But what we haven't heard as much about lately is who in the media she is looking to as a positive example for women.
Promoting her HBO documentary, 'Gloria: In Her Own Words' (premieres Mon., Aug. 15, 9PM ET), Steinem took the time to reflect on the progress our society has made.
She also covered everyone from Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin to Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep when we talked about whether or not she thinks she'll see a female president elected in her lifetime, and who should play her in the movie of her life.
This really is an impressive documentary on your life and work.
They did an amazing creative job. I can take no credit for it really, because I just answered questions. I just did my best to answer honestly, and submitted myself as to a physician ... [laughs] ... let them do the diagnosis.
Do you see this as being more for the people who already know and look up to you, or are you hoping this will introduce you in a way to a new generation?
Neither. I hope it introduces possibilities to viewers for themselves, you know? I mean, I think we learn from each other, we learn from each other's stories. We haven't been sitting around campfires for millennia for nothing. [Laughs] But the purpose was not so much to have them learn about me, as to have them take away something that's useful to them.
And what do you think of the new generation? Do you believe that feminism has been put on the back burner a bit with young girls? That they need their own Gloria Steinem?
Well the truth is that they have so many Gloria Steinems that it doesn't get the same kind of emphasis. The reason people know me or Shirley Chisholm or Bella Abzug or whoever is because there were so few of us. But now there are women in absolutely every area -- there are lots of women in Congress, women in the sciences, women in Lilith Fair and in music. You know, there are just so many. That's the nature of a movement. A movement has to be millions of people off their a**es [laughs] ... not just one or two.
The news this week was all about that insane Michele Bachmann Newsweek cover. Do you think you'll see a female president in your lifetime?
Probably not. But it will happen. I do think Hillary Clinton made it much, much more possible. She changed the very molecules in the air. You know, there are many more millions of people who now can imagine a female president. And, of course, the reason for Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann is because they oppose what the women's movement wants. What the majority of women want and need in the public opinion polls, they're opposed to. As soon as Hillary Clinton did so very well in primaries, I bet somebody $50 -- I hope I collected [laughs] -- that the Republicans would a) choose a female vice president, and b) be unable to choose one anybody would vote for because their platform isn't supported by most women.
And yet they haven't learned from that ...
Well, it's like Clarence Thomas. They appointed Clarence Thomas because he was somebody who did not support what the majority of the African-American community had in mind.
So for 2012 and beyond, are there any female candidates you'd back?
Yes, practically every woman in Congress! You know, Maxine Waters would've made a great president, Barbara Boxer would've made a great president, Bella Abzug would've made a great president. You know, the women in Congress who are doing the work, each one of them would make a good president.
But you'd never run yourself?
Well, no, it's not my ... my job is to make them look reasonable. [Laughs]
You've been in the press a lot lately talking about NBC's new show 'The Playboy Club.'
It's promoted in the most surrealistic way, as if the Playboy Club could possibly be good for women.
People are reporting that you'd support a boycott of the show. Is that true, or have your comments been exaggerated at all?
Well, it's not worth ... I wouldn't spend my time organizing a boycott. It's not worth the attention. But I certainly have no interest in seeing it. To say that the Playboy Club -- a now-defunct Playboy Club -- was ever good for women is surrealistic. There were some good pieces that came out on the Web about that, about how ridiculous it was to promote the club as something good for women. It's not like 'Mad Men' that's at least trying to show the '50s or '60s accurately. This is falsifying the past.
I just wrote a piece about the battle of the sexes on Fall TV, with so many shows using blatantly gender-specific titles. Do you think TV networks are just pandering now?
You know, it depends on what the content is. In the same way if you had a racial label, it would depend what the content was. Are you for or against racism? Are you for or against sexism? That's why it's so important that you're there, because you are the expert in this area, and you can point out what progress is and isn't.
What's the biggest thing you'd like people to take away from this documentary?
You know, that I can't say. I think each person who watches it, I hope they find something useful for themselves in it, and also encouraging for the future. You know, if we've come this enormously long distance in 30 years, we can do the same distance in the next 30.
Have you given any thought at all to who will play you in the movie of your life when all is said and done? You know there'll be one ...
Well there was a movie of the piece I wrote about Playboy, and the movie has survived the Playboy Clubs, which I thought was great. That was one of Kirstie Alley's first roles. We're in a different place, age-wise [now] ... I don't know, I'd love to be played by Helen Mirren. [Laughs]
The ultimate. You know she was just named Best Body of the Year, over Pippa Middelton and all these younger celebs the tabloids obsess over.
That's funny. And it's because she's a whole person -- she's incredibly smart, obviously. Also nobody is a better actress than Meryl Streep. Meryl Streep could play anyone, any gender. She did actually play both genders in 'Angels in America.' I once saw her at the Shakespeare Theater on Lafayette Street here in New York, and I watched her change from Alice in Wonderland to the Cheshire Cat in a millisecond, convincingly, with no costume change. It was amazing.
She's playing Margaret Thatcher next in 'The Iron Lady' and the trailers are unbelievable ...
Well, that's great because Margaret Thatcher certainly proves that a female Chief of State can damage women.
'Gloria: In Her Own Words' premieres Mon., Aug. 15, 9PM ET on HBO
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