shared how she tried throwing herself down the stairs in order to terminate the pregnancy.

“I was desperate. I really was desperate. I just knew that if I went home and married, which I would’ve had to do, it would be to the wrong person; it would be to a life that wasn’t mine, that wasn’t mine at all,” she said. It is a tough experience to read about, but she was certainly not the only woman at the time to go to such extreme measures out of fear.

What’s even worse, this kind of behavior still happens today because of certain laws in certain US states, as well as around the world, that essentially back women into a corner and don’t allow them any choice in the matter. A recent heartbreaking story of an Ohio woman having to travel 300 miles away to a clinic in Chicago to get an abortion procedure due to a health reason because doctors in her own state refused to perform the surgery is a shocking example of how far we are from ending this fight on a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions.


Because of what she experienced as a young woman, as well as the culture of fear and silence that surrounded many women at the time, Gloria believes it is important to share her views on abortion today.

“It seems to me that every child has the right to be born loved and wanted, and every person has the right to control — male and female — to control their own bodies from the skin in,” she declares, before adding that there is one huge problem that is stopping this from happening.

“The definition of patriarchy is to be able to control reproduction, and that means you have to control women’s bodies.”

It could be the reason why the recent viral hashtag #shoutyourabortion became such a heated and polarized topic where women wanted to feel like they can share their stories publicly without shame, but of course it received plenty of backlash and outrage.

In the same interview with NPR, Gloria shared her opinion on what she believes are the most pressing issues for women today.

“I would say that competing for No. 1 would be violence against females worldwide…[and] tied for first place is the ability of women to decide when and whether to have children… I would say those two concerns — sexualized violence against women and reproductive freedom or reproductive justice — are right up there in our focus in every country,” she said.

There has never been a more urgent time for women to stand together collectively to ensure they have equal access to vital healthcare, economic opportunities and the right to live in a safe world free from violence. We are certainly glad Gloria continues to speak up about these issues, and we hope it will inspire many more generations of young women to take the mic and speak up.

You can hear her full NPR interview below:



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