Steinem: Women's rights are a movement still in its infancy

Most women Gloria Steinem's age are coming to Florida to escape: read a book on the beach, shop, warm up from the chill of the North.

Not Steinem.

She's here to work, specifically for the rights of those women with their books on the beach, as well as their daughters and granddaughters.

Feminism's matriarch for the baby-boomer generation will address a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood of Collier County health services Saturday. Steinem's message: Women's rights, including those championed by Planned Parenthood, aren't on solid ground yet.

"From a megahistorical point of view, most historical movements have to be out for a half a century to become established. The feminist movement is just reaching that point now," she said.

There's another anniversary this month, one that puts the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in the forefront. Since the court's decision legalizing abortion 40 years ago, hundreds of bills, rules and requirements have been introduced, continually restricting it. It's a plan, as Charmaine Yoest, head of Americans United for Life, explained it in a recent interview, of "hollowing out Roe even without the Supreme Court. That's really where our strategy is so solid."

It's been a little less than a year since a report from Yoest's group to Congress started a chain reaction that prompted the Susan G. Komen Foundation to pull its funding for cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood. The ensuing furor persuaded the Komen Foundation to reverse its decision. But Steinem said that organization has never earned her support.

"They don't talk about prevention of cancer. They talk about treatment and detection but not how to prevent it in the first place," she said.

"We know 80 percent of cancers are environmentally caused," she continued, citing a recent study from the National Cancer Institute. "They're pretty quiet about that. I prefer to put my support behind organizations that are working on cancer prevention as well as treatment."

Steinem is an internationally known lecturer and writer — her words are so well-chosen there are pages on the Internet devoted to her bon mots. (Most famous: "A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" and "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off."

Her work has been in public campaigning as well in print.

Steinem is on the threshold of releasing a collaborative documentary on violence against women — in the U.S. as well as around the world.

She quotes FBI statistics, saying more women have been killed by their male partner in the U.S. than people of both genders were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the 9/11 attacks, combined.

As ugly as violence has been in headline stories, such as the recent gang rape and murder on an Indian bus, the statistics of daily assaults here are chilling.

And she has no good news for gun owners, quoting report from an FBI study: "A house with a gun in it is much more likely to be where there's domestic violence."

Recently, she has campaigned for President Barack Obama to appoint a woman to head the Federal Communications Commission, one of the potential player agencies in the fight against violence in the media.

Steinem suggests current chatter from pop stars such as Katy Perry — "I'm not a feminist, but I believe in the strength of women" — proves they need a better acquaintance with the dictionary.

Merriam-Webster's definition calls it "theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes," but it's been given the cache of prunes by its enemies, Steinem said.

"The word has been quite thoroughly demonized by Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk show hosts. They've constantly characterized it in ways that make it sound ugly and unfulfilling," she said.

If you go

What: “The Choice Affair,” a dinner for Planned Parenthood to support its health-care services for women, men and teens in Collier County

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 2

Where: Naples Beach Hotel, 851 Gulf Shore Blvd. N., Naples

Tickets: $350; reservations

To buy: 239-262-8923

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