Ten questions with Gloria Steinem

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I interviewed Gloria Steinem. She’s promoting her new undertaking, GreenStone Media, a radio station founded by women for women. There were nine bloggers on the call with me and we each got to ask a question.

During the interview I was routinely sidetracked by:

a) Gloria Steinem is the revolutionary we talk about when we talk about feminism. She is huge. I felt incredibly honored to be talking to her.

b) The other nine bloggers are huge. Not huge like Gloria Steinem, but huge like smart writing and big audience and I was dying to know what they were thinking about the call.

c) Emily Rice put the call together, and she identified ten top bloggers across blogging genres — tricky to do. Rice will generate publicity for GreenStone Media in an area that would have been hard to reach. I think she is a publicity genius and I got sidetracked thinking about ways to become her friend.

Here’s what happened on the call. The women asked very interesting questions, and Gloria gave very interesting answers. But the two were not particularly related.

Here are examples. (I am paraphrasing in places. If you need to hear the whole interview, here it is) :

Q: (From Catherine Connors) In your keynote speech you say that women want less conflict on radio. One of the criticisms of the mommy bloggers is there’s too much camaraderie. It’s too rah rah and we don’t disagree nearly enough.

A: (From Gloria, of course) People complain about the Oprafication of media. I think, if only the media were as good as Oprah we’d be in a different world. There is such a premium on agreement that we forget to tell the truth. There really can’t be community if it doesn’t include the freedom to say what we feel.

See what I mean? Catherine brings up an interesting topic that is very this-moment. And Gloria says some inspiring stuff that would have been an equally good answer to fifty questions people asked twenty years ago.

Q: (From me) In your keynote speech you say women are reading more than men and getting more college degrees than men. You say it like that’s a positive. But right now girls are working much harder than boys in high school and in college and it seems to me like a trickle down from women doing more work than men everywhere else. Do you see this as a problem?

A: Women need to ask themselves the revolutionary question, Is this really what I want to do?.. When mediocre women do as well as mediocre men, then I’ll know we’re getting somewhere.

Again, I bring up a topic that is very current, and Gloria gives an answer that spans decades. So this is one reason why Gloria is an amazing figure in history; the answers she’s been giving to the media for the last twenty years still resonate. But I couldn’t help feeling like I was in a press conference with some political figure who is sticking to talking points.

So for a minute, let me move past Gloria Steinem and GreenStone Media.

I want to tell you about the women on the call. I love their blogs because they are so honest and well written. I loved that each of us was so nervous and excited about talking to Gloria, and each of us was so eager to hear what the others would ask.

But, when you get a group of women together, the stay-at-home moms separate from the career moms. So it’s no surprise that the moms divided here, too.

Jenn Satterwhite, said, “If you are a mommy blogger you’re written off.” This is true. Many women dread working in an all-women space. And I personally have lost a job giving career advice right after I wrote about being pregnant. (“You should write for a working mom magazine,” my editor told me.)

So it did not surprise me that when Pamela Slim spoke she made sure to tell Gloria that her blog focuses on entrepreneurship, not parenting. And when I got on the phone, I said I write about work and parenting only as it relates to work. I said this because I would never, ever want to be called a mommy blogger. I’d lose half my readers.

But let me tell you something. While I was distancing myself from the mommy bloggers, I did something only a mom would do: built a fortress in my bedroom so that my kids wouldn’t bug me on the call; I had a mattress against the door to muffle screams and a dresser against the mattress to keep the door shut.

So in the end, we have a snapshot of women’s media in the new millennium: There is a group of bloggers asking contentious questions from the media’s edge. And there is Gloria Steinem, representing the establishment, and giving seasoned and wise but measured answers in an effort to promote her burgeoning radio empire. And while Gloria is marketing her conflict-free radio station, the bloggers are doing what they do best, celebrating conflict, even within ourselves.

Here’s the list of bloggers:
Catherine Connors, Her Bad Mother
Ingrid Wiese, Three New York Women
Jenn Satterwhite, Mommy Needs Coffee
K Smith, Almost Literally
Kristen Chase, Motherhood Uncensored
Leah Peterson, Leah Peah
Liz Gumbinner, Mom 101
Pam Slim, Escape from Cubicle Nation
Sarah Brown, Que Sera Sera

17 replies
  1. Dave
    Dave says:

    Thanks for those links. I continue to be amazed by the amount of interesting content that is out there and am mystified as to how anyone has time to do it all. Read, let alone write.

  2. Mom101
    Mom101 says:

    Excellent recap. Spot-on. Especially the part about us all being so nervous.

    Interestingly, I didn’t even consider asking her about any mom business, even though my blog is called…well, Mom101. I was glad the “mombloggers” in the group covered some of those questions, but I was also glad to have heard the ones from other perspectives entirely. Happy to have “met” you on the call.

  3. CrankMama
    CrankMama says:

    Yikes! Thanks for the link (I think). But what is a “mommy blogger”? I guess I don’t mind the term because until we accept that people can be excellent writers, complex beings, AND mothers, mothers as a group will continue to be sidelined. What about the Daddy Bloggers – of which there are many and excellent ones? Why is that not considered a bad label? I’d venture it’s because people don’t view fatherhood as a defining & limiting notion such as motherhood.

    I’m proud to call myself a feminist, a career woman, a mother, a sassy chic, and any number of other things including a Mommy Blogger (I guess).

    I think you would be surprised that you WOULDN’T lose your readers if you somehow were labeled a mommy blogger. The bottom line is you’re an excellent writer and obviously super smart. If people dump you because you occasionally raise non-work related issues with motherhood, than they’re silly.

  4. Catherine - Her Bad Mother
    Catherine - Her Bad Mother says:

    Great recap – I’m going to have to bookmark this page so that I can come and revisit that call frequently!

    Ironically, given my question, some of the discussion that has ensued among mom-bloggers over Gloria and Greenstone has been decidedly *dis*agreeable – accusations of selling out and careerism (ha!) among mom bloggers who are “promoting’ Greenstone. Interesting.

  5. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    We should celebrate tension, not hide from it, so long as we manage it in a civilized way.

    Tension and conflicts are at the root of challenges, and without these things we would not be forced to find ways to change things — to make ourselves, our careers, our communities or our world better.

    Steinem is who she is because she challenged the status quo — she embraced the tensions within women’s roles in society. To say we don’t need conflict or tension is to say that the world is perfect (and if we all thought that, we wouldn’t be reading and commenting on this blog).

    Places and people that embrace different ideas naturally embrace tension. And these are the places and people that make things happen — make a difference.

    In addition to Richard Florida’s thesis of the 3 T’s (Talent, Technology and Tolerance), I think there is a 4th T — Tension, that within a context of tolerance, will push people with talent to use it.

  6. Pamela Slim
    Pamela Slim says:

    Hi Penelope:

    Thanks for a great recap of an amazing call. It has been fun to read how all of us perceived it and what we took away from spending an hour with a true revolutionary.

    You are right that I wanted to clearly state the flavor and intent of my blog, mostly to give context to my question. I embrace the fact that I am able to work and write from home while my little one either plays around me or hangs out with the babysitter downstairs. I don’t shy away from talking about being a self-employed parent since that is what many of my readers aim to be. But I do shy away from calling myself a “woman blogger” or “mommy blogger,” just because I want to be known for the content of my work. I don’t judge anyone who chooses to identify herself that way – if it feels good, do it!

    My sister in law, who holds a post-doctorate from Cal Tech in isotope geochemistry, is a bi-racial female university professor in a very male-dominated field. She said to me one Christmas “I don’t want to be known as a good woman scientist, or a good half-asian, half latina scientist, I want to be known as a GOOD SCIENTIST.”

    I think having a choice of how we define ourselves is one thing that Gloria Steinem has fought for all these years. Instead of getting perturbed by it, I consider it a blessing to have options.

  7. Sarah Brown
    Sarah Brown says:

    It was so great being on the call with you. The questions about motherhood were interesting to me, since I’m single, but definitely want kids someday. Not issues I’m faced with everyday, but definitely food for thought.

  8. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Pamela – I hear you on the gender issue. I think it’ll be great when the mommy bloggers are parent bloggers because so many men are at-home with kids too. I hope I live to see that…

    Sarah – Often I interview researchers at Catalyst Organization (women’s think tank) and they always tell me that people who do best with kids/work/decisions are those who confront them early, where you are — young, single, childless, and (based on my sampling of your blog) frenetically trying new things.

    Catherine – I have really enjoyed all the hoop-la surrounding the Gloria call. My favorite quote of the week is from you: Back the fuck off Gloria.

  9. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I really have enjoyed this thread, these talks and the comments that have arisen from it.

    One of the things that comes up so often,came up here:

    “But, when you get a group of women together, the stay-at-home moms separate from the career moms. So it’s no surprise that the moms divided here, too.”

    For 14 years, being a stay at home mom was my career. And, yes, I was one of those moms who when asked what she did would answer with both pride and shame because there is a line drawn between work that earns a paycheck and work that does not. Now, that career as a stay at home mom has lead directly to a dream career in writing.

    I would love to have asked about something pertaining to my previous career or the world I had before motherhood or something so outrageously hip and cutting edge that everyone would have gasped. But my “previous career” was a college student. (Unless you want to count when I delivered balloons and popcorn, but I really don’t want to count that.)

    So I asked her a question about what I knew, what I lived and what I wanted to her take on.

    What I wish I had asked her now: “How can women finally get passed this utter bullshit of “us vs them”, “working vs non-working”, “moms vs. child free”, “married vs. single”. “straight vs. lesbain” and for the love of all things with 2 X chromosomes, start supporting each other because we can and should?!”

    I am so over labels. (Aren’t all of us?) I am so over “What kind of blogger are you?” I am so over all of it. I am a woman. I am a blogger. I am a mom. I guess I am just to the point of: put whatever label you want on me, just read me if you like me, comment if you want to and let’s get this party started. So to speak.

    Please know, this rant is NOT directed at you in any way, shape or form. I loved being on the call with you and getting to know these other women better through the call. I love how each of us brought a different flavor to it. Great, great way to get people thinking and talking!

  10. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Jenn, thanks for the comment. I’m honored that you’d take so much time to write about this topic here.

    I am writing a huge comment to say that 1) I like labels and 2) I like the debate.

    I actually find labels really helpful. We have to be able to categorize people to make our world manageable, so we have to be able to label them. (Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologists, talks about how this is human nature. I believe that.)

    So the issue is not IF we label people, but HOW we label them.

    You reveal a lot about yourself by how you label the world.

    For example, you could say, of a smart, beautiful, Protestant girl: “That Protestant girl” or “That smart girl.” If you don’t know her name, you have to have some other way to describe her, and that seems fine.

    So I don’t mind being labeled. I also don’t mind playing the label game. We each have different attributes and we can focus on the attribute that helps the most at a given time.

    There is a practical side of labels, too. If you have to support a family, and you have five labels to choose from, why not emphasize the one that brings in the most money? It doesn’t change who you are, it just changes how much money you have in your bank account.

    Finally, for me, there is an important aspect to the career girl vs. stay-at-home mom debate. I think the debate needs to be there, and be there honestly before we can move forward on the work/family issues.

    There is a lot of evidence that says that it is better for the kid if the mom stays at home for the first three years. The evidence is clear that it is the mom and not the dad, and the evdience has been quantified in many different ways.

    I feel like I am in a unique spot in this discussion becuase I work — primary breadwinner of the family — and I have young kids at home with my husband, and I’m willing to admit that the science does not support me.

    The labels are useful so we can tell who is talking in the debate. The debate needs to continue so that we, as a capitalist society, can come up with something that works for families.

  11. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Am I nuts? I am now going to post a comment to my own comment on my own post. But at least you know that I’m willing to reconsider my positions on anything… Jenn’s comments make me nervous. Like I need to think more.

    I think the goal should be that we do not have labels for parents and careerists. I think the goal is that everyone who wants to be both can be both in a way that fulfills the parents and meets the kids’ needs. But we’re not there. REALLY not there. So we have lables while we are getting there.

  12. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    Penelope, actually, a lot of what you said made ME think. I do agree that people are going to use labels. It is just going to happen. I don’t care if someone labels me “mommyblogger” or “stay at home mom” or “married” etc. As long as you understand that there are many other lables underneath the one you are choosing. Be willing to look deeper rather than just at the one easy label. I challenge anyone to find another person–blogger in particular– that falls under only one label and one label only.

    I am just longing for the day that women will support each other regardless of what career path they have chosen/been thrust into/are walking. The instant we can do that, we become stronger than any one group could ever become!

    Love this discussion! That is what will open doors and open eyes!

  13. Dylan Tweney
    Dylan Tweney says:

    Being a mom and having a blog and even writing about pregnancy and motherhood occasionally does not make you a “Mommyblogger.” But if you have a blog and 80% of your posts are about being a mom then, yes, you are a mommyblogger.

    I think the differentiation is important because having a blog is about defining yourself publicly. If you post incessantly about motherhood then, yes, people are not going to take you as seriously when you post about career topics. That’s not to say you can’t have 2 blogs — one about motherhood, one about careers. Or whatever. But I think you’re right, Penelope, to exercise some separation on your blog.

    This is obviously a gender issue but it’s important for men too. I’m a father, and a blogger, and I blog about my daughter occasionally, but I don’t do it too much because I don’t want to be pigeonholed as a Daddyblogger. Plus I value my child’s privacy.

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