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Feminist Icon Gloria Steinem at 90: ‘A Time of Freedom and Reward’

The activist talks to Julia Louis-Dreyfus about aging, grief and womanhood on the ‘Wiser Than Me’ podcast

spinner image Gloria Steinem and Julia Louis-Dreyfus on a blue background
(Left to right) Gloria Steinem and Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Stephen Lovekin/Variety/Penske Media via Getty Images; COURTESY: CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON/MAGNUM PHOTOS; Getty Images

Gloria Steinem thinks that older women, much like girls before the age of 11, get to experience the freedom of being who they truly are.

She says the “feminine role” hasn’t yet pressured girls at that age, and older women “may also be more ourselves at the other end of the feminine role” — already having passed the burden and expectations of the reproductive years.

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“I always think it would be great if an army of gray-haired women could take over the Earth,” the 90-year-old feminist icon says on the latest episode of the Wiser Than Me podcast. The podcast, hosted by actress and comedian Julia-Louis Dreyfus, 63, features renowned women over the age of 70 sharing their wisdom. (Previous episodes have included guests Anne Lamott and Debbie Allen.)

Steinem, whom Louis-Dreyfus calls “the most enduring symbol of feminism,” has been imparting her wisdom about and for the feminist movement to the masses since the 1960s through her written work and her social and political activism. She thinks there’s still more to be done.

“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,” she told Louis-Dreyfus.

Even at 90, Steinem says she’s continuing to use her power of persuasion as a writer, activist and speaker. Steinem revealed she still owes her publisher a collection of essays.

To age gracefully, Steinem says, it’s important for older women to band together in community to counterweight what is typically depicted in media: youth, beauty and whiteness. She says she surrounds herself with her chosen family, “a family of friends.”

Steinem shared with Louis-Dreyfus how she coped with grief following the loss of her friend and fellow activist former Rep. Bella Abzug, as well as her late husband, David Bale, who was a businessman, animal rights activist and father of actor Christian Bale.

“I’ve learned that it’s inevitable,” she says about grief. “And in a way it’s precious because it’s a measure of how important and loved those individuals were.” Steinem said she wrote letters to her late husband to process the grief, a practice that was important to her “because there must be some sense of both continuity and feeling unfinished and continuing a connection that’s inside you. It’s helpful.”

Steinem also revealed she’d like her own funeral to be a fundraiser — or a dance party. (She does have a love for tap dancing, despite not having danced in a long time, she said.) But her passion for empowering women still holds strong. She told Louis-Dreyfus she wants women to know the power that comes with age.

“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, so there’s freedom and humor and rebellion and all kinds of great things waiting,” says Steinem.

​​Episodes of the Wiser Than Me podcast are released every Wednesday. The next episode of Season 2 will feature actress and singer Julie Andrews. The podcast is available on all major platforms.​

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