Here is the thing, okay? Coming into a feminist conversation with, “Have you considered that sometimes women acquire free drinks at bars?” is like walking into graduate school during Philosophy finals and saying, “Have you considered that the color blue that I see may not be the color blue that you see?”
Imagine you are the guy who just walked into that Philosophy class and laid that shit down. Imagine the class full of students who have worked very hard and committed themselves and sacrificed to be here, students who have spent several years of their lives learning about this subject. Imagine now their feelings when you go to the head of the classroom with a smirk on your face and demand the professor give you an A for effort. Imagine now that they think you are a douchebag asshole, because they do, and because you are. You are a douchebag asshole because you are obviously so self-centered, arrogant, and completely ignorant of the world around you, that you thought you could walk into a high-level course with no background and no work and say something profoundly simplistic and totally unrelated and also everybody should congratulate you for having done this thing, so brave, so provocative.
Isn’t the fight for women’s rights over? Didn’t we win? That idea is out there as a way of stopping progress. We hear words like postracist and post-feminist when people would not say postdemocratic. I think people would concede that we haven’t reached democracy yet, and we certainly haven’t reached equality for women or for all races.
So where are the fronts? Reproductive freedom is still a front line. The next is work- inside and outside the home. We haven’t changed the job patterns, and men are not raising children as much as women yet, to put it mildly. And right up there with that is violence against women.
How much did your good looks help you in your activism? When I became identified as a feminist, I was already close to 40. Before that, I was sort of a pretty girl. Afterward, I was beautiful all of a sudden. It’s more a comment on what people thought feminists looked like than on me.
Have you had cosmetic surgery? When I was hosting the Today show, I had a little fat removed from above my eyes so that I didn’t look like Mao Zedong and I could wear my contacts. It looked worse afterward. It was a good warning not to do anything else. I thought about getting a tattoo.
A tattoo? On my 70th birthday I was going to get a tramp stamp.
In your new HBO documentary, you express regret about going undercover at the Playboy Club. Why? At the time, it was a gigantic career error because I had just begun to get serious writing assignments. But once feminism began to dawn on me, I realized, wait a minute, you know, I had more in common with the women working there than I did with the editors who sent me there.
What is your view of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn situation? I’m very grateful to the NYPD, which plucked him off the plane. I’m very grateful to the maid, who knew she had rights. And I hope the case will be pursued. But in any case, it’s a great step forward. I realize we have a legal system in which the background of the accuser is fair game and the background of the accused is not. But just from the people who have come forward about this guy, a rough justice has already been administered.
How do you feel about the direction feminism has taken? I’m very encouraged. I see humor and hopefulness. This generation just has better s___ detectors than we did. Women get more activist as they get older, unlike men. It’s probably that women have to experience bias before they get totally activated.
But some young women feel a disconnect. Their feminism is more pliant. They enjoy clothes and the male gaze… Nobody can say I didn’t enjoy the male gaze! Young women are perhaps not as worried about abortion as those who remember when it was criminalized. But they’re mad as hell that there’s no sex education in schools, that prescription contraception is not paid for, and that abortions are up.
You’re 77. If you knew you had to years to live, how would you spend them? Mainly seeing friends, my chosen family. And writing about what I believe, which is that things are a circle, not a hierarchy: the women’s movement and the antiracist movement and the gay movement and the environmental movement are all linked. And maybe living with elephants. I do still want to live with the elephants.