Gloria Steinem views America as a largely male-dominant culture. In her efforts to speak out and fight against this unbalanced form of society she strongly enforces her views of female anti-submissiveness. Because of the seemingly unfair amount of rights men have deprived American women of, Steinem calls for drastic changes in the way women view themselves and are viewed both in the society and within the home.
Steinem’s biggest problem with our society is the harsh stereotypical views that are laced all throughout the culture. Children are raised with the ideas that men dominate certain areas of life, and women others, and crossing these dividing lines into areas reserved for the other gender is an act seen as both unnatural and taboo. In her essay “Life Between the Lines” Steinem touches upon the common marital problem of housework. (Steinem, 8) Because of the deeply rooted tradition of females and housework, many women struggle with feelings of helplessness and even embarrassment when trying to get their husbands to help out around the home.
In “Huston and History”, Steinem writes that because of the secondary status women are traditionally seen as having, they are more likely to relate to minorities and those seen as “less fortunate”. Frederick Douglass recognized this when he stated that “the cause of the slave has been peculiarly women’s cause.” Relating back to the fight to end slavery, which was most enthusiastically fought by the women. The essay “Sisterhood” presses on this topic as well when it declares that the “deep and personal connections among women living under patriarchy” often causes them to “leap barriers of age, economics, worldly experience, race, [and] culture.” (123) Even though society builds many walls between different people, the common goal of subordination remains a very strong uniting factor.
Male and female roles in society have always been seen as vastly different. The common children’s poem: “What are little girls made of? Sugar and spice, And everything nice, That’s what little girls are made of.
What are little boys made of? Snips and snails, And puppy dog tails, That’s what little boys are made of.”
(internet: http://showcase.netins.net/web/marys/LittleBoys.htm) is a perfect illustration of the generalizations our country has towards the two genders. Steinem suggests in her essay “College Reunion” that, through education, the boundaries between the two sexes might start to dissolve. Steinem states that “Women’s colleges have rarely taught us to fight for ourselves, or for other women.” (137)
Only in teaching women the skills necessary to break down the walls that tradition has built up, and “equality and full humanity of women and men” is achieved, can true feminism be accomplished. (5) Another major topic illustrated in this book is the author’s concern about the sexual relationships between male and female. According the Steinem, our culture’s stereotypical views of the sexes often envelopes all aspects of life, bringing male-dominance even into the bedroom. Three essays focusing primarily upon the sexual dominance of men are “Erotica vs. Pornography”, “I was a Playboy Bunny” , and ” If Men Could Menstruate”.
“Erotica vs. Pornography” centers on way the American society frequently sees sex. In America, children are raised with images of female sex symbols strewn all across the media which make women vulnerable for the pleasure of men. Steinem attributes the sexual male-supremacy to this trendy media tool. A common quote illustrating this point is “sex will sale anything”. Because of the steady moral decline in society, “sex is also confused with violence and aggression in all forms of popular culture.” (239) Pictures of females are seen in every form of media, from the television to the internet to the paper. This imagery drastically influences the way females think of themselves, and are viewed by others.
“I was a Playboy Bunny” speaks of the time in which the author went “undercover” to become one of the famed “Playboy Bunnies”. Once within the Playboy realm the glamour and intrigue quickly started to fade. Steinem saw that the bunnies were used in affect as cheap labor to feed the vastly popular Playboy clubs. Working long hours with no or little pay (54), outrageous regulations on hair, heels, clothing, and even the bunny demeanor all added to the unspectacular life of a Bunny.
“If Men Could Menstruate” is a comical look at how the world would be different if it was in fact the male sex who was on a periodic menstrual cycle. “Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much,” and “Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free.” (367) Although the essay is an interesting satire on what “could be”, no real arguments are held or reinforced. It is in affect an amusing look at how the culture might react if men were given the attributes of the “weaker sex”.
Although many of Steinem’s arguments are well supported and easily seen as valid, they frequently focus on either to broad, or to narrow a topic. Essays like “Men and Women Talking” express the communication habits between males and females all over the world, from Europe (193), Australia (194), Japan (203), and the U.S. – a very large base from which drawing any solid conclusions becomes drastically more difficult. The other extreme argumental stance occurs in being to narrow. Essays like “Ruth’s Song” concentrate on a single instance and circumstance. Because of the narrow focal point it is hard to relate a specific example to a larger, more common instance.
In “Ruth’s Song” Steinem says that “the biggest reason that my mother was cared for but not helped for twenty years was the simplest” her functioning was not that necessary to the world.” (143) Inferring that because her mother was a female, Steinem suggests that her only role in the economy was to produce and care for her offspring, and that because she no longer could do either one, she was not an important member in society. Although her point may be well made, it relates directly to only those females who have, or are directly effected by a mental breakdown. Because of the illness of one woman, it is hard to conclude that the fate of a single person would be the same for everyone else having a similar fortune.
Steinem’s arguments all have the underlying theme of female limitation in a male-dominant society. To combat this she proposes that women learn to stand up for themselves and take action. Only through active change in every individual, can full and complete equilibrium among the sexes take place.