the KOAN method

Reading List

019 – Gloria Steinem. A New Egalitarian Life Style

Steinem, Gloria. “A New Egalitarian Life Style.” New York Times, August 26,
1971, p. 37.


The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn. We are filled with the popu lar wisdom of several centuries just past, and we are terrified to give it up. Patriotism means obedience, age means wisdom, woman means submission, black means inferior: these are pre conceptions imbedded so deeply in our thinking that we honestly may not know that they are there.

Whether it’s woman’s Secondary role in society or the paternalistic role of the United States in the world, the old assumptions just don’t work any more.

Part of living this revolution is hav ing the scales fall from our eyes. Every day, we see small obvious truths that we had missed before. Our his tories, for instance, have generally been written for and about white men. Inhabited countries were “discovered” when the first white male set foot there, and most of us learned more about any one European country than we did about Africa and Asia com bined.

We need Women’s Studies courses just as much as we need Black Studies. We need courses on sexism and Amer ican law just as much as we need them on racism. The number of laws that discriminate against women is staggering. At least to women.

“Anonymous,” as Virginia Woolf once said bitterly, “was a woman.”

If we weren’t studying white pater nalistic documents, after all, we might start long before Charlemagne in his tory; or Blackstone in law. More than 5,000 years before, in fact, when women were treated as equals or su periors. When women were the gods, and worshipped because they had the children. Men didn’t consider child bearing a drawback, and in fact imi tated that envied act in their cere monies. It was thought that women bore fruit when they were ripe, like trees.

When paternity was discovered—a day I like to Imagine as a gigantic light bulb over someone’s head, as he says, “Oh, that’s why”—the idea of ownership of children began. And the possibility of passing authority and goods down to them. And the origin of marriage—which was locking wom en up long enough to make sure who the father was. Women were subju gated, the original political subjugation and the pattern which others were to follow, as the means of production. They were given whatever tasks the men considered odious, and they be came “feminine,” a cultural habit which has continued till today.

When other tribes or groups were captured, they were given the least desirable role: that of women. When black people were brought to these shores as slaves, for instance, they were given the legal status of wives; that is, chattel. Since then, our revo lutions have followed, each on the heels of the other.

I don’t mean to equate women’s problems with the sufferings of slav ery. Women lose their identities: black men lose their lives. But, as Gunnar Myrdal pointed out more than thirty, years ago, the parallel between women and blacks—the two largest second class groups—is the deepest truth of American life.

We suffer from the same myths— childlike natures, smaller brains, nat urally passive, lack of objectivity (Har vard Law School professors are still peddling that), inability to govern our selves, identity as sex objects, super natural powers — usually evil, and special job skills. We’re great at detail work for instance, as long as it’s poor ly paid, but brain surgery is something else.

When we make a generalization about women, it helps if we substitute black, or Chicano or Puerto Rican. Then we see what we are saying.

The truth is that women are so much more durable than men at every stage of life, so much less subject to diseases of stress, for instance. Child bearing shouldn’t mean child‐rearing. Motherhood is not all‐consuming, nor is fatherhood a sometime thing. In fact, there are tribes in which the fathers rear the children, and the fa mous mother instinct turns out to be largely cultural.

The problem is achieving a com passionate balance, something this so ciety has not done. It’s clear that most American children suffer from too much mother and too little father.

Women employes in general lose no more time from work than men do, even including childbirth. They change jobs less, since they have less chance of trading upward, and tend to leave only after long periods of no promo tion; thus benefiting male employes by financing their retirement plans.

Women don’t want to imitate the male pattern of obsessive work ending, up with a heart attack and an en graved wrist watch. We want to hu manize the work pattern, to make new, egalitarian life styles.

We are not more moral, we are only less corrupted by power. But we haven’t been culturally trained to feel our identity depends on money, manip ulative power, or a gun.

From now on, no man can call him self liberal, or radical, or even a con servative advocate of fair play, if his work depends in any way on the un paid or underpaid labor of women at home, or in the office. Politics doesn’t begin in Washington. Politics begins with those who are oppressed right here.

And maybe, if we live this revolu tion every day, we will put a suitable end to this second 5,000‐year period: that of patriarchy and racism. Perhaps we have a chance for a third and new period—one of humanism.