Gloria Steinem challenges the assumption she is an “unfulfilled” child-free woman

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In the latest episode of the How To Fail podcast, Gloria Steinem and Elizabeth Day discuss the societal assumptions and judgments faced by child-free women.

Gloria Steinem needs no introduction. Known widely as “the world’s most famous feminist”, Steinem has been a lead activist and spokesperson in the women’s rights movement since the 60s. 

Most recently, she has been a key character in hit new TV show Mrs America, which sees Rose Byrne playing Steinem during the time she launched the groundbreaking Ms. magazine (although it’s worth noting that Steinem has said she isn’t completely happy with the series). 

At the age of 86, she continues to build upon her incredible legacy of pioneering work for progression. As part of this, she has just appeared on the How To Fail podcast with Elizabeth Day, discussing everything from using fear as a tool for personal growth, the complicated relationship with her parents and how to measure success.

The whole interview is of course a fascinating and inspiring listen (you should really plug into it during your lunch hour). But there is one thread of conversation that tackles an issue still shrouded in stigma in 2020: a woman’s decision to be child-free

Day talks about “trying and failing” to have children on several occasions, then tells Steinem: “I need women like you to be in the public eye saying that they don’t have children and are OK with it.” 

She asks: “Was this an active decision or did it just never happen?” 

“It wasn’t a decision in the beginning: remember I was growing up in the 1950s, not even the 60s, so I assumed women had to marry and have children, that there wasn’t an option,” Steinem replies.

“There were a lot of years that I just kept putting it off into the future, ‘Oh yes I’m going to do that, just not at this moment’. 

“Fortunately, the women’s movement came along and said ‘wait a minute not all women have to live the same way: you have a choice’. 

“And I just discovered that I was happy as I am. So I think I was in a more privileged position in a way, definitely more than you were because I didn’t have an unfulfilled wish, I just discovered I was OK with the way I was living.”

The pair go on to discuss the “insidious sexism in medicine”, such as the language used in fertility treatment, which suggests the “woman is defected” if she cannot have children. “Are men told their sperm are ‘incompetent’?” asserts Steinem, who says society needs to stop “assigning blame” in infertility conversations. 

Asked if she has any regrets about not having a child, Steinem immediately replies: “Not for a millisecond, no. This is so deep and individual, so I respect what you were saying: we all have different kinds of regrets but that is not a regret I have.”

Acknowledging the judgment she has faced, Steinem continues: “I think so, in a way that people assume I must be unhappy or unfulfilled. Not everyone but some people I think assume that… in a way that they wouldn’t assume about a man.”

You can listen to the full How to Fail podcast episode with Gloria Steinem now.

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…