Saturday, December 31, 2005

Gloria Steinem and Sexual Bigotry - Who Knew?

Feminists beware: Mother Steinem is, and has continuously been, on the wrong side of body politics.

I know that this statement and my title for this entry will angry and offend those who have great admiration and respect for Gloria Steinem and her work in the advancement of the Women's Rights Movement in America. I would like to begin by saying I also respect Gloria Steinem's achievements. Her willingness to be herself and to challenge the stereotypical, patriarchal norms of American society gave the movement the momentum it needed to force the system to take notice. However, like many figures who have made positive changes, her ideas have become a part of an ossified ideological shrine which many feminists, young and old, have been afraid to challenge. I want to start by going back to one of Steinem's 1970 writings in which she express her opinion about homosexuality and then discuss her current positions on sex-worker rights.

Socially-Actualized Women Lead to Less Gay Men.

On August 31, 1970, in a Time Magazine article, Gloria Steinem provides her vision of what the world would look like if we embraced equalized gender relations and women were free to fulfill the desires and act upon their ambition. To cite directly from "What It Would Be Like if Women Win," Steinem concludes that there would be "[n]o more domineering wives, emasculating women, and 'Jewish mothers,' all of whom are simply human beings with all their normal ambition and drive confined to the home." While most of this article points towards goals which anyone who wants gender equality and sexual freedom would agree are laudable results: a gender-neutral economic and athletic meritocracy, in which equal pay for equal work applies equally to both genders and athletic ability is judged purely on skill; a political world where the skills of compassion and communication are as valued as brute power and agression; a social support system which allow for equal involvement of mother and father in child-rearing; and ultimately, true choice for men and women to decide their economic, political, and social fate.

Unfortunately, Gloria Steinem limits that social, particularly sexual, freedom when it comes to men having alternative sexual lives. For Steinem homosexual men, while some clearly are expressing their natural sexual affinities, others are using homosexuality to simply escape the polarity of male -female gender roles: "Paradoxically, the number of homosexuals may get smaller. With fewer overpossessive mothers and fewer father who hold up an impossibly cruel or perfectionist idea of manhood, boys will be less likely to be denied or reject their identity as males." This statement was, and continues to be, an offensive, outdated mode of thought. First, Ms. Steinem makes no refer to any impact that equalized gender roles might have on the lesbian community. So while men are simply running from the oppression of a gender-skewed culture into the arms of their own sex, women, implied from her silence, are completely able to choose a relationship with another women with no fear of merely fleeing the social construct of what is feminine. More egregiously, she blindly accepts a social fallacy meant to control and oppress the sexuality of both men and women. Through equaling male homosexuality with a denial or rejection of the masculine, Steinem perpetuates a gender binary in which anything which is not strictly "masculine" is "feminine," and vice versa. This statement, out of the line with the rest of essays, seems to unknowingly accept the social line on gender and sexuality: not only does she seem to accept that any person who has sex with a man feminine but also accept the gender hierarchy which makes masculine more valuable than feminine, a tool which used by those who seek to maintain the status quo in which women are relegated to subservience and and men express their dominance through ensuring that women remain oppressed. This statement, on the hand, gives a olive branch to those which Steinem states fear that women want “to exchange places with men,” by placating the associated fear that gender equality means the feminization of society, also arms those in the religious right who seek to fight broad based support to deny the “legally binding marriage” which she foresees in the sentence before, for if social progressive see homosexuality as a perversion of right, how can anyone believe that homosexuals deserve social rights. Gloria Steinem's narrow views on who can benefit for sexual freedom determine the power and progression of the movement to bring true gender equality.

Gloria Steinem and Sex Worker Rights Movement

The movement for sexual freedom has moved from the free choice in the bedroom to the sex industry, where women have been using the bodies for centuries to provide for their economic needs. Internationally, sex workers, mostly those in prostitution, but also pornography and exotic dancing, have began to organize for the decriminalization and regulation of the sex-work industry which would allow women to choose when and how they use their bodies. While the Sex Worker Rights Movement wants to prevent what is mostly women and children from being placed in sex slavery, it also wants men and women to able to freely choose sex work. The Sex Worker Rights Movement wants to extend sexual freedom in economic arena as well. However, many “traditional” feminist, like Gloria Steinem, seek to prevent the movement's success for they see any use of sexuality in situations other than as completely "socially equal" expression of love in a relationship as inappropriate and a form of female sexual oppression. Scarlot Harlot, a leading figure in the Sex Worker Rights Movement, has noted the opposition of Steinem to the new avenue for the liberation of sexuality:
I see it as Gloria Steinem verses Angela Davis. Angela, a local resident, endorsed our recent decriminalization efforts and Gloria Steinem endorsed the opposition, actually part of a campaign against the sex worker rights movement. Angela Davis has taken into consideration the criminal injustice system, the racism in arrest, conviction, and sentencing - while Gloria is still attached to the anti-porn, anti-prostitution views. (from

As many who are versed in Steinem's views on traditional marriage, it becomes clear that her views on sex work comes from a liberated understanding of the antiquated social norm which she believes she is trying to reform: that female sexuality must be protected from the savagery of the male libido. While the current situation in most places where sex work occurs lack the necessary protection for sex workers from clients who wanted to abused those who provide them with these services, the goal of those who want women to able to have complete control of their sexuality should be to provide them with social safeguards which allows sex work to occur as safely as possible. Gloria Steinem would rather see her sisters in jail and prevented from procuring the only living that some women can make to support themselves then focus on the improving of the working conditions in the sex industry. Gloria Steinem seems trapped in the sexual binary of the social ideas which she has fought against for ages. She is blinded, or willfully ignores, the continuum of sexuality and the goal of the Women's Movement to give sexual equality to all.