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Why Women’s Liberation?

Gloria Steinem’s testimony supporting the Equal Rights Amendment before the United States Senate.

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My name is Gloria Steinem. I am a writer and editor . . .
I am here in support of the Equal Rights Amendment . . .
My name is Gloria Steinem. I am a writer and editor. I support the Equal Rights Amendment.
During twelve years of working for a living, I have experienced much of the legal and social discrimination reserved for women in this country. I have been refused service in public restaurants, ordered out of public gathering places, and turned away from apartment rentals; all for the clearly-stated, sole reason that I am a woman…  I have personally faced discrimination in work, at restaurants, and other public spaces because I’m a woman.
However . . . in reality, I am very, very lucky. Most women, both wage-earners and housewives, routinely suffer more humiliation and injustice than I do.

 

But I am very lucky. Most women face more discrimination than me.
As a freelance writer, I don’t work in the male-dominated hierarchy of an office . . . I am not one of the millions of women who must support a family . . . I haven’t had to brave the sex bias of labor unions and employers, only to see my family subsist on a median salary 40 percent less than the male median salary.

 

I don’t work in an office. I don’t have a family to support. I am not a member of a sexist labor union nor do I work for a sexist employer, where women make 40% less than men.
The truth is that all our problems stem from the same sex-based myths. We may appear before you as white radicals or the middle-aged middleclass or black soul sisters, but we are all sisters in fighting against these outdated myths. Like racial myths, they have been reflected in our laws. Let me list a few. These discrimination problems come from myths about gender. The women fighting for the ERA are diverse. But we are all fighting against the same outdated myths. I would like to list a few.
That women are biologically inferior to men. In fact, an equally good case can be made for the reverse. Women live longer than men . . . Women survived Nazi concentration camps better, keep cooler heads in emergencies currently studied by disaster-researchers, are protected against heart attacks by their female sex hormones, and are so much more durable at every stage of life that nature must conceive 20 to 50 percent more males in order to keep some balance going.

 

One myth is that women are biologically inferior to men. But there is plenty of research proving women are stronger than men.
However, I don’t want to prove the superiority of one sex to another. That would only be repeating a male mistake . . .

However, this is not the point. Trying to argue one gender is better than the other is part of the problem.
Another myth, that women are already treated equally in this society. I am sure there has been ample testimony to prove that equal pay for equal work, equal chance for advancement, and equal training or encouragement is obscenely scarce in every field . . . Another myth is that women are already equal. This is not true. Men earn more, get promoted more, and get better training in every work situation.
A deeper result of social and legal injustice, however, is what sociologists refer to as “Internalized Aggression.” Victims of aggression absorb the myth of their own inferiority, and come to believe that their group is in fact second class . . . Over time, so much unfair treatment convinces women that they deserve to be treated this way.
Women suffer this second-class treatment from the moment they are born. They are expected to be, rather than achieve, to function biologically rather than learn. A brother, whatever his intellect, is more likely to get the family’s encouragement and education money, while girls are often pressured to conceal ambition and intelligence . . .

 

Women are treated as second-class citizens from the moment they are born. Girls are taught to hide their intelligence and ambition.
Another myth, that the women’s movement is not political, won’t last, or is somehow not “serious.”

When black people leave their 19th century roles, they are feared. When women dare to leave theirs, they are ridiculed . . . It won’t keep us quiet anymore.

Another myth is that the women’s movement is not serious.

Black people who push for better opportunities are feared by society. Women who do the same are made fun of. We won’t let that stop us anymore.

We are 51 percent of the population; we are essentially united on these issues across boundaries of class or race or age . . . Women’s bodies will no longer be owned by the state for the production of workers and soldiers; birth control and abortion are facts of everyday life. The new family is an egalitarian family.

 

We are more than half of the population. We are diverse and united. Women will no longer remain silent.
Finally, I would like to say one thing about this time in which I am testifying.

I had deep misgivings about discussing this topic when National Guardsmen are occupying our campuses, the country is being turned against itself in a terrible polarization, and America is enlarging an already inhuman and unjustifiable war. But it seems to me that much of the trouble in this country has to do with the “masculine mystique”; with the myth that masculinity somehow depends on the subjugation of other people . . .

Finally, I recognize that the country is facing a challenging moment.

Anti-war protests are taking over campuses and the nation feels divided. But many of these problems come from damaging beliefs about masculinity.

Women are not more moral than men. We are only uncorrupted by power. But we do not want to imitate men, to join this country as it is, and I think our very participation will change it. Perhaps women elected leaders—and there will be many more of them—will not be so likely to dominate black people or yellow people or men; anybody who looks different from us. Women are not better than men. But women are not yet corrupted by power. Perhaps with more women in places of power, the world would be a better place.
After all, we won’t have our masculinity to prove. Women don’t have to prove their masculinity.

“Statement of Gloria Steinem, Writer and Critic”, United States Senate testimony, 1970.

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Background

Journalist Gloria Steinem was one of the most recognized leaders of the women’s liberation movement. Her 1969 article “After Black Power, Women’s Liberation,” raised her to national fame. In it, she discussed the history and goals of women’s liberation. Gloria was an expert at explaining women’s liberation clearly and succinctly. Her firm commitment to gender equality as well as her excellent communication skills made her a powerful and natural spokeswoman.

Gloria held leadership positions in the National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Political Caucus. She supported and fought for an inclusive movement. Gloria aimed to collaborate with women of various races and identities throughout her career.

About the Document

In 1970, the United States Senate held hearings about the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Gloria Steinem testified in favor of the ERA. This is an excerpted version of her testimony. In it, she explains why liberation and the ERA should be important to all Americans.

In 1971, the House of Representatives voted in favor of the ERA. The Senate followed one year later. A total of 38 states were needed to ratify the ERA to make it a constitutional amendment. Despite early momentum, only 35 ratified by the initial deadline. When the ERA was reintroduced to Congress in 1983, neither the House nor the Senate passed it. To this day, ERA advocates—including Gloria Steinem—continue to promote the ratification of the amendment in select states.

Vocabulary

  • amendment: A change or addition.
  • Equal Rights Amendment (ERA): A proposed amendment to the United States Constitution stating that rights may not be denied on the basis of a person’s sex.
  • ratification: The process by which an amendment to the federal Constitution is approved or rejected by states.
  • succintly: Clearly and briefly.

Discussion Questions

  • Why does Gloria Steinem personally care about women’s liberation and the ERA?
  • Why do you think Gloria acknowledges that she is “very lucky”? What is she trying to communicate with this statement?
  • What are some of the myths Gloria mentions in her speech? What responses does she have to these myths?
  • Why does Gloria mention the current political turmoil of the United States? How does she connect this to women’s liberation?
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Themes

AMERICAN IDENTITY AND CITIZENSHIP; AMERICAN CULTURE; ACTIVISM AND SOCIAL CHANGE; DOMESTICITY AND THE FAMILY

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