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Originally published July 9, 2009 at 2:00 PM | Page modified July 9, 2009 at 3:06 PM

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Q & A | Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine, feminist icon and best-selling author, will lead Hedgebrook writers in a public dialogue at Seattle's Town Hall on Friday. staff

'Hedgebrook Presents: A Conversation With Gloria Steinem'

Conversations with Steinem, who is currently writing her memoir at Hedgebrook, a female writers retreat on Whidbey Island; singer/songwriter Holly Near; and other Hedgebrook alumnae coming together for a writers retreat. 7:30, Friday, July 10, Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle; $10-$20 (206-652-4255, or


Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine, feminist icon and best-selling author, is spending six weeks at Hedgebrook women's writers retreat on Whidbey Island crafting her memoir. The work, whose working title is "Road to the Heart: America as if Everyone Mattered," will serve to underscore her lifetime as a feminist organizer.

On July 10, she will lead other Hedgebrook writers in a public dialogue at Seattle's Town Hall on the ways women's voices have inspired change. We caught up with Steinem recently to chat about her favorite writers, national politics and her vision of 21st-century feminism.

Q: Who are some of your favorite women writers?

Probably my all-time favorite is Alice Walker, because I just think her poetry, her essays and also her novels are so deep and yet so natural. I always think I'm a better person after I read something by Alice. When I was growing up, I was in love with "Little Women" as a novel. I used to re-read it every year. Here was a group of women who talked about everything in the world - about the Civil War, about relationships, about everything - and had a household, and yet lived in the real world. They were not well-to-do, but they still tried to help others who were even less well-to-do.

Q: What's your impression of the creative environment at Hedgebrook?

The best way I can express Hedgebrook is to say it's as if women took 5,000 years of nurturing experience and lavished it on each other. Everything that has been learned from nurturing children, nurturing family, they nurture on women as artists.

Q: You were a vocal supporter of Hilary Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign, but came to support President Obama. How do you feel now about that choice?

He's obviously enormously caring, intelligent, wise, mature for his years. He's very helpful to us internationally because he himself represents much more international experience and international consciousness. If I have any wish, it would be that he would learn more quickly about the ultra right-wing. I think, with all good will, he's reaching out to make coalitions, which of course we all desire. But he hasn't had the experience to understand that there are some cases in which this is just not going to work. But he's a fast learner, I'm sure he'll come to understand that.

Q: There have been diverging views on Michelle Obama, and the role she has taken as First Lady. How would you define that role?

She's taken a very traditional role, but with an understanding of her intelligence and professional background that infuses the role with difference. For instance, yes, she's planting a garden, but this is with a very advanced consciousness of environmentalism, and of the importance of local foods. The form is traditional, but the content is new.

Q: How is this role shaping feminism and the women's movement?

I think it does more for the women's movement actually that both President Obama and Vice President Biden are males who have spoken frequently and paid attention to their own children. Probably the burden experienced by most women in this country is working both inside the home and outside the home, and that will continue until men are raising children, including babies and small children, as much as women are.

Q: What are your thoughts on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor? What affect do you think she'll have on the court should she be confirmed?

I do not know her except as we all do in the media. But she's very impressive, both professional and humane at the same time. Did you look at the New York Times interview with Ruth Ginsburg? I knew Ruth Ginsburg before she became a Supreme Court justice because she was in New York and we worked together on various issues, and I have enormous respect for her. I'm so delighted that she is just flat out in support of the idea that affirmative action is a good thing. She describes herself as a child of affirmative action. The truth is that affirmative action has raised standards wherever it has been properly applied, not lowered them. ... If affirmative action were a person, they could sue its opponents for libel.

Q: What do you think 21st-century feminism looks like?

It looks like you. It looks like each self-respecting women in the 21st century. It's not for me to define; the message of feminism is that each of us, as female human beings, define ourselves. There are some generalities that you can see. It's much more international, I'm happy to say. I think clearly most of the country now understands that women can do what men can do; the problem is that they don't understand that men can do what women can do, which as I was saying, is the reason why women still suffer from having two jobs.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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