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The Psychology of Gloria Steinem

Much of our views about family life is shaped by our own mothers — even if the goal is do the opposite of what our mothers did. Was your mother a happy mom? A happy wife? A happy woman? Whether the answer is yes or no, it is sure to be the reason you believe the way you do about marriage, kids, and work — whatever that may be. For Gloria Steinem, just as for so many of the well-known feminists of our time, the answer to the questions above are a resounding no. 

Last week HBO aired a two-hour special on the life of Gloria Steinem entitled Gloria: In Her Own Words. The documentary highlights the feminist revolution Gloria Steinem helped launch.

I must first say this about Steinem: She’s very beautiful (as a thirty-something woman, she bears a striking resemblance to Angelina Jolie) and very honest. Indeed, Ms. Steinem seems like an authentic person who sincerely believes in what she stands for — and there’s no question about what she stands for. The feminist movement is her number-one mission in life, the baby she never had. And she insists it’s a revolution that’s far from over. “The point is that we go forward. We’re nowhere near where we need to be.”

If we’re nowhere near where Ms. Steinem thinks we ought to be, America is in a lot more trouble than I thought — because Steinem’s worldview is mind-numbingly destructive.

Just what is her worldview? She sees the world as inherently unfair to women. She believes having children should not be a deep part of a woman’s identity. She thinks getting married makes a woman a “semi-nonperson.” She believes abortion is a basic right, “like freedom of speech or freedom of assembly.” She promotes day care and believes, or believed at one time anyway, that children suffer from too much Mommy. 

But the most telling part of the documentary came when Steinem was asked what feminism is. “Feminism starts out being very simple,” she says. “It starts out being the instinct of a little child who says ‘it’s not fair’ and ‘you are not the boss of me,’ and it ends up being a worldview that questions hierarchy altogether.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Feminism is indeed the worldview of a person who never grew up. Most of the well-known feminists of our time have struggled in this regard because their childhoods were severely lacking. Steinem was raised by a mentally unstable mother who was unable to care for Gloria. “I was a neglected child,” says Steinem. “I didn’t think I existed. I was fearful of becoming [my mother].”

That’s informative enough. But here’s the real kicker: “…and being a social activist can be a drug that keeps you from going back and looking at yourself. You keep trying to fill up this emptiness.”

In other words, instead of “filling the emptiness” in a constructive fashion, she set out to change the world. It was simply easier to point the blame elsewhere — to say, as she did in the 1970s, “I wasn’t crazy. The system was crazy.”

Betty Friedan offered a similar explanation in a later edition of The Feminine Mystique. After explaining her hatred for her mother, Friedan writes, ”It was easier for me to start the women’s movement than it was to change my own personal life.”

Indeed, gaining perspective on the the most significant social movement of our time has never been easier. The modern feminist movement was never about equality for women. Its mission is singular: to fundamentally transform the United States of America to make life more suitable for feminists.

Remember: “We’re nowhere near where we need to be.”


— Suzanne Venker is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of The Flipside of Feminism

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