Gloria Steinem, Author and Activist

1. What are your three words to live by? Why do these words guide your life?

I can’t say that I have 3 words I live by, but in response to this question, I would say: Hope, Ideas and Friends — with Laughter assumed under Friends and Ideas. Without hope and envisioning change for the better, nothing changes. Ideas are the most fun it’s possible to have — they are orgasms of the mind. Friends are crucial because we are communal animals and come to feel crazy and wrong if we are isolated. Laughter with friends is obvious, but less obvious is that we laugh when we suddenly have a new idea. It literally lights up the pleasure centers in the brain.

2. What does being an “Architect of Change” mean to you?

I don’t think any one person can or should be an “architect of change.” To carry forward this image, not everyone is going to want to live in a house designed by the same architect. Change is and must be a communal project to which we each contribute. As a person who loves words, I do hope I can add possibilities — and help make the invisible visible — but I hope and believe that each person will carry them forward in her or his own way.

3. Who do you consider to be an Architect of Change in your life? Why?

With the above definition in mind, I would say there are people who showed me new possibilities — Wilma Mankiller, Alice Walker, Bella Abzug and more — and there are also people who created them in a moment. I once saw Nikki de Saint Phalle walking on a city street — big black Australian raincoat flying out behind her, cowboy boots, no purse — and she was free. I thought: “I want to be free.” At a book signing, an old woman in a starched housedress waited until the very end, came up, took my hand in her shaky ones, and said, “You are the inside of me.” That made me know what I was doing was worthwhile. I’ve tried to stay true to her.

4. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in life?

The most important lesson I’ve learned is that we have no idea what’s important, which is why we have to behave as if everything we do matters.

5. What is one thing you are working on right now that you feel especially passionate about?

For the last twenty years or so, I’ve been hooked on learning about original cultures: Indian Country here, the Kwei and San in Africa, the Dalits in India and more. They were and sometimes still are matrilineal (not matriarchal), their goal is balance and reciprocity, not dominance and hoarding; their paradigm was — and often still is — the circle, not the pyramid. There were and still are languages without gender; with women who control their own fertility; with governance forms designed to solve conflict; with planning for seven generations forward; with godliness in all living things instead of one god who looks suspiciously like the ruling class — and much more.

Patriarchy, racism, nationalism, monotheism, priesthoods — all that hierarchical stuff is only about 500 or 600 years old on this continent, and maybe 3000 to 5000 on others. At most, that’s only 5% of human history. So there’s a huge, life saving, planet saving amount to learn. For instance, the Iroquois Confederacy was a model for the U.S. Constitution; balance between women and men got left out but that inspired the suffragist movement; Indian Country was the heart of the Underground Railroad and former slaves plus Native Americans ruled Florida for thirty years; democracy was inspired by original cultures here, not by Greece with its slavery and no women — and much more. If we started studying human history when humans started, it would make us even more rebellious than we already are — which may be why we don’t. That’s why I love learning. I made a button: The Truth Will Set You Free — But First, It will Piss You Off!

Visit Gloria Steinem’s website to learn more about her work.

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