In Fairbanks visit, feminist leader Gloria Steinem talks aging, abortion and more

FAIRBANKS -- Gloria Steinem, a founder of Ms. Magazine and a leader of the feminist movement, visited Fairbanks on Friday because a local Assembly member wanted the magazine banned from the shelves of a local food co-op a year ago.

The Assembly member, Lance Roberts, equated selling the magazine with endorsing the murder of babies through abortion. As a member of the Co-Op Market Grocery and Deli, he didn't want the magazine on the premises. "There's a huge difference between having to shop at a store that carries genocide-promoting stuff and being an owner of it," Roberts said in his newsletter.

Other owner/members disagreed and said he didn't have to buy it or read it. The store ultimately kept the magazine available on a rack near one of its checkout stands. The dustup became a national news story and made it into a Ms. Magazine blog, which is how Steinem learned about it.

"It sounded as if an elected politician let everyone know he was not supportive of freedom of the press, and people responded," she said of Roberts, who parted company with the co-op.

Speaking with reporters Friday before giving an evening address at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Steinem said similar spats have happened elsewhere, but not for about 20 years. She referred to the end of this incident as a "great democratic process at work."

After fielding questions from four reporters, she autographed a 2014 copy of Ms. Magazine for Fairbanks Mayor Luke Hopkins, an edition that was on sale a year ago at about the time of the controversy. With a permanent marker, she signed a two-page center spread headlined "Our Revolution Has Just Begun," consisting of the text of a speech she gave at the National Press Club in 2013 before accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.

In that speech, Steinem said that one of the myths about the women's movement is that the "need for a movement is over and we are now in a post-feminist and post-racist age."


"Even equal pay for women who do the same jobs as white men is still in the future and parenthood and housework aren't equal either, to put it mildly," she said.

Steinem, 81, said she had hoped to visit Alaska long ago, but something always intervened. This time, the UAF Summer Sessions and Lifelong Learning office, headed by Michelle Bartlett, intervened and raised $30,000 from private donors to fund her appearance and free public lecture.

Steinem said reproductive freedom is a basic right and rejected the claim that abortion is genocide.

"The right to decide what to do with our own bodies, whether we're men or women, is a fundamental right, at least as basic as freedom of speech or freedom of assembly," she said.

"To call that genocide is the opposite of the case because whether or not women have that right is the biggest indicator of how long our lives are, whether we're healthy or not, whether we can be educated or not, whether we can be employed or not," she said. "It was just a reversal of the truth."

A TV reporter who said she grew up hearing she was able to be whatever she wanted to be said women have many prominent positions in society today and asked Steinem what's next for the women's movement.

"I'm not sure we did a good thing by saying you can be anything you want to be regardless of sex or race because you can't, actually," she said. "I think it might be more helpful to say you should be able to be anything you want to be and you can have such a good time making that more true, being part of social justice movements."

Steinem calls herself an organizer and said she is still writing and that a book about her travels, "My Life on the Road," which has been 20 years in the making, is to be published in the fall.

"I hope that with at least a few readers, it might persuade people to become organizers too," she said. It is a job that can be "infinitely satisfying," but it's not the sort for which there are recruiters.

Time is much on her mind. She said wasting too much of it in the past and not challenging herself enough with new ventures is one of her biggest regrets. She hopes to survive to 100 and to make the moments count.

"I'm trying to realize that even if I live to 100 -- I have 19 years left and what do I want to do with those 19 years -- this is the real challenge because I haven't thought that way."

Dermot Cole

Former ADN columnist Dermot Cole is a longtime reporter, editor and author.