Feminist icon Gloria Steinem and Apne Aap President Ruchira Gupta were greeted with warm applause as they took the stage on the first afternoon of the 2014 Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this month. During their hour-long conversation, the two women discussed modern day patriarchy, the global issue of sex-trafficking and prostitution, the trauma of body invasion, and the power of sorority and friendship. Steinem also spoke of her new book, As If Women Matter: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader, which was edited by Professor Gupta and addresses many of the topics touched upon at the literary festival.
The conversation began by problematizing the institution of pornography. Steinem states, “pornography is a function of injustice” in the way that it subjugates women while also perpetuating racist and classist ideology. In her book, Steinem juxtaposes pornography with eroticism, stating that the latter “contains the idea of love and mutuality, positive choice and the yearning for a particular person,” while the pornography implies “a form of sexual slavery.”
Steinem went on to discuss reproductive freedom, the importance of intersecting social movements, and the way in which her time spent in India as a young woman influenced her later in life. “India made me who I am today, I hope you’re satisfied,” she joked.
On a more serious note, Gupta and Steinem also addressed the policy debate of legalizing or criminalizing prostitution. Steinem offered a solution in what she calls “the third way” which would decriminalize the victims of prostitution, and penalize and educate the customers. She ended the discussion by reminding the audience that, “the means don’t justify the end, the means are the end” – a Gandhian principle of non-violence that is also encouraged by Apne Aap.
Gloria Steinem’s new book As If Women Matter: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader is now available for purchase through Rupa Publications.