At 76, Steinem laments elusive equality for women

BEVERLY HILLS, California Wed Mar 17, 2010 4:30pm EDT

1 of 3. Pioneering feminist Gloria Steinem smiles while she is being interviewed in Beverly Hills, California March 16, 2010. As she turns 76 next week, the woman who walked the front lines of American feminism in the 1960s and 1970s -- often in a miniskirt, big glasses and buttons with colorful expletives -- celebrates her good health and 'huge, huge leaps forward.'

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

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BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) - A message to all those confident young American women from pioneering feminist Gloria Steinem: For all the advances in women's rights in the past 40 years, equality remains a distant hope.

As she turns 76 next week, the woman who walked the front lines of American feminism in the 1960s and 1970s -- often in a miniskirt, big glasses and buttons with colorful expletives -- celebrates her good health and "huge, huge leaps forward."

But Steinem has plenty of bones to pick with government and society when it comes to women's rights.

American women workers still earn only 70 cents to men's $1, women are barred from combat, women's health care premiums are higher and raising children is not counted as productive work, she says.

While abortion is legal in the United States, Steinem says the reproductive freedom she fought for is under attack, as seen in efforts to include limits on abortion in the health care reform debate now in Congress.

"I thought if we got majority support around issues, that we would succeed, and that is not necessarily the case," Steinem told Reuters on Tuesday before being honored by the Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project in Beverly Hills.

For those awaiting a woman president of the United States, Steinem throws more cold water on their hopes, claiming she will likely not see that in her lifetime.

Steinem supported Hillary Clinton in her drive to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008 and credits her with "changing the molecules in the air a little bit" by making millions more men and women imagine a woman president.

Yet, she still maintains that the United States is not ready to elect a woman president because "female authority is still associated with a domestic setting and seems inappropriate in a public setting."

"It will take longer, but when we have someone, she will be more likely to actually represent the majority interests of women," said Steinem, founding co-editor of Ms. magazine.

A vocal critic of possible Republican presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Steinem writes her off as "the Phyllis Schlafly of today," evoking the conservative who vehemently opposed feminism.

'THINK I AM IMMORTAL'

At nearly 76, the long-time New York City resident looks youthful and says she is "just as energetic" as she has always been in her travels advocating for women and other causes.

"I look 20 years forward and think I probably won't be here and I find that shocking," said Steinem, who insists that people call her Gloria.

"I am trying my best...to use my time better. Because, the truth is, I think I am immortal and thinking you are immortal causes you to plan poorly."

Many still remember Steinem for her turn nearly 50 years ago as a Playboy Bunny in an expose of the working conditions of the women waitresses at Hugh Hefner's famous clubs.

She still has not forgiven the 83-year-old Hefner, whom she calls "a joke."

"To make amends with him would be like a Jewish person making amends with an anti-Semite. I am not going to do it," Steinem said.

"I am glad we get some reparations," she added, noting that Hefner-backed groups have donated funds to causes like the Women's Reproductive Rights Assistance Project.

She believes the Bunny role almost destroyed her. After the expose came out, she had problems getting serious assignments as a journalist.

"Even now at my advanced age, I am some times introduced as an ex-Bunny with no explanation," Steinem said.

While Steinem very much believes in personal freedom to choose, she worries about young women who enter beauty contests and those rewarded for being scantily clad and overtly sexual.

"If men got rewarded for the amount of nudity and sexuality that women do, men would be nude and sexual too, trust me," Steinem said.

She also wonders if there will be male equivalents for the terms "chick flick" ("prick flick" she suggests) and "cougar," the name used for older women who snag younger men.

"As long as one group requires an adjective and the other is the central definition of humanity, we are in trouble. And that is still true," she said.

(Additional reporting by Phil Furey; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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