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In Town

For nearly four decades, journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem has been at the forefront of the women's movement, writing and speaking on politics and women's rights. She comes to Naples Feb. 1 to help celebrate Planned Parenthood of Collier County's 30th anniversary (call 262-8923 for ticket info).

Q. Can you give us a preview of what you'll say when you're in Naples?

A. I usually emphasize that we need to remember we're in the process of adding reproductive freedom to our other rights-freedom of speech and so on-and that it's not a single issue. Because whether or not women can control reproduction affects how poor they are, how educated, what careers they have.

Q. How has feminism changed over the last 30 years?

A. It's the same, just broader and deeper. For women to control the means of reproduction makes a huge difference. It's tied to issues of women as unpaid or underpaid labor, because feminism means an enormous redistribution of wealth. Our practice as feminists is certainly far more international.

Q. Does how you feel about the success of feminism depend on what kind of day it's been?

A. It absolutely depends on what we've experienced that day or month or year. In individual women's lives, we see a lot of change. But look up, at who's governing us, and there's been a backlash. Women are a disproportionate share of undecided voters. It's as if a Jewish person were unaware of a fascist regime. It's very serious to be unclear about your own self-interest.

Q. What's the biggest challenge feminists face?

A. One of the biggest challenges is in being a feminist at home. Sometimes it's more difficult for a woman at home to say, "If you eat, you cook." That can be more difficult than being firm outside the home.

Q. What's the best gift that mothers can pass on to their daughters?

A. It's a neglected truism that we do what we see, not what we're told. Be your own authentic self, and you will teach her more than any instruction. We forget that sometimes. We pass a mirror and say, "Oh, God, I'm fat," or we fudge our age. We need to remember to behave as we wish our daughters to behave.

Q. You've been a public figure for so long. What are people most surprised to learn about you?

A. I noticed after I wrote Revolution From Within, which shared some personal anecdotes and stories, that people were surprised to learn that I had grown up in any way other than privileged. When other women read about insecurities I've expressed, they're often surprised, saying, "I didn't think I was strong enough to be a feminist before," as if only extraordinary women can be feminists-exactly the opposite of the truth. And people are surprised to learn that feminists can be funny. After all, I used to be a comedy writer [for the television show That Was the Week That Was].

Q. When you're not on the road or writing, what do you take joy in?

A. Being with friends sometimes, and being alone at others. If I've been out with groups a lot, being alone is a treat, like swimming in ice cream. And I love to dance-swing, ballroom, disco, salsa. I even took tango lessons once.

-Kay Kipling 

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