Sunday, February 18, 2007


There are two things you should know about Gloria Steinem. First, that the feminist-writer-journalist never said, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle,” a quote widely attributed to her. “It’s so funny I wish I had said it,” says Steinem, “but it was an Australian student of philosophy who adapted a quote about God to come up with this.” And second, on her third trip to Mumbai this time, Steinem finds women more vocal, more free and “more empowered by their sexuality” than before.
Mallika Sherawat would find an ally in Steinem. The feminist icon’s words to people like the actress, who are proud to be sex symbols, is: “Those of us who grew up in a time when women felt endangered by sex, and therefore had to behave in a certain way, worry about young women who feel empowered by sex. We older women will have to celebrate sexuality as empowering too. We will have to fight pornography, but celebrate erotica. But the question remains: does the woman uncover her body because she wants to, or because she feels that she has to?”
At a talk organised by the city women’s group Vacha (which was, incidentally, off limits to men, much to chagrin of many who wanted to attend the lecture; the organisers said there was simply no space, and so women were to be given preference), Steinem spoke about how much Mumbai had changed from the last couple of times she visited. She has been here in the 1950s, when she was a student at Miranda House, Delhi; then in the ‘80s, and now. “The change I see is huge, and positive,” she says. “I can see women more able to use their talents, and men more accepting of that. But I’m also very aware of what I’m not seeing - of the greater distance between rich and poor, and greater urbanisation that is forcing people out of their homes and villages.”
Those who remember Steinem as the fiery, bra-burning women’s rights activist and later co-founder and editor of Ms Magazine, might’ve been surprised at the older and calmer voice of reason. These days her work includes, among other things, mentoring next-gen torch-bearers like Amy Richards, who was also present at the Vacha meet. But at 72, Steinem assures the fighting spirit is still intact. Some Mumbaikars certainly got a glimpse of that on Saturday.


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