• Fri, Nov 12 2010

Gloria Steinem Says 1970′s Feminists Were ‘Too Nice’

Speaking to a group of clinicians and psychologists yesterday, Gloria Steinem told the crowd that she thinks that feminists of the 1970′s were “too nice.” Responding to a question about what she would change about the second-wave movement if she could, Steinem added: “We’re women. We were trained to be nice. We weren’t direct enough,” she said.

Holy shit, you guys. I don’t know if any of you grew up with mothers who were part of the 1970′s feminist movement, but I did, and she is certainly no shrinking violet. Picturing that group of women as not “direct” is kind of difficult.

But on the other hand (my mother is also Jewish), I will say a few things about this. I think Steinem makes an important point, and one that doesn’t only apply to women — everybody could probably stand to be a little more direct in communication, men and women alike. But I take issue with this idea that being “too nice” is somehow the same thing as not being direct.

I can speak for myself when I say that as a teenager and college-aged woman, I used to hear that refrain — that women are “trained to be nice” — always in a negative context. The way it translated for me was “OK, if nice is bad, does that mean I have to be a bitch in order to be a good feminist?” And so my idea of a good feminist, for a little while there, was an idea of someone who was…well, not nice. That’s what I thought I should aspire to be, in order to be a quote-unquote strong woman.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I say someone is not nice, I’m not usually trying to pay them a compliment. And therein lies the problem. Because, see, it’s nice to be nice. And it’s also nice to make your point clearly and stand up for yourself. But those things aren’t mutually exclusive. You can smile at people, you can decide to give up your seat on the bus, you can be friendly, you can be a good friend who is warm and open and non-judgmental…and at the same time, you can respectfully and directly state what you want at work, in relationships and in day-to-day life. And in some cases, you can insist on in. And if you don’t get it, you can make a decision about your next step (some people also call this “being a grown-up”).

But I think it’s dangerous to equate stifling your voice with being nice — or, to equate saying what you want with not being nice — and that’s what I understand Steinem to have meant. Look — there are already plenty of people who would be happy to support the notion that assertive women are bitches.

But they are wrong. And I think we, as feminists (if feminists, indeed we are) should stand up against that notion.

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  • Forth Wave Jane

    I don’t think Steinem is talking about nice in a “can smile at people, give up your seat on the bus, be friendly, be a good friend who is warm and open and non-judgmental” sort of way. I think she’s saying that, at the time, her generation was too nice to tell the Democratic party — who invited a small group of women to the national convention but then refused to allow them to speak and put anti-woman planks in the platform — to shove it where the sun don’t shine. They got mad but they also said, “well, it will just take time,” and voted Democrat anyway. (We still do this, by the way.) It seems “too nice” is her way of saying they were more respectful of what they’d been taught to see as authority than they should have been.

    • Jessica Pauline Ogilvie

      I think you’re probably right as far as what she meant, but semantics are incredibly important, and being nice is not the same thing as not being able to speak your mind. And in my opinion, it’s time that women stopped equating the two, because I think it’s kind of a mindfuck. Women (and men!) can — and should — be nice, as it pertains to the way we treat other people, and at the same time we can — and should — speak up for ourselves. Loudly. That doesn’t make us not nice. It makes us assertive.

      Also, to your point, I don’t think that telling the leaders of the Democratic party to shove it where the sun don’t shine would have accomplished anything. Change takes time, and it takes thought as well as passion, and it doesn’t happen as a result of emotional outbursts (even though they might feel good at the time) — in fact, a lot of times emotional outbursts just divide people further.

  • G

    Bravo.

  • Anthony

    Women need to stop trying to take over the world and get back into their homes where they belong. If you want to join a movement that is working towards that important goal, please visit the-spearhead.com or mgtow.proboards.com

    • Elle

      lol no. Feminism is here to stay. Sorry bro.

    • Teddy C.

      …so essentially a round about way of saying “get back in the kitchen” Good luck with that.

    • Carascrows

      Not gonna happen you basement dwelling loser. You never had pussy since your mother unfortunately birthed you.

  • Imogen

    Amen

  • Lori

    Oh, dear. The writer says her mother was a feminist–evidently that means she isn’t. In other words, Mom is a contemporary of Gloria Steinem’s, as I am. And now we’re supposed to go back to “nice,” which I have noticed, with despair, in the 20- and 30-something women today. You are letting the gains of the 70s and 80s slide back into oblivion. Really, I give up. For this I marched and argued and bitched and worked my head off and graduated from law school when one-half of one percent of all law students were women? And then became the first woman EVER in my town of about 90,000 to practice law? Listen, Sweetie. You have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. Those who have power (men) do not EVER give it up willingly, even if you say “please.” This is just as true today as it was at the beginning of time.