Julia Gets Wise with Gloria Steinem

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In this episode of Wiser Than Me, Julia sits down with 90-year-old author and revolutionary Gloria Steinem. The two delve into Gloria’s remarkable journey as a pioneering feminist and discuss joining the army of gray-haired women who will take over the world. Gloria also gives Julia THE most incredible advice for aging without shame. Plus, Julia’s mom, Judy, recounts her early ambitions in acting and her initial reservations about working outside the home.

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Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gloria Steinem, Mommy

Julia Louis-Dreyfus  00:01

Maybe thanks to Wiser Than Me, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a woman, which is what I am. And I’m so happy to be. I know that every individual’s journey with womanhood is unique. And I recognize that my experience might not align with everybody else’s who identifies as a woman. But I cherish the aspects of femininity that resonate with me. I mean, I just love being feminine being a feminine person. I loved carrying and birthing children, I love physically being a woman, which is why it was it was so hard to have breast cancer, or it’s one of the many reasons it was hard to have breast cancer because it took part of that away from me. But anyway, I think the thing that I really love most about being a woman is the kind of emotional intelligence that comes with it. I think it’s a big part of what they call female intuition. There’s a reason that it’s not called male intuition, I believe in female intuition, and I believe I have it and so do my fabulous sisters, FYI. At critical moments, in my life, I’ve had this intuition, this feeling of knowing something without any conscious reasoning and knowing it with certainty, a kind of certainty that surpasses intellectual reasoning, or fact gathering or weighing of evidence. And I trust that intuition, because, frankly, it’s never been wrong that I can think of, and I can feel that with other women. And I love it, I have two groups of really close female friends, one group of friends from grade school, and another from college, that includes Paula Jean Kaplan, the beauty and the brain who produces a show with me, and a third sort of looser group of more recent friends, I call them my work friends, even though they’re not all from work. And by more recent, I mean, like 25 years ago, instead of 40 years, or 50 years ago. And all of these women are unbelievably important to me, critically important. Don’t get me wrong. I like my men, men are great. They talk too much, of course, but they’re great. But when I get together with these women, I am at ease. I don’t know how else to say it just completely at ease. I mean, sure, it helps that we have decades of shared history and common interests and tastes and politics and values and a shared sense of humor. But I think there’s something more, more, I don’t know what ancient more transcendent about the bond that I feel with them, it is profound. And for me, it’s a very important part of having a happy life. And it goes back to that emotional intelligence. These women are emotionally smart. Like when I was really sick, my friend Carlene would come over, all of them would come to tell you the truth, which is just such an incredible gift that I can never thank any of them enough for. But I remember particularly Carlene coming when I was sick as a dog sick, and she would just sit there in my bedroom, you know, and she didn’t have to say anything. And I didn’t have to say anything. And I could be so relaxed about that, and sometimes not even respond if she did say something, and she got it. And we would just be there, you know, occupying space together. Or even when I was in chemotherapy, and I was hooked up to all these poisons, and I had a huge cold cap on my head. The cold cap is something you can do to keep you from losing hair during chemo, and all of my girlfriends would come to my chemo, and I’m telling you, it was this tiny little space. And like, eight women would squeeze into this space, and they would bring food, and they would be chatting and Carlene made, everybody who came, were a mustache, she brought these fake mustaches for everybody to wear that was sort of part of the uniform, and everybody looked ridiculous. And it was just so hilarious. I was sort of slipping in and out of because you know, you’re on drugs and stuff. So I was sort of slipping in and out of kind of consciousness being there. And I would look and all my girlfriend’s would be howling, laughing in mustaches, it would just none of it made sense. All of it was beautiful, you know? And, and that might not be unique to a female friendship. I mean, obviously, loyalty isn’t gender based. It just speaks to the depth of tranquillity that I feel with my female friends. And currently is you know, she’s like a hotshot lawyer. They’re all hot shots, these women, these are all very accomplished people. But there’s no sense of that success being definitional. When we get together if you know what I mean. Every time we gather, no matter the occasion. I know that the conversations will be completely interesting to me, you know, I want to hear everybody’s thoughts. Nothing will be off the table as far as intimate conversation, nothing, and we’ll laugh our asses off the kind of laughing that, you know, that hurts the next day, right? Oh my god, you can’t put a price on that. I mean that it well, that is just living, living good. There’s a spectacular book that my friends Yoji and Janice gave us. It’s by Myra Kalman. And it’s called Women Holding Things. It’s an extraordinary book of her illustrations and writing. And it’s just what the title describes, it’s drawings of women holding things. And here’s what she says, what do women hold the home and the family, and the children and the food, the friendships, the work, the work of the world, and the work of being human, the memories and the troubles and the sorrows and the triumphs and the love. How true is that? That’s what women hold. And I think that that is maybe at the heart of why I love my female friends so and I need to connect with them often, to replenish my strength and my spirit. It’s because we women are holding things, real substantial things with physical weight, and ethereal things too, which have so much weight as well. So when I get together with my female friends, I think we put those things down just for the moment. You know, when be we laugh, maybe we have a glass of wine or two. And if we need to, we ask each other for a little help with the load when we pick those things back up. And only another woman can fully understand that. How wonderful men that today’s conversation is with Gloria Steinem.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  06:48

Hi, I’m Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and this is Wiser Than Me the podcast where I get schooled by women who are wiser than me.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  07:12

You know how there are songs like, I don’t know, blowing in the wind that are so ingrained in the culture, you can’t believe somebody actually sat down and wrote it. Well, I feel like today’s guest is kind of the human version of the that. She is so ingrained in the culture, you kind of forget that she’s an actual real person. She’s much more than a leader. She’s really an architect of the feminist movement. I mean, if the feminist movement had a Mount Rushmore, for example, and it ought to, she would be up there. That’s how monumental her legacy is. She has been at the center of every conversation about the place of women in society. Since the early 60s, she founded the National Women’s Political Caucus with Betty for […] Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm. And then in 1968, she was there in the nascent stages of New York Magazine. And then with all that experience, she went on to co found Ms.Magazine in 1972. I mean, I don’t know if young people today truly realize how important that magazine was in shaping feminist conversations and platforming women’s work critical. But she didn’t stop there, in fact, she’s still at it. This woman who has been the most enduring symbol of feminism knows that the work is far from done. When she turned 80 her friend and fellow activist Robin Morgan told The New York Times that she is more effective than ever. She’s a better organizer now than she ever has been. She’s a better persuader, she’s a better writer. She jokes about turning her funeral into a fundraiser, and continues to utilize every tool at her disposal because she understands activism is a job from which you never truly retire. When you’re on the frontlines of a movement for all those years. You pick up a couple of accolades along the way. She’s the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, the Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum, the National Magazine Award, the Lifetime Achievement in journalism award from the United Nations, and oh, yeah, she’s written 19 books that’s barely scratching the surface of the impact she has had. When someone asked her what her greatest contribution was to the women’s movement, she said, I haven’t made it yet. Those are the words of a woman on a mission, a woman at whose feet I sit today, and who is so much wiser than me. Gloria Steinem. Hi, Gloria.


Gloria Steinem  09:48

Now, you’ve left me with a quandary of how I can possibly live up to that introduction. I mean, we should have a technological failures, anyway, thank you, and it’s lovely to see you.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:02

It’s lovely, it’s an honor, may I ask your real age Gloria?


Gloria Steinem  10:07

Yes, my real age is 90 I’m as shocked as anybody else. I don’t know exactly how it happened. But I would just like to say that you’re always the same person inside. So it goes right.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:19

I love that. I love it. And how old do you feel?


Gloria Steinem  10:24

I think we have an age when we kind of chilled you know what I mean?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:28



Gloria Steinem  10:28

And I would say mine was 50.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:31

I love that you feel 50, by the way, I need to mention to you that you, to me, this is very significant. You and my mother share the same birthday and share the same age.


Gloria Steinem  10:43

Really? Oh, that’s amazing.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:45

Yeah, it’s amazing to me. And you’re both from Ohio, which I also love.


Gloria Steinem  10:50

And we survived. I survived Toledo, I don’t know.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:53

Yes, and she survived Columbus. And it’s here to tell the tale.


Gloria Steinem  10:57

Okay, well give her a hug from me.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  10:59

I absolutely will. I absolutely will.


Gloria Steinem  11:01

Compare notes, yes.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  11:03

Do you exercise, Gloria? Do you have a routine an exercise?


Gloria Steinem  11:06

I don’t, I didn’t grow up with an exercise routine. I’m not part of the generation that runs every morning. I have a wonderful woman who’s a former rock head, who drops by twice a week and makes me exercise a bit, which is fun.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  11:27

So as you’ve gotten older, has your thinking ability changed? Have you noticed changes? You, it doesn’t seem as if there are any?


Gloria Steinem  11:36

No, no, I think I have I have noticed changes, which has caused me to, for instance, consider manufacturing a t shirt that says I’m at an age when remembering something right away is as good as an orgasm. I think this would sell. The retrieval time is longer or the need for association with something else. You know, I think memory does this. It’s just more quantity for one thing of things to remember.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  12:17

Yeah. Gosh, that’s a hilarious idea for a T shirt, and we may have to fabricate that. So I want to read Gloria, a poem that you’ve written that is in one of your books, the truth will set you free, but first, it will piss you off as the title of the book, and I would like to read this poem that you wrote, dear goddess, I pray for the courage to walk naked at any age, to wear red and purple to be unladylike, inappropriate, scandalous and incorrect, to the very end. So let’s talk about the blessings of aging. I mean, have you been able to live up to the expectations of that absolutely glorious poem that you wrote?


Gloria Steinem  13:06

No, I’m sure I haven’t. I’m sure I’ve been too pressured by the way things are already being done to envision how they might be done. But I think especially because we still live with patriarchy, and racism, and you know, various structures that make no sense, it’s good for us to imagine the most we can possibly imagine. So we move the boundaries of where we can go. And I think that was my effort, one of my efforts to move the boundaries.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  13:40

Well, let me ask you this. In what ways do you think you have gotten better over the years? I mean, I know in your mind, you say you think of yourself sort of you feel 50, what has age given you what have the blessings of getting older given to you?


Gloria Steinem  13:55

One big thing is I’m past the age of expectation, that we should follow a certain pattern, which in my generation was very strong, that we should marry, we should have children, we should take our husband’s name and his identity, you know, we should, in a way to lead a secondary life. And that was very much the, the norm or at least the norm of expectations. When I was growing up in Toledo in a factory working neighborhood where families were supported by their husbands salary and the factory. Men people generally got married very young. So I mean, I always knew thanks to my mother, having saved money that I would be able to go to college, which already was a blessing beyond almost everybody in in my high school class, but I had no idea. I mean, I got engaged when I was a senior in college because everybody got engaged in this was a very lovely handsome, desirable guy.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  15:03



Gloria Steinem  15:04

And, and partly I went to India, took a fellowship and went to India and stayed there for two years. Because both I was fascinated with India, but also I was trying to lead a different life and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to if I stayed home.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  15:22

Was that a way of getting out of the engagement, by the way?


Gloria Steinem  15:26

Yes, I sort of left my ring under the pillow and disappeared. Yes, right, right.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  15:32

And your travels in India, I know you talk. I mean, it sounds like your activism began there, is that right?


Gloria Steinem  15:40

Well, I certainly saw for the first time in my life, the results of the grassroots populist movement because of the independence movement against the British, and Mahatma Gandhi and everything. And I was writing a essay about Gandhi. So I was going around and interviewing people he had worked with. And finally, I got to a woman named Kamala Devi Choteau Padia great woman, and she was sitting on her porch rocking and drinking lemonade. She listened to me. And finally she said, well, my dear, we taught him everything he knew.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  16:21



Gloria Steinem  16:22

And it turned out that the basis of Gandhi’s independence movement was a national women’s movement, which already existed.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  16:32

Wow, so there began.


Gloria Steinem  16:35

Yes, I began to understand that history was not always told in an accurate way, you know.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  16:41

Well, it’s told through a male lens, isn’t it?


Gloria Steinem  16:44

Yeah, well, in a cultural lens, it’s good to think of history with a certain critical sense, because it tended to be written by the winners. And not necessarily the whole truth, right?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  17:00

This seems very kind of trite and lightweight. On the heels of this conversation thus far. But I have to ask you, I want to talk about beauty for a second because beauty and power are so interlocked with one another in a way that is probably quite well, negative. What as you have gotten older, what have you had to unlearn? Or unbraid wash yourself, if you’ve had to, in terms of beauty as a woman was you’re a beautiful woman, I’m curious about that.


Gloria Steinem  17:37

I don’t think I was brainwashed into plastic surgery because I’m a coward. I still have my tonsils. I didn’t want to have any kind of surgical procedure. So I just didn’t. I probably have more gray hair underneath here than you can see.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  17:56



Gloria Steinem  17:57

That’s one artificiality. Probably. But otherwise, you know, I might still be wearing the same blue jeans right now. I don’t know how many years.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  18:08

Blue jeans. That’s the Holy Grail. If you find a good pair of blue jeans, and they really work hang on to them. I actually had a question about your, the glasses and your look, back in the day, was this a choice, Gloria? Putting your glasses over your hair? Was that a sort of fashion statement for you that you found or, because I also think you talked about hiding behind your glasses and hair because it was very iconic that look obviously.


Gloria Steinem  18:38

Coming from a nearsighted family. I had needed glasses since I was about 10. And somehow, I preferred the kind of pilots glasses, which were then men’s glasses, you know, you had to go to the men’s section to find.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  18:56

Yeah, the aviator kind, yeah.


Gloria Steinem  18:58

Yeah, right and you know, they were good for both sight and hiding behind, yes.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  19:04

But I get the sense that you don’t feel like you need to hide behind anything, is that true?


Gloria Steinem  19:10

No, I mean, I didn’t then, I just think that age is a blessing. I mean, we’re adding experience, we’re discovering new things.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  19:20



Gloria Steinem  19:20

It’s not a drawback, but because the emphasis on women’s age is still very much connected to reproduction. And the years in which women can reproduce. It’s still different for women than for men.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  19:36

It sure is, and would you have any specific advice to women for aging without shame?


Gloria Steinem  19:44

Well, I don’t know that, my advice is helpful, but I think one thing is to be together with women who are your age and older so that you have an example and counter weight to the media image of women who are always younger, more beautiful, usually more white, and you know, just not realistic.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  20:10

Yeah, community, community, community and connection.


Gloria Steinem  20:14



Julia Louis-Dreyfus  20:18

We’ll get more wisdom from Gloria Steinem after this break.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  20:34

Speaking of reproduction, you’ve said of course that the desire to control wombs is central to all authoritarian systems. So having said that, let’s talk about the […] decision, this fucking […] decision. Did you see that coming, Gloria? What I mean, what did we miss? How are you feeling?


Gloria Steinem  20:54

Oh, well, you and I think that reproductive freedom should be as basic as freedom of speech, but because we are living in various forms of patriarchy. There is a continuing, though hopefully diminishing efforts to control women as the means of reproduction. I mean, when Hitler, you should pardon the expression Hitler was elected. And he was elected. The first thing he did the next morning, was to order the padlocking of all the family planning clinics in Germany.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  21:28

Get out of here. I didn’t know that.


Gloria Steinem  21:30

And declare abortion a crime against the state. And the same was true in Italy. Authoritarian fascist movements have been especially obvious in their desire compulsion with controlling reproduction, whether for racist reasons, or share patriarchal reasons or both.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  21:50

So when the […] decision came down, because obviously Roe V. Wade came into law in 1973. So 50 years later, it’s reversed. How do you react to that? Are you not surprised, Gloria?


Gloria Steinem  22:06

Well, I guess the hopeful part of me is not alarmed. The realistic part of me is not surprised, because the attempt to control women’s bodies as the most basic means of production, the means of reproduction has been consistent. And the reverse is also true. That is, when Europeans first arrived here. And the women say, in upstate New York, the European American women, were inspired by the Native American women they lived next door to who understood fully how to control reproduction, how to decide when and whether to have children. And that was an inspiration to the women next door. I mean, I once sat in a small gathering with women in Africa in a desert area. And they were showing me the herbs, literally that grew there that they use for to increase fertility that they used for abortifacients. That I mean, this is ancient knowledge. It’s been around as long as people have been around. But to understand how much that the control of reproduction is intertwined with racism is very important.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  23:31

Yeah, right.


Gloria Steinem  23:32

And the ultra right wing folks who say, you will not replace us are very aware that the first generation of babies who are majority babies of color has already been born. You know, it seems to me a good thing. I mean, if this country looks more like the rest of the world, of course, probably have better relationships with other nations better food, I don’t know. But to if you’re, if you’ve been raised as a white supremacist, you may feel threatened by the fact that the first generation this majority babies of color has already been born.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  24:16

Yeah, I mean, make sense. They’re fearful of a shift in the power dynamic. When did you first realize that you had power, Gloria. When of have you felt the most powerful in your life?


Gloria Steinem  24:28

Well, I, I don’t think I have ever felt that I had power in the sense of giving a command because I’ve never been in that kind of situation.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  24:39



Gloria Steinem  24:40

But I hope that as a writer, and an activist or a speaker, I have the power of persuasion, because that still honors the decision making power of the person who’s reading or listening.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  24:55

Right, exactly.


Gloria Steinem  24:56

Deprive them of power, but it’s means that you can present an alternative.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  25:01

Yes, you know, it’s funny because I was thinking about how even in my own life, the patriarchal culture that we live in has sort of crept into my own life in a way that I almost didn’t realize until I was sort of living it. For example, I’m married. And I have two children, two sons, who I hope to Jesus, I’ve raised to be good feminists, I think that I have. I’m going to ask them that question later. I’m going to ask them if they think of themselves as feminists, I would be curious to know what their answer would be. But anyway, I’m using, but I worked when they were both born, I was working full time. And that was a huge struggle for me. That was a hard thing for me to reconcile the going back and forth. And I had to intellectually remind myself, that working being a mother who worked outside of the house was good for them to witness. But it was a struggle for me. And I have the benefit of, you know, learning from you and learning from the movement, and yet that struggle existed for me.


Gloria Steinem  26:14

Well, the because the reason we need a movement is we are still living in a somewhat patriarchal and racist society. So the suppositions of what we should do, are still with us, then they were still with you. But actually, for your sons to see an experience, a loving, authoritative, nurturing, achieving human being who’s a female human being is a gift, and that they’re much more likely if they happen to choose a female partner to choose a female partner, who really is a partner.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  26:58

Yeah, I wish I had called you 30 years ago to talk about this. I wish we had been friends back.


Gloria Steinem  27:06

Well, but for two years, some say I mean, they don’t do they bet they don’t say oh, I wish I’d had a mother who stayed home and baked cookies all the time, no.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  27:16

I don’t think so. I’ve never heard them say that, unless they say it behind my back, but they’re more intelligent than that. I know, you’ve spoken about being with many people in your life as they’ve passed away. And I know that you were unable to be with your dad, which was a regret for you when he passed away. I would like to talk about grief and your experience with grief. What have you learned about grief as you’ve lost people who are dear to you?


Gloria Steinem  27:46

Well, I’ve, I’ve learned that it’s inevitable. And in a way it’s precious because it’s a measure of how important and loved those individuals were, whether it’s Bella Abzug, who I remember speaking at her funeral, and suddenly realizing that I was never going to see her again, which, you know, it just, I don’t, you know, they just moments when it comes over you.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  28:15

It hits you like a ton of pride, yeah.


Gloria Steinem  28:18

I think about my mother and regret that she wasn’t able to do what she loved, because before I was born, she had been a journalist and worked for a newspaper, which she loved and, and had to give it up. It’s a reminder of how important it is to live in the present.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  28:39

Right? Well, in these moments when you lost Bella, or I know when your husband David Bale passed away. Were there activities or rituals that you took on that gave you solace, or comfort?


Gloria Steinem  28:52

Yes, I don’t know. I mean, probably we may all find different ways. And I remember sitting here on the house where I am now. Writing a letter to David Bale, who.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  29:05



Gloria Steinem  29:06

Right, because after after he was gone. And I don’t know why I did that exactly. But it just felt helpful to say things I wanted to say or hadn’t been able to say I mean, obviously it was doing it for myself clearly.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  29:24

Yeah, of course yeah.


Gloria Steinem  29:26

But I don’t know if it would be helpful to other people or not, you know, just to sit down and write a letter.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  29:34

Well, that’s fascinating to me, actually, to write a letter. It reminds me when my father passed, I had a moment in which I was by myself and I sat down and I just spoke to him. And I think I, I think I spoke for like, easily an hour. I had a lot to say. But it’s it stayed with me, you know?


Gloria Steinem  29:55

No, it’s important because there must be some sense of both […] and feeling unfinished and continuing a connection right inside you. It’s helpful.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  30:10

It’s helpful, and so in your letter to David Bale, were you talking about things that were unsaid, or that you felt needed saying or reiterating or all of the above?


Gloria Steinem  30:23

That’s interesting, I’m not sure, I mean, I think I was speaking partly to what he wanted to continue and hadn’t been able to, also to his childhood, which had been a bit isolated in England, where he grew up and in South Africa, but it was a way of continuing a connection, just in case. Just in case, yeah, we can still be heard.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  30:54

I know my mother has said before, that when someone who’s close to you passes away in your life, it’s not that the relationship ends, it’s just that it changes.


Gloria Steinem  31:04

Yeah, right.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  31:05

And that’s, I find that to be a very comforting way to think about loss, it somehow cuts the loss in half. Because the you can envision that the relationship is still there. It’s just altered, right.


Gloria Steinem  31:22

And sometimes you can be helped by the relationship that’s gone by saying to yourself, as I used to say, to myself, what would Bella do?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  31:33

Yeah, right.


Gloria Steinem  31:34

Yeah, and it helps you to see alternatives.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  31:37

Yeah, exactly. So I know you had said that you wanted that you want to make your funeral a fundraiser, which by the way, I think is a grand idea. Is that actually part of your it’s I mean, what the hell? Is that part of your plan? Do you have a plan?


Gloria Steinem  31:54

No, I don’t have a plan. It’ll be up to whoever is around, charge whatever, right? No, it was I don’t think I want to demand money from people, in the end, right.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:08

Yeah, I get it, but you know, I pay I pay. If the funeral was a fundraiser for something that was critical for you, I would absolutely give money.


Gloria Steinem  32:17

Just a fundraiser, so maybe our funeral should be dances. That would be kind of great.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:22

A dance a blowout party, right?


Gloria Steinem  32:24

Right, that is the principle of the Irish wake, isn’t it?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:28

Yes it is.


Gloria Steinem  32:29

It is kind of yeah, have a party, right.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:32

A big party, which I’m in favor of. You’re a tap dancer Gloria?


Gloria Steinem  32:36

Yes I am. I still have my tap shoes upstairs.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:40

Do you do you still tap?


Gloria Steinem  32:42

No, I haven’t in a long time.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:44

But you have it.


Gloria Steinem  32:45

I could, I could.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  32:50

We’re going to take a short break right now. There’s more with Gloria Steinem on the other side.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  33:07

Hear you are your it seems imperfect health. You’re living this gorgeous life in New York. Do you have help? Are people helping you? Do you have? I mean, how does that work? You know, like do you have? I don’t know what the word is caregivers or is somebody there?


Gloria Steinem  33:25

Yes, I mean, it sort of happens, I mean, there’s a woman who came into my life when she was a student, Amy Richards, who’s the smartest person I know, who keeps an eye out for what’s happening in my life and household. And I’m very grateful to her tonight. I live in a brownstone, and there’s a friend who lives on the third floor. I have the first two floors, she lives on the third floor, which is also very helpful. Because just to know that there’s someone else I’m communicating with who’s in the same house is good.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  34:02

Yes, very good.


Gloria Steinem  34:04

I mean, I have the old editors of Ms. Magazine, we have lunch at least once a month.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  34:09

Oh, nice.


Gloria Steinem  34:10

So, you know, I haven’t chosen family.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  34:14

That’s nice.


Gloria Steinem  34:15

I mean, I have a sister who had six children, and children and so on.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  34:20

No way.


Gloria Steinem  34:20

But an older sister who’s no longer alive, but for six kids and their kids. And they live in DC or in Maryland. So I have relatives, but they’re not close enough so that we see each other regularly. So it’s really my family of friends whom I see.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  34:40

I think that that’s amazing that you chose not to have children and your sister tripled down on having children, right? That’s an interesting reaction to the childhood that you both had. Were you close with your sister?


Gloria Steinem  34:55

Yes, I mean, I was very it because she was nine years older, she looked after me, so she was kind of not a mother exactly, but definitely an older sister I looked up to.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  35:08

Oh, yeah, that’s nice. And by the way, that’s the other thing that is so amazing about your life story, that your grandmother was a suffragette? Did you know her?


Gloria Steinem  35:19

Yes, I knew both my grandmother’s a little bit.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  35:22

And did she, she didn’t talk about her work as a suffragette.?


Gloria Steinem  35:26

No, she didn’t, or maybe I was just too young, because it was my father’s mother. And maybe I was too young to have that conversation. But I didn’t know that she was an activist and admired person in the community that she had helped to start the first Vocational High School in Toledo. And that she had encouraged women to go to the polls in groups, because they were gangs of men and boys hanging around the poles so they wouldn’t be harassed. Yeah, women out of voting. And I think, I think maybe she addressed Congress once. I don’t know, I mean, she died when I was very young. And my other grandmother was not active in that political suffragist way. But she was nonetheless, very self willed and independent. And I had been married to a railroad engineer. So she had a free pass on the railroad, and she would go off to. You know, distant journeys from time to time.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  36:31

Yeah, I am so moved, when you write about humor and laughter, as somebody who lives in that world to a certain extent, when you say laughter is the only emotion that cannot be compelled. It’s the essence of humanity and freewill, an orgasm of the mind. And I would even argue that it is the most powerful tool to communication. And I’m thinking of when you were lecturing with Flo Kennedy, and speaking about feminism, and invariably, somebody would ask, and I’ll have you take it from there. If well, anyway, you go ahead, you tell the story, because it’s a great.


Gloria Steinem  37:13

I think, I think what you’re referring to is I mean, I, I traveled because I was for one thing afraid to speak by myself. So I always found a friend.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  37:23

Yeah, me too by the way, I love having somebody with.


Gloria Steinem  37:25

Dorothy Pitman Hughes or Florence Kennedy, who was a great civil rights lawyer. So in an audience, just an average audience, they would often be a hostile guy, who would stand up and say, are you lesbians? And Flo would always say, are you my alternative? Which was the perfect answer, because it made everybody laugh, and it didn’t tell him, you know, didn’t answer him.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  37:53

It didn’t answer him, which was appropriate. And it just completely took the air out of his vitriol. And that’s what I mean by a powerful tool. So not only does it shut him down, but it turns the energy of the room around completely, you know, it could have been very.


Gloria Steinem  38:13

I mean, I’m very grateful to the grid, Flo Kennedy and Dorothy Pitman, and the women I lectured with and learned so much from, and it’s ancient knowledge that laughter is important, because, I mean, in Native American culture, various cultures, there is a God of laughter. Who is neither male nor female, because the principle is, I think that laughter cannot be compelled. You can make someone cry or be angry or whatever but laughter is free. You can’t force somebody who doesn’t want to right.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  38:52

That’s right. It’s sacred in that.


Gloria Steinem  38:54

Yes, absolutely.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  38:56

Yeah ,and it’s also interesting to me, that I think men particularly, are often threatened by funny women. Do you agree with that?


Gloria Steinem  39:06

I think authority doesn’t want to be laughed at. So maybe men who cling to masculine authority don’t want to be left out, especially by women. That robs them of their power and their view.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  39:24

Do you think that women become more radical as they get older?


Gloria Steinem  39:28

I suppose nothing is true all the time. But I do think it’s possible that it’s often true, because we outlive the stereotypical expectations of marriage and family and this subordinate role if that’s still around, or, you know, I mean, I think just as we are maybe more ourselves when we’re before 10 or 11 years old, and we’re little girls who are climbing trees and saying, you know, I know I want I know what I think. And the feminine role hasn’t descended upon us yet. We may also be more ourselves at the other end of the feminine role. And I always think it would be great if an army of gray haired women could take over the earth.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  40:16

Well, then the Earth would be a safe place, in my view, you know.


Gloria Steinem  40:20

It really would, yeah.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  40:21

It would be much better, it would be much better. I certainly feel more radicalized as I’ve gotten older. And to your point, I feel freer have certain cultural burdens that felt heavier when I was younger, and maybe I don’t know, stuff gets clearer, doesn’t it? It gets clear.


Gloria Steinem  40:44

Have you written about that or spoken about that? Because I think it is helpful to share that because it’s not necessarily something we learn in school.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  40:53

Yeah, I’ve never written a book. And that’s not something I’ve tackled, I find that daunting. And I guess I’ve spoken about I mean, we talk about this on this show, the whole reason that I wanted to do this show is because I felt like there was a whole a true need to hear from older women, that it was a group of human beings that weren’t being listened to, in the way that they should be, and that we were, we’re missing this extraordinary opportunity to glean wisdom and information about life that we could find very useful. And I found this podcast, it’s emboldened to me, as a woman who is not getting younger.


Gloria Steinem  41:36

There’s nothing more helpful than sharing experience, and learning from each other and discovering we’re not alone, we’re not crazy, we’re together, and we can do a lot more than we can individually. It’s the nature of all political movements of civilization itself. And it’s especially necessary for any group that has less power than others in the same area is especially good for women. And I think it’s especially helpful if we’re in groups that kind of look like the country. So we’re not replicating a racial division.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  42:15

That’s right, yeah, that’s right. And what, what’s on your to do list?


Gloria Steinem  42:21

How long do we have?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  42:22

We have forever, oh.


Gloria Steinem  42:25

I owe my publisher a book of essays, which I vote for some time. And I keep answering my email and having meetings in my living room and doing things other than then doing that. But I really do want to do that I still value writing as a permanent way of communication. And I think the book is still kind of sacred being, but books have probably come to take up less power in our lives as we’ve been reading online, more and more.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  43:00

I know, but you know, I find that when I read online, like even the newspaper, for example, it doesn’t stick in my brain the same way. I need to hold it in my hands to have it stayed with me. In a sort of more impactful way. Speaking of reading, I see there’s a needlepoint pillow behind you. I’m wondering what that needlepoint pillow says that’s on my chair.


Gloria Steinem  43:21

I don’t know, what does it say? Oh, it says being on the best sellers list is the best revenge. And I think that’s because I wrote something that got bad reviews in the New York Times and then sold anyway, right.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  43:45

That’s very good. That’s very good, well, I hope that your next book of essays is actually on the bestseller list, I have no doubt that it will be. And before I let you go, can I ask you a couple of very quick questions that we sort of like to ask our guests at the end of a conversation? Is there something that you would go back and tell yourself at 21?


Gloria Steinem  44:08

Yes, I would just go back and put my arms around her and say it’s going to be all right. Because the pressures then given my age, the pressures then were especially to get married and have children and so on. And I was at that time just graduating from college and about to flee to India in order to make a different path, but I would just put my arms around her and say it’s going to be alright.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  44:35

Oh, that’s nice. And is there anything that you wish you could go back and say yes to?


Gloria Steinem  44:43

Gosh, that’s interesting. I actually don’t think springs to mind because I think I was a little addicted to yes. I hadn’t learned how to say no.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  44:57

So maybe you wish you […]


Gloria Steinem  44:59

Overdoing the yes thing.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  45:01

Overdoing, the yes got it. Is there anything you want to tell me about aging from where you sit right now? Is there anything you’d like to tell me?


Gloria Steinem  45:11

I think especially for women, the view of aging is more negative than it should be. And actually, it’s a time of freedom. It resembles the for the feminine role descended upon you, when you were a little girl climbing trees. As I was saying. Now you have the spirit back of the little girl climbing trees, but you have probably a house of your own room of your own, a little bit of, you know, way more ability to do what you love and care about and see the people you love. So aging as a time of freedom and reward is probably a bit of a revolutionary idea for women since we’ve been so corralled into the time of reproduction and raising kids, I suppose freedom and humor and rebellion and all kinds of great things waiting.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  46:08

I love it, I’m in the middle of a great rebellion, self rebellion, rebellion, period. That’s something to celebrate. Gloria Steinem, thank you so much.


Gloria Steinem  46:16

Thank you so much, thank you.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  46:19

I’m going to look you up when I’m in New York.


Gloria Steinem  46:22

Please, please come, yeah.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  46:23

I promise, I’m going to, I promise.


Gloria Steinem  46:25

That would be great.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  46:26

Okay, lots of love to you, too. Love to you too. Wow, how about that? Hi, listeners, okay, so I thought it would be cool to have my mom listen in on my conversation with Gloria because, you know, come on. It’s Gloria Steinem, and she was such a big force in my mom’s lifetime, and in my lifetime to it, obviously doesn’t hurt that they have the exact same birthday. So let’s pop back into the Zoom and see what she thought about it. So, mommy, this time, you’re able to listen in on the whole conversation with Gloria Steinem, oh, how about that?


Mommy  47:09

How about that? I mean, that is a moment in my life. I want to tell you a moment in my life, especially since we’re under the same sign, we’re both areas, and we’re actually […] to find out what time she’s born.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  47:22

Oh, fuck, well, I’m gonna go see her. I am in fact, gonna go and visit her in New York, so when I do that, I’ll ask her.


Mommy  47:31

I don’t know what time I was born, but I’ve got my birth certificate. And my little feet were this big.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  47:36



Mommy  47:37

Yeah, I loved it when she when she said, but I’m still here, yeah.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  47:42

Do you feel like Gloria Steinem was talking about? Do you feel a kind of? Rebellion of sort of, do you feel more radical at this age to a certain extent?


Mommy  48:00

Well, I can’t I don’t use the word radical, because that’s not really me. But what I feel is completely being honest to the situation to a situation. And so in a way, you know, that’s so like, and we’re in a new situation.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  48:19

Meaning in your new living situation where you just moved?


Mommy  48:22

Yeah, and if I’m in a committee, and something comes up that I just, you know, and outrage about or a question, I have no, no hesitation to absolutely put it on the line and say, you know, is that is that the tell me more about that, or to really pursue the things that I that were where I feel my pulse rise?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  48:44

Good, and do you? I mean, do you consider yourself a feminist?


Mommy  48:50

No, I mean, in that, yes, in my sympathies in my actions now, yes. But at the same time, that she’s talking about, no, I went along with the with the cultural expectation. And life kind of has brought me into feminism, but it’s not. I consider a feminist, one of these women that sort of took up the cause, and lived. And I did not take up the cause and live it. I’ve come to it. I’m sort of been broadsided by it. I mean, I totally believe in it. That’s nothing against feminists, and that’s, that shows that I was embedded in the.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:32



Mommy  49:33

Patriarchy. Yes, yeah.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  49:34

Well, actually, I have a question. So when I was born, you were teaching. And I remember that you tell the story of my dad. You were prior to your teaching you were an actor. Weren’t you trying to pursue? Didn’t didn’t, daddy well I’ll tell you that he didn’t want you taking acting jobs, am I?


Mommy  50:04

Oh, yeah, that was in college, I mean, that was just from the get go, hey, no acting?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  50:12

Uh huh, and why was that? Did he ever articulated, what was your understanding of why he didn’t want you to perform?


Mommy  50:20

Well, it was in in college, and so I thought that was going to be the end of it anyway, I never. I mean, at one point, I had auditioned for the Royal Academy. And that was my sophomore year. And if I had gotten that, I think I would have left Duke and I would have whatever, but I didn’t get it. Then, so but your dad did not like me to be in, in acting. He didn’t like it. Because you said that, that if you’re an actor, all you did was say other people’s words. That’s it’s a stupid thing to do. And but I think that also, there wasn’t that he was jealous of other attention that came about by jealous of the time that it took. So I think that’s, and I think I knew that, but that was just something that I just managed and wasn’t in plays all the time. But that, that it was almost like I had a promise that it’s going to end now. You know, when when when I graduated.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  51:20

Got it, so you didn’t try it, you didn’t try to pursue it after graduation?


Mommy  51:25

I did after he and I separated.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  51:27



Mommy  51:30

But in I would say a truly half assed way. I mean, I was not, you know, I didn’t really have training I didn’t have I didn’t have anybody supporting me giving me confidence in doing it. I was just sort of out there in some some wild and flailing way. So I never never got never really did anything with it.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  51:57

Would have been fun if you could have gotten into Lee Strasberg class in New York. Can you imagine that?


Mommy  52:03

Well, I was in a class in New York. And it was that he was a small actor. And I can’t remember his name now. But he was. It was it was fun to be in the class, yeah.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  52:17

So you took classes anyway?


Mommy  52:19

Yes, but I always felt self conscious in the classes. I never talked about authenticity. I never felt, I always felt like I was acting. Yeah, that was not that way at Duke at Duke, I felt authentic. And afterwards, I felt like I was just yeah. Pretend you’re taking a shower, you know?


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  52:45

Well, what you just did is not I would say you might want to go back to the drawing board on that depiction of taking a shower. My mother is just patting her shoulders and going like this as if that’s how you.


Mommy  53:02

Oh, please get me out of here.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  53:08

Now you’ve done your depiction of taking a shower and I’m giving you the Academy Award for that. And, and now you can thank the academy and say goodbye to me.


Mommy  53:21

Goodbye, I’d like to thank all the people that made this. I mean, they made it happen, bye.


Julia Louis-Dreyfus  53:27

Bye, I love you.


CREDITS  53:41

There’s more Wiser Than Me with Lemonada Premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content from each episode of the show. Subscribe now in Apple podcasts. Make sure you’re following Wiser Than Me on social media. We’re on Instagram and Tiktok at @WiserThanMe, and we’re on Facebook at Wiser Than Me podcast. Wiser Than Me is a production of Lemonada Media. Created and hosted by me Julia Louie Dreyfus. This show is produced by Kryssy Pease, Jamela Zarha Williams, Alex McOwen, and Hoja Lopez. Brad Hall is a consulting producer, Rachel Neil is VP of new content and our SVP of weekly content and production is Steve Nelson. Executive Producers are Paula Kaplan, Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and me. The show is mixed by Johnny Vince Evans with engineering help from James Sparber. And our music was written by Henry Hall, who you can also find on Spotify or wherever you listen to your music. Special thanks to Will Schlegel, and of course, my mother Judith Bowles. Follow Wiser Than Me wherever you get your podcasts. And if there’s a wise old lady in your life, listen up.

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