Not My Job: Gloria Steinem

Feb 22, 2020
Originally published on February 22, 2020 9:45 pm

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now the game where amazing people do completely mundane things. It's called Not My Job. Sixty years ago, Gloria Steinem helped found the feminist movement. She famously went undercover to work as a Playboy bunny to report what that was like. She founded Ms. Magazine. She's been a leading activist in the women's movement for decades. She has a new book out. She joins us now.

Gloria Steinem, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

GLORIA STEINEM: Thank you. Thank you.

(CHEERING)

SAGAL: So, I mean, I don't want you to go through the whole origin story, but how did you become, like, the leading intellectual of the American feminist movement? Did someone, like, ask you to do it? Did you, like...

STEINEM: No. And I don't think I am the leading intellectual. Movements are by their nature huge and circular and mutually supportive. I became whatever it is I am by being a journalist writing about the movement. And there were various places asking me to speak about it. And I discovered exactly how deep and widespread the needs and also enthusiasms about a movement truly were from being on the road.

SAGAL: So, I mean, you've been out there on that road a long time. Do you ever find that young people today, especially even young women, have a hard time believing how terrible it was when you started out on your particular journey?

STEINEM: Yes, I do, and I'm so glad.

SAGAL: Really? They just can't believe it.

STEINEM: Yeah. We who are older are hopeful because we remember when it was worse. And young people who don't remember when it was worse are mad as hell because it's not better now.

SAGAL: Right. I'm just imagining you, like, with younger women, like, sitting around in a campfire with a flashlight, like, under your chin...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...And going, when we got married, we didn't just take their last name. We had to take their first name, too.

(LAUGHTER)

STEINEM: Yes. Yes. And we couldn't have our own credit rating, our own credit cards, our own address. We couldn't get a loan. I mean, we could go on.

SAGAL: And do you?

STEINEM: Yes, I do go on.

(LAUGHTER)

STEINEM: But I think that the purpose of going on is just to show how far we've come and therefore to give everybody faith that we can go even further in the future.

SAGAL: I want to ask you about some interesting moments in your long life and career. We read that you played a role in saving Wonder Woman.

STEINEM: Yes, and quite true. Wonder Woman, who was my favorite comic book character when I was growing up - by the time we started Ms. Magazine, and we were all grown-ups, she had lost all of her magical powers. You know, the 1950s were a hard time for all women, including for Wonder Woman. She had become kind of like a car hop. So we put her on the cover of Ms. Magazine in her original self, and we ran her golden age strips inside and asked our readers to lobby to bring Wonder Woman back with all her powers intact.

And so many people wrote and carried on and lobbied and so on that the comic book company that owned Wonder Woman did finally make her her own self again as you began to see her. And I remember getting a call from one of the chief executives looking after Wonder Woman. And he said, OK. OK. She's got all her magical powers back. She can fly. She has a magic lasso that makes people tell the truth. She has a African American Amazon sister named Nubia. Now will you leave me alone?

(LAUGHTER)

STEINEM: So wait a minute. It was your influence that ultimately brought around the 1970s Lynda Carter "Wonder Woman" TV show?

STEINEM: Well, not exactly a TV show. But she did indeed at least have her powers back.

SAGAL: I'm just going to believe that it's your fault, and my 12-year-old self thanks you.

(LAUGHTER)

STEINEM: Well, your 12-year-old self is very smart.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Yeah. No, that's not what it was.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: One of the things we found out in your book - your new book is a book of quotes, yours and others. But perhaps one of the most amazing things I found out in your book is you did not say the thing that you are most famous for saying.

STEINEM: You mean if...

SAGAL: A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

STEINEM: Yes. I heard that, and I repeated it. And then it was wrongly attributed to me. And finally, I discovered that it was a woman in Australia who had said it. When she was a student, she had written it on the wall of the ladies' room, and it got on T-shirts and went around the world.

SAGAL: Wait a minute. I'm sorry.

STEINEM: What?

SAGAL: It started by being written on the wall of a ladies' room...

STEINEM: Of a ladies' room, yes.

SAGAL: ...In Australia.

STEINEM: Yes, in the University of Sydney. Yes.

SAGAL: That's how we did viral in the '70s, kids.

(LAUGHTER)

STEINEM: That's right.

SAGAL: I knew you got married later in life. Did anybody throw that back in your face? Oh, I guess you needed a bicycle, eh? - or something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

STEINEM: No, because by that time, the marriage laws were equal. Secondly, I - we were in love, David Bale and I, and we wanted to be together. And so we were on our way anyway to Oklahoma to the Cherokee National Reunion. And Wilma Mankiller, who's the chief of the Cherokee Nation - a dear friend - and she offered us a Cherokee ceremony, so who could resist that?

SAGAL: I couldn't.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Although I'm just going to say, if my wife had said to me, I've got a great idea for our marriage. It's going to be overseen by a woman named Wilma Mankiller, I might have blanched.

(LAUGHTER)

STEINEM: When people ask her about her name - if they ask nicely - she would explain that it was a honorific. And it meant someone who protected the village.

SAGAL: Right.

STEINEM: If they asked her not nicely, she would say, I earned it.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well, one last thing, which is that you have a Presidential Medal of Freedom, right?

STEINEM: Yes, I do.

SAGAL: Well, where do you keep it?

STEINEM: It's in a very simple but elegant wooden box sitting on a chest of drawers in my apartment.

SAGAL: Right. You know...

STEINEM: I confess that I don't wear it.

SAGAL: Right. And...

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Do you ever wear it? Do you ever, like, say, I'm going to put on my presidential medal and go down and get a bagel?

(LAUGHTER)

STEINEM: No, I never have, actually, I confess.

SAGAL: What...

STEINEM: There may come a time when I feel the need for it. And so I'm keeping it handy.

SAGAL: That's - well, you never know.

STEINEM: So far, I haven't.

SAGAL: Well, Gloria Steinem, it is an honor to talk to you. We have asked you to play a game that we're calling...

BILL KURTIS: Steinem, Meet Stein Men.

SAGAL: Your last name is, of course, Steinem. But what do you know about stein men - which is another word for bartenders, people who fill up beer steins...

STEINEM: Steins, as it happens. Yes (laughter).

SAGAL: It's true. We read it on the Internet.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: We're going to ask you three questions about remarkable bartenders and their drinks. Answer 2 out of 3 correctly, and you'll win a prize for one of our listeners.

Bill, who is Gloria Steinem playing for?

KURTIS: Lillian Turner (ph) of Washington, D.C.

SAGAL: All right. You ready to play?

STEINEM: I'm afraid Lillian is in big trouble because I don't really drink that much. But I'll try (laughter)

SAGAL: Well, grab your Presidential Medal of Freedom and use its power.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: All right. Here's your first question. If you visit the Eternity Bar in Ukraine, you'll be served by bartenders who are also what? A, they're DMV employees, and it takes an eternity to get a drink...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...B, they're former KGB agents who, instead of taking money, make you inform on a friend; or C, they're undertakers, and the bar is shaped like a coffin.

STEINEM: Well, it must be undertakers because I just can't imagine it's the other two.

SAGAL: I think you're right. You're a very sensible person...

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: ...Ms. Steinem.

(APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The entire bar is coffin- and death-themed. All right. Here's your next question. A bartender in Canada was distraught when the essential ingredient for their signature cocktail was stolen. Was it, A, their maple syrup-stuffed olives for their Yukon martinis; B, a live moose who contributes the key ingredient for the moose sweat margarita...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...Or, C, a human toe?

STEINEM: I'll have to go with number one because I can't quite go with the other two.

SAGAL: It, in fact, was the human toe.

(GROANING)

STEINEM: You're kidding.

SAGAL: It is a very long story.

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: But it's been stolen. If anybody has - knows where this toe is, please return.

STEINEM: (Laughter).

SAGAL: All right. You have one last question. If you get this right, you win. The mayor of Monowi, Neb., also serves as the town's bartender and is also what? A, she is a top-10 Formula One racecar driver; B, she is the infamous artist Banksy...

(LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...Or, C, she is the only resident of the town of Monowi, Neb.?

STEINEM: I'll go for C.

SAGAL: You're right, Ms. Steinem.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

SAGAL: Elsie L. Eiler is 85 years old. She is the only resident of Manowi. It is the smallest town in America, and she pays taxes to herself.

(LAUGHTER)

PJ O'ROURKE: I like that.

STEINEM: That's great.

SAGAL: It's kind of a feminist dream. She does all the jobs. She's the only one there to do it. Bill, how did Gloria Steinem do?

SAGAL: Gloria got 2 out of 3, and that's a winner, Gloria.

(APPLAUSE)

STEINEM: Oh, I wish I were so in life. Thank you.

SAGAL: You are in life. Gloria Steinem's latest book is called "The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off!"...

O'ROURKE: (Laughter).

SAGAL: And it is available now. Gloria Steinem, thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

(APPLAUSE)

STEINEM: Thank you.

SAGAL: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WONDER WOMAN")

NEW WORLD SYMPHONY: (Singing) Wonder Woman, all the world is waiting for you and the power you possess, in your satin tights, fighting for your rights...

SAGAL: When we come back, we put a ring on it in our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on the air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.