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'If our society was equal, men would also be prostitutes'

January 20, 2014 12:50 IST

'If our society was equal, men would also be prostitutes'

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

'If you are being paid less than your male colleagues, file a complaint about it, make a noise... If you are being given a hard time over issues like maternity leave, complain to your boss's wife! Be innovative. Get involved.'

On the sidelines of the Jaipur Literary Festival, legendary activist Gloria Steinem interacted with a select group of journalists, including Rediff.com's Sanchari Bhattacharya, and addressed an array of issues including the Pope, prostitution and personal victories.

The biggest name at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year had the shortest introduction in the history of the event.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Gloria Steinem," was all moderator and activist Ruchira Gupta had to say to introduce her iconic guest.

Steinem, 80, was greeted with applause, cheers and even some attempted whistling.

The legendary feminist is -- along with The Feminine Mystique author Betty Friedan -- the most admirable figure of the women's liberation movement.

She is the most famous, and fearless, feminist leader in the world.

Millions of women across the world, who today take equal rights for granted, owe a huge debt of gratitude to Steinem, whose relentless activism and unflinching commitment to her cause has helped make the world a better, and more equal, place.

At a time when many think the feminist movement has passed its sell-by date and feminism has become a word fraught with baggage, Steinem continues to patiently fight for her beliefs.

On the sidelines of the JLF, Steinem interacted with a select group of journalists and addressed an array of issues including the Pope, prostitution and personal victories.

Kindly click NEXT to read excerpts from Gloria Steinem's conversation...


Image: Activist and author Gloria Steinem at the Jaipur Literary Festival on Friday, January 17.
Photographs: Courtesy: Jaipur Literary Festival

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'Men don't invent sexual violence, but some of them are born into it'

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

India has emerged as something of a 'rape nation' in the last one year due to rising cases of violence against women. What is your take on that?

I think just like in my country, it may not be necessarily true that actual cases of rape are increasing here, but more cases are being reported.

There has also been a change in the attitude of blaming victims.

Since the couple in Delhi (the gang-rape victim and her friend) were so obviously, quote unquote, blameless, the whole idea of 'you got raped because you were wearing that' and 'you got raped because you were walking alone on that street' doesn't work anymore.

We also end up blaming the victim of sexual violence sometimes because we want to tell ourselves that something like that will not happen to us.

'I will not be raped because I won't wear that or I won't walk on that street alone', that's what we tell ourselves.

But we have to analyse why such incidents happen. Why are so many men, especially young men, involved in such crimes?

Men don't invent sexual violence, but some of them are born into it, in a system where violence against women is considered to be inevitable and acceptable.

Kindly click NEXT to read more excerpts from Gloria Steinem's conversation...


Image: We also end up blaming the victim of sexual violence sometimes because we want to tell ourselves that something like that will not happen to us, says Gloria Steinem.
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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'The economic affluence of a country doesn't necessarily guarantee the best conditions for its women'

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

There is a notion that women in the Western world enjoy more freedom than women in India or in other Asian nations. Do you agree?

That may be true to an extent. Maybe women in the West do enjoy certain freedoms that most women here don't.

Then again, reproductive rights for women are a huge issue in the United States. Such a debate questions the very right a woman has over her own body and over her own life.

But here, in India, it is a non-issue. A woman does not have to fight for the right to decide whether she wants to reproduce.

The economic affluence of a country doesn't necessarily guarantee the best conditions for its women.

Look at Saudi Arabia; it is one of the richest nations in the world, but women are not allowed to drive there!

The Scandinavian nations provide a good example in this respect. They have the concept of a paternity leave. Fathers actually get leave to spend time with their newborns and this encourages the idea of building a loving family unit.

Don't you think the debate over reproductive rights has taken a step backwards in America?

Several abortion clinics in Texas have been shut after a recent legislation and one politician said things like 'A woman who is raped cannot get pregnant'.

That man was laughed out of politics. That comment turned out to be his political suicide.

Right-wing politicians exist everywhere. They have always been a threat to the women's movement. They don't want to grant equal rights to women because that would cut into their profits.

They don't believe in equal economic or social rights.

Most Republican (party) leaders in the US who make such comments are actually old, racist Democrats.

Kindly click NEXT to read more excerpts from Gloria Steinem's conversation...


Image: A female driver displays a note which was placed on her car in Saudi Arabia, a nation where women can't legally drive.
Photographs: Fahad Shaheed/Reuters

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'If you have a leader who supports stalking, throw him out'

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

Our politicians are no better. When the new and stringent anti-rape law was being discussed in Parliament, many politicians objected against it, claiming it was far too severe and could be misused by women.

That's a stupid thing to say. That's why laws, courts and due processes exist, to prevent the misuse of any law.

Such arguments can be made against any new legislation.

In fact, one of our most prominent politicians actually voiced his disapproval against making stalking a criminal offence. He claimed that it was the end of romance...

Then vote him out! Don't vote for him, ask others not to vote for him, don't let him come back to power.

If he thinks the hostility of stalking has anything to do with romance, he needs to be thrown out.

I bet if he was the one being stalked, he wouldn't have said so!

How do we deal with inequality at the workplace?

What kind of discrimination do you guys face?

If you are being paid less than your male colleagues, file a complaint about it, make a noise.

If you are being given a hard time over issues like maternity leave, complain to your boss's wife! Be innovative. Get involved.

Statistics show that even with maternity leave, male employees in the United States have more absentee days than female employees!

What would you consider a truly gender equal society?

A society where we don't use the word gender, where men and women are just different in terms of their chromosomes, where people can be themselves, not masculine or feminine, where they can be just humans.

Kindly click NEXT to read more excerpts from Gloria Steinem's conversation...


Image: A truly gender equal society is one where we don't need to use the word 'gender', says Gloria Steinem.
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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'I am not listening to the Pope and I hope no one else is either!'

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

Pope Francis has termed abortion a despicable practice. What is your take on that?

I am not listening to the Pope and I hope no one else is either!

The Catholic Church started restricting abortions during the reign of Napoleon III in France, because the king wanted the population to increase. So he sought the help of Pope the Pius.

Ultimately, the entire issue was about population.

Are you a person who has faith?

Well, I have faith in women, I have faith in men, I have faith in flowers and I have faith in nature.

Kindly click NEXT to read more excerpts from Gloria Steinem's conversation...


Image: Pope Francis greets the faithful at the Sacro Cuore Basilica in Rome on Sunday, January 19.
Photographs: Tony Gentile/Reuters

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'By making prostitution a criminal offence, you are punishing the unequal person'

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

What are your thoughts on legalising prostitution?

Prostitution is a function of an unequal society. Otherwise men would be prostitutes.

The only way to tackle the issue of prostitution is to make society more equal.

Sexuality should be something beautiful and enjoyable. It should not be about domination of any form.

By making prostitution a criminal offence, you are punishing the unequal person, so that can't be the solution.

At the same time, making prostitution legal is not the answer either. That was done in certain pockets of the United States, and it was later found out that victims of trafficking were brought to those areas and 'broken into' the profession.

You first came to India over five-and-a-half decades ago. How much progress do you think we have made in terms of granting equal rights to women or treating them with an equal amount of respect?

I don't think I can say that even about my own country, how different the 21st century is from the 12th century?

We certainly have made progress. There are many more women in decision-making roles.

Mahatma Gandhi had said that the plight of the poorest person has to be improved. And any change (in the condition of women) has to reach the last woman.

Kindly click NEXT to read more excerpts from Gloria Steinem's conversation...


Image: The only way to tackle the issue of prostitution is to make society more equal, says Gloria Steinem.
Photographs: Punit Paranjpe/Reuters

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'If we can have chick flicks, why can't we have prick flicks'?

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Sanchari Bhattacharya

Do you think women in films are treated like sexual objects?

In Hollywood, the average age of an actor is so much higher than the average age of an actress. Men are not so nude in our movies. There is an obvious inequality there.

There is a term, 'chick flick', to denote movies that have prominent female characters and are primarily meant for a female audience.

Why do we need a separate term for films made for women?

Do we have a special name for the vast number of movies being made for a male audience?

Those should be called something like 'prick flicks'. Those would be films with mostly male actors, there won't be too many dialogues and not too much human connection.

How would you describe your relationship with India?

Permanent.

That is why I keep on coming back here. There is such joy and colour here.

Last year I had gone to Bangalore to meet a friend. These protests were going on in the city, and farmers had come all the way to downtown Bangalore with their sheep, carrying placards saying the local politicians were as meek as their sheep!

That is what I love about India. People here are outspoken about the things that they want.

I was telling a friend about how much I miss India sometimes. I saw an Indian taxi driver recently, outside my residence in Manhattan, smoking a beedi. And I almost felt homesick.

What would you consider as your greatest personal victory?

I don't know. I live in the future. I would like to say that it is yet to come. A friend asked me the same thing recently and I asked, 'In this lifetime'?

But when people come up to me at airports, at other public places, and say how their life has changed for the better, when they tell me ways in which their lives have been touched by a change, it makes me feel wonderful.


Image: Do we have a special name for the vast number of movies being made for a male audience, asks Gloria Steinem.
Photographs: Adeel Halim/Reuters

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