Yesha Callahan

Gloria Steinem: “I Learned Feminism From Black Women”

Getty Images

Getty Images

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem is keeping it all the way real about the role black women have played in the feminist movement and her own feminist education.

In a December interview with Bust, Steinem spoke candidly about the classification of feminism as a strictly “white middle-class” movement. To Steinem, feminism has always been about intersectionality.

“Nothing in this country is not affected by racism and sexism and class, it’s not as if one can be exempt from those influences,” she said. “But in my experience, the women’s movement was less subject to them than any other large group that I’ve been part of. We all have different experiences and this probably wasn’t true from everyone, but I learned feminism disproportionately from black women.”

The 81-year-old activist has spoken straightforwardly in the past about the key role black women and other women of color have played in the feminist cause. Last year, she even stated that she feels as though black women “invented the feminist movement.”

Steinem’s acknowledgement of the importance of black and queer women in feminism is important. The debate about the ways in which “white feminism” downright disregards women of color and the issues they face will continue but this is a reminder that true feminism is inclusive of all women and all of the battles they fight on a daily basis in an effort to improve the world in which we live in for all women, for years to come.

How do you define feminism?

  1. January 7, 2016 - Reply

    This is where I am confused. If one of the leading figures of the second wave of feminism has long lauded the influence that black women have had on her and the making of her views on feminism, then why aren’t more black women being seen as a leading face of feminism?? Not to diminish Gloria, but for every Gloria there is bell hooks, Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, heck even Amber Rose that can be seen as a leading figure in the movement (albeit at different times)!! I am glad that Gloria is getting the word out about black women, but is she prepared to see that black women fully get their due in the work they have done for feminism??

    • January 7, 2016 - Reply

      @John Bradford

      Because of the racism many black women dealt w/ in the 60s w/ trying to be apart of Feminist campaigns they instead started “Womanism”.
      This was started by Alice Walker. Google it 🙂

      • January 7, 2016 - Reply


        see also Africana-Womanism coined by Clenora Hudsom Weemss

  2. January 7, 2016 - Reply

    Feminism or any movement has to be intersectional and about lifting all boats. Being single-issue isn’t a luxury; being single issue about anything – race, gender, whatever means trying to gain privilege instead of trying to gain justice, in a method reminiscent of the Third Expansion of Whiteness, where Southern Europeans and poor whites were artificially pitted against people of color between 1920 and 1965.

    Kudos to Steinem for having more depth than I had previously realized.

  3. January 7, 2016 - Reply

    There is no liberation unless there is the recognition of the intersectionality of humanity. Oppression occurs in the forms of sexism, racism, classism, etc. Women, in general, have been the victims of oppression and discrimination for thousands of years. All women should have justice without exception. Liberty deals with human autonomy. No one owns our bodies, but us is a simple way of defining human autonomy. People know about Gloria Steinem. She admitted that she once worked for a CIA front group decades ago. The CIA has been involved in coups and terrorism since its inception (from 1947). That’s another story for another time. Now, her words about black women founding the feminist movement are accurate. Feminism to me is that promotion of the social equality among all in the human family, nothing more or less. Womanism came about as a way for black women to stand up against the sexist and evil system of racism/white supremacy. Bell Hooks and other great Sisters have written excellent literature on feminism and womanism. When black people have liberation, the rest of the human race will have liberation in essence. So, the diverse forms of injustice must be recognized and opposed. We have to stand up for what is right and continue to express the accurate point that we are all in this together. We want liberty and justice for all.

  4. January 7, 2016 - Reply

    Great. So what have you also done for the cause of black women in the US Gloria?

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