Leaps of Consciousness
a speech by Gloria Steinem
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following is a transcript of the keynote speech delivered by
Gloria Steinem at the 3rd Annual Women & Power
Conference, organized by Omega
Institute and V-Day in
September 2004. To order the CD of this speech or to purchase
other CDs from this event, please click
is no place in the world that I would rather be than in this room
with the women sitting with us, sitting next to us, reminding us
of the fragility of flesh and the durability of the spirit. I am
so proud of New Yorkers whose words are the most lasting words for
me of 9/11. Our grief is not a cry for war.
I don’t know where that first came from, but it appeared on handmade
signs all over the city, and it is in all of our hearts still.
I’m proud of that. I’m ashamed of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld,
who have turned it into revenge and fear. The other cry from us
at the time was why are we so hated. Remember? Why don’t they understand
that they are making us more hated? They are increasing the likelihood
of violence in the world, not decreasing it. But we are going to
get rid of them. It’s no accident that all the posters say that
women on their own — have you been reading all the surveys — are
the key to this election. Because if women on their own had voted
in the same proportion as married women, we would have been in
an entirely different place in the last election. It is a question
of whether or not we go to the polls. And I’m so proud of this
conference for having voter registration right here in this room.
And I want to thank Sobonfu Some, whom I haven’t met before today.
But whose work was the source of a leap of consciousness — that’s
supposed to be my theme today — new leaps of consciousness today
for me — because it explained to me the difference between ceremony
Ceremony is something that that is always the same that is dictated
from above. Ritual is something that uses universal symbols and
changes with every group that does the ritual. Isn’t that a kind
of click of understanding? And I want to thank Elizabeth for her
wisdom in choosing this particular time for me to speak. Because
the friend I married, as she explained to you, who so loved this
conference last year— he came to everything. He kept saying, you
know, we must go back to the next conference.
And so I thought I would try to bring him into this room and ask
each of you perhaps to think of a person in addition or the person
whose name you said — but a person you want to describe to other
people during the conference so you can bring that person with
you. So I will, since I know I can’t — since I haven’t tried to
do this before, I wrote a few words about David.
David walked lightly on this earth with few possessions, a great
heart, and a rare ability to cross boundaries between people, countries,
and even species. He tried never to pass a living thing in need,
whether this meant stopping on the freeway to rescue a hurt animal,
even just to set its body aside with a few words of respect, or
relating to every over burdened mother in the street because he,
too, had raised his own children. He had a gift for living in the
present and forgiving others the love and the self-belief that
he himself had missed as a child.There are others in this audience
who love him. There are everyone in this audience with a loved
one we can bring with us.
I have also just the little small assignment from Elizabeth of
bringing you hope after grief. It’s true that hope is a form of
planning.It’s true that dreams are a form of planning. And so I
thought about the 20, 30 years ago leaps of consciousness that
came with the women’s movement that we have struggled ever since
to fulfill, some more than others.
But that transformed us and made such a difference in our lives.I
was going to try to immediately list some new leaps of consciousness,
but then it dawned on me that now that I’m an elder, I should understand
that not all of you were here for the first leaps of consciousness.
Some, some were pretty basic, like women are whole human beings.
Which meant we had to admit that Freud and the Bible were wrong,
which is no small thing. Some were pretty global, like the differences
between two women or between two men are greater for every purpose
other than reproduction. The single purpose of reproduction.But
for 99 percent of life the differences between us as individual
women or individual men are greater than the differences generalized
between males and females. Like the sexual and racial caste system
has to be fought together.
It is simply not possible to uproot them individually. Not only
because women come in all races, but because a big motive for controlling
women’s bodies as the most basic means of production, the means
of reproduction, is to maintain racial difference, racial purity.
And therefore, racist systems oppress women and it is necessary
to free women to stop racist systems. They can only be uprooted
together. Or like women aren’t more moral or less violent than
We just don’t have our masculinity to prove.And that is a fan-f---king-tastic
advantage. Of course many of these are tragically still fresh,
especially perhaps given the March of a million white men that
we have just seen in this town called the Republican National Convention.
Like we must still seize the means of reproduction because they
are pushing us back even before the ‘50s with the Human Life Amendment
that would declare the fertilized egg to be a legal person, thus
effectively nationalizing women’s bodies throughout our child bearing
As our bodies could be legally searched, we could be detained
if there was reasonable cause to think we might have an abortion
— you know, it’s, it’s the hand maids tale. It’s a legal nightmare.
And I looked back to see when Robin Morgan and I had first written
an article which itself was late on female genital mutilation,
and it was 1979. So we could all list the ongoing concerns. Of
course, some of our leaps of consciousness and realizations were
kind of funny. Like our figuring out finally despite the term lesbian,
man-hating lesbian — remember that term? It turns out; actually,
it’s not lesbians that hate them. It’s women who live with men
that hate men. Lesbians could kind of take it or leave it alone,
And we had great slogans, like sink into his arms and you may
end up with your arms in his sink. Like we’re becoming the men
we wanted to marry.
All of us who wanted to marry a lawyer, a doctor, discovered we
actually wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor.
Like wait a minute, there is no such thing as a vaginal orgasm
and no wonder we’re pissed because we’ve been told we’re immature
if we don’t have a kind of orgasm that doesn’t exist.
We used to have a sign at Ms. Magazine on the board that
said it’s 10:00 o’clock at night. Do you know where your clitoris
is?Well, I don’t think that I can provide insight today comparable
Although it is true that at my age, remembering something is as
good as an orgasm. But some of them just kind of follow in a natural
way.Remember becoming the men we wanted — some of us are becoming
the men we wanted to marry? Well, we figured out that not enough
men are becoming the women they wanted to marry. And that is a
next part of the revolution; right? We’ll always have two jobs
until all the work of the home and the rewards of the home and
child rearing are equally shared by women and men. Like yes, raising
daughters more like our sons is a good thing. But how about raising
our sons more like our daughters?
But a friend asked me — a friend who had been going to some women’s
meetings and the subject of those meetings was what is the future?
What’s next? What is new? What are the leaps of consciousness?
And she said to me what would you say? And in that way the questions
are precious because they help us to understand what we ourselves
have been thinking and not said. I said well, I guess in a very
general way I would say first we had dependence. And that was women’s
classical role. And then we understood and celebrated and are still
exploring independence. Absolutely crucial. It cannot be — we can’t
do, we can’t progress without that. But probably when we’re ready
the next step is interdependence.
Bella Abzug always used to say about nations and this country
especially, we’ve had our Declaration of Independence. Now this
country needs a declaration of interdependence. For example, Eve
last night was talking about old and new paradigms.
Well, I would say that the old paradigm is both conquering nature
and old style environmentalism that was about rescuing nature.
As if we were its shepherds, we could make the decisions, we knew
best.I think probably that interdependence is recognizing that
we are part of nature rescuing ourselves. It’s giving up the idea
that we have the answer for nature, and listening to what nature
tells us. There were three stages — the same three stages, I suppose,
as dependence equaling old women who need protection.
Now that I’m aging I feel this profoundly. That was the old idea.
Then we had the independent idea, which is I am the same person
I always was, only older. A kind of I’m going to go right on doing
everything I’ve done before. Take that!
However, this is not progress, doing everything you’ve done before.
So now I think we are on the verge of the third stage, which is
I am a slightly different person who builds on the past and becomes
even better, and more myself.
And we’re lucky to have the prophet of this realization with us
today, Suzanne Brawn Levine, who’s here somewhere, whose book, Inventing
the Rest of Our Lives, will be with us in December but we can
talk to her during the conference. And who shows us that even neurological
research supports this burst of growth after 50. But it shows that
the brain after 50 begins to grow new synapses in much the same
way as it did when we were teenagers.
So in the way we began to see things more globally as teenagers,
we see the world as more connected and interdependent as we grow
older. She has given us and we will have a whole new stage of life
that has never been described before. We in our dependent stage
we’re doing work in the home. In our independent stage we’re saying
men have to do it, too. And, you know, let’s face it. We’re nowhere
near even into this stage, much less through it. But I think at
the same time we are beginning to understand that the work that
is done in the home has to be counted as productive, important
work in the world and given an economic value. 40 percent of the
work in this country is—the productive work is done in the home
and it is completely invisible in the gross national product.
Fortunately we have smart inventive feminists, like Theresa Funicello,
who has figured out that we can attribute an economic value at
replacement value of all the work done in the home, all the care
giving, whether it is raising children or taking care of invalids,
or taking care of AIDS patients or older parents — to give that
an economic value and make it deductible from our income tax, if
we are fortunate enough to make enough, to pay income tax. And
if not, then it can become a subsidy, which would replace the disaster
of welfare reform. It is a practical possibility and one that if
you are interested in, you can look at a Web site called CareGiverCredit.org —
it is a piece of legislation even in this conservative era that
might be able to pass.
So at the same time that we are still trying to divide the work
equally at home, to understand that we don’t have to be super women,
we are also beginning to make leaps of consciousness that would
be the single biggest economic change for women that this country
or any country has ever seen.
We used to think that art is what men did in a kind of European
tradition and it hung in galleries and cost a lot of money.Then
we understood that women could be artists, too, and we try to enter
those galleries and to do that work and be recognized for it.But
I think in our third stage we understand that what women and natives
do and that has been called crafts is also art. And we began to,
to integrate the craft techniques and all the beauties of usable
art, which always have been the traditions in Africa and many other—and
the ancient times of this continent as well. And question the very
definition of art.
We used to think in our dependent stage that childhood was a uniquely
female concern. That somehow if we spent nine months baring and
nurturing a child, that meant we were more responsible than men
for the entirety of childhood. I think that that was the origin
of my notion that logic is in the eye of the logician, because
I began to think wait a minute. If we spent nine months or a year
baring and nurturing a child, why are men not responsible for taking
that much time taking care of the child. And of course it is not
a burden we are inflicting, it’s a gift.
Because all the qualities that are wrongly called feminine are
really only qualities necessary to raise children. Patience, nurturing,
attention to detail, empathy.
And men develop them—men have them as much as we do. It’s unlibal
on them to say that they don’t. When they are able to express them
to children, they develop them within themselves. So we know in
our independent stage that childhood is not a female concern. And
we are learning that foreign policy is not a male concern.
That was sort of distance that—the further it was from the home,
the more male it was. Have you ever noticed that?
So foreign policy was really male.
Those were our dependent and independent stages. But now we are
beginning—just beginning to realize that child rearing is the greatest
determinant of the foreign policy we will have. That what happens
in the home, what happens to children is the single most important
element in the kinds of society that—and whether or not we can
have democracy. If children’s authority is not respected in the
home, they will accept dictatorial leaders because that has been
bred into them.
These two things are connected. I speak a lot on campuses and
I have yet to find a campus where there is a course on government
or political science or foreign policy or whatever it is called
that even includes child rearing as an element. And yet it was
the single most important reason why the former Soviet Union changed,
because child-rearing methods changed.
It’s the single most important reason why Hitler was elected,
because there were authoritarian families that made people feel—we
can all cite many, many, many examples. But the interdependent
stage is to understand that child rearing and forms of government
and self-government are interdependent, are connected seamlessly.
We began I think to go deeper in understanding gender.We’ve had
a rash of books about mean girls, you know. About how girls are
bullying each other.
And it’s very important that we acknowledge this. But not all
the books seem to understand that the girls who are the bullies
and the mean ones are the most feminine ones. They are the ones
saying you have to have this kind of shoe, you have to have this
kind of boyfriend, you have to wear your hair a certain way. They
are the gender police. Just like the boys who are the bullies are
the most masculine ones. It comes from gender. They are the people
who take on society’s assignment of policing everybody else into
those rolls. And I don’t think that that’s been enough a part of
We also are—I think beginning to see forms of generational change
that are very personal. I have noticed lately, for instance, again
perhaps because I’m, you know, relating to women of my age who
have daughters and even granddaughters, that we have several generations
of women now in which the daughters are maybe 20, 30 years older
than the mothers. Because of the way the women’s movement and our
internal realizations have come along for what we’ve been able
to do in the world, because that has changed.
Not because of the fault of the mothers or the virtue of the daughters,
but because of external changes. It is often the case that mothers
have not had to remain— that daughters have not had to remain girls
all their lives in the way that some mothers were encouraged to
do. It’s interesting, isn’t it? And if you begin to look, I think
you see this phenomenon of daughters who are actually older than
their mothers.And the mothers at a certain point, thanks to all
the changes in the world, begin to be reborn themselves and begin
to go out, go back to work, find what they love to do, whatever
it is. And the daughters are proud of the mothers as if they were
It’s so interesting. That the generations in fact turn out to
be defined by experience and by autonomy and dreams and the ability
to follow them rather than by age.
Now, this question of looking at gender is key to what we mourn
today in terrorism. Because it is true of terrorists in general
just as it is true of serial killers in this country or the senseless
killings in this country. Think about who it is who has gone into
schools and fast food restaurants and post offices and killed senselessly.
That is, not for robbery — just for apparently no reason.When this
happens in schools, we have had a lot of reporting that that starts
out, 'what’s happening to our children?'It’s so interesting how
reporting becomes gender free at just the wrong moment.
It’s not our children who are doing this. Excuse me? It is 100
percent males. 100 percent white males. 100 percent middle class
males or non-poor males. 100 percent heterosexual who are trying
desperately to appear heterosexual males.
Given the different degrees of suffering in this country, it’s
quite amazing that the people who suffer the least statistically
speaking, are the ones most likely to kill. And it’s true of serial
killers, too, who take pleasure in controlling and torturing others.
They are 100 percent middle class white males. Why is that? Because
they have through no fault of theirs, been the ones most likely
to be raised with the maximum expectation of dominance. With the
purist expression of the masculine role, the greatest idea that
they will be able to control others and therefore the greatest
susceptibility to frustration when they can’t and bursting out
into these killing rages.
I’m not trying to do a single factor analysis, as they say, of
this kind of killing. Obviously in each individual case there are
many factors. But this seems to be the one common factor. And what’s
interesting about — when we look at the terrorists — today incidentally
at noon CNN is doing a documentary on the terrorists of 9/11 and
other other terrorists around the world because they have just
discovered in shock that they — well, they don’t even comment,
you know, about the masculine part. But that they are middle class
and educated. And they have just figured this out. And I’m grateful
that they have figured it out. But they are the people most vulnerable
to believing that they have a right to control others and therefore
most vulnerable to the frustrations when it turns out not to be
the case. Are there female terrorists? Yes, of course. Look what
has just happened in Russia. Yes, there are. And what’s interesting
is it seems to follow the general pattern of gender that the mean
girls and male bullies do. In other words, the female terrorists
are the most feminine ones. They are doing it for their families.
They are doing it for their fiancées. They have been excavated
of their own will. And adopted this self-annihilating feminine
So I think once again what Olaf Palma, the great Swedish chief
of state, himself killed by a terrorist eventually — I think what
he said so long ago — and I profoundly wish we had a chief of state
who was capable of saying this — that the gender roles are the
deepest source of all violence that is not in direct self-defense
and that every government has as its most basic responsibility
- the duty of humanizing, eliminating the gender roles. I worry
a little bit about describing the three stages this way of dependence,
independence, and interdependence because of where we are, which
is sort of staggering along somewhere between the 14th century
and the 24th century. We’re all in different stages.
And talking about interdependence is almost dangerous for women.
Because it’s so easy to believe that the connectedness that Carol
Gilligan talks about so brilliantly — the empathy that we treasure
is so easy to confuse it with dependence. It’s so easy to become
empathy sick and know what other people are feeling better than
we know what we ourselves are feeling. It’s bred so much in us.
So I just want to say again how important it is that we celebrate
independence first. We can’t get to interdependence until we have
There’s no easy excuse allowed here, you know, that we can remain
in childhood and call it progress.
We know in our hearts when we are speaking our true voices as
we emphasize and Eve emphasized last night— we know, we know when
we are speaking our true voices and not being dependent. But nonetheless,
it truly is the stage for which we are all hoping and the stage
for which men, too, are hoping. They get stuck in independence.
We get stuck in dependence.
But all of us are striving for interdependence. People often say
to me, isn’t it wonderful that you finally found someone you wanted
to marry. And I never quite know how to respond because that isn’t
it — it wasn’t that every other man was the wrong man. Nor was
it that I was waiting. For something external. It’s we’re waiting
for something in ourselves. We’re waiting to get to a place where
we can become interdependent with another human being without giving
up ourselves. We are waiting to give birth to ourselves. So on
the way, it’s simple things that help us.
So I thought I would read you a short poem by Fran Wyant in closing.
As Jane Fonda would say, eat low on the food chain; right?
Have faith in women.
What I don’t know now
I can still learn.
If I am alone now
I will be with them later.
If I can be weak now
I can become strong.
Slowly, slowly, if I learn, I can teach others.
If others learn first I must believe they will come back and teach
keynote speech was delivered by Gloria Steinem at the 3rd Annual Women & Power
Conference organized by Omega
Institute and V-Day in
September 2004. To order the CD of this speech or to purchase
other CDs from this event, please click
Spanning two centuries as a writer and an activist, Gloria Steinem
has been a leader in the women's rights movement. Steinem has never
lived her life by conventional definitions. In the early 1960s,
when there were few women journalists and almost no women covering
politics, Steinem invented her career as a freelance writer with
a political beat. When the women's movement began changing society,
Steinem was at its helm, helping to found Ms. Magazine, the National
Women's Political Caucus, the Women's Action Alliance, and the
Ms. Foundation for Women. Then, in the 1980s and 1990s, Steinem
became a best-selling author with books that include Outrageous
Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Revolution From Within: A Book of
Self-Esteem, Doing Sixty, and Moving Beyond Words.
Steinem has spent her life promoting "sisterhood" among
all women, regardless of political party, race, religion, or economic
status. Early in her career, she defined feminism as simply "the
belief that women are full human beings." In Steinem's view,
feminism asks a basic question: Why do people assume that one group
has to dominate the other? Why not assume there will be cooperation
instead of domination? In her books, Steinem argues for the causes
that have occupied her energies for two decades. She continues
to call for an end to women's disadvantaged condition in the paid
labor force, for the elimination of sexual exploitation, and for
the achievement of true equality of the sexes.