For her latest project in pursuit of equality, Gloria Steinem is turning to television.
The feminist activist and author makes her debut Tuesday as producer and host of Woman, a documentary series on the Viceland network about gender-based violence and injustice around the world.
The series came out of a discussion with Vice Media chief Shane Smith, Steinem said. They met at a Google camp in Sicily, Italy, two years ago, and when she told him how violence against women predicts and normalizes violence at all levels of society, he “responded in a very heartfelt way.”
The result is eight short documentaries, all by young female journalists, each focused on an issue threatening women in a particular region of the world. The first episode looks at the epidemic of rape as a tool and symptom of war in Congo, with more than 1.8 million victims over the last 20 years. Future installments explore female guerrilla fighters in Colombia, child brides in Zambia, the murder of indigenous women in Canada and mothers behind bars in the United States.
Steinem, 82, talked with The Associated Press about the show and how she stays hopeful after six decades of activism. The interview has been edited and condensed.
What did you say to Shane Smith that made him insist you do a show?
I was talking about violence against females in the world and the degree to which, first of all, it normalizes other violence. It tends to be what we see first in our families or in the streets. If not violence, then control or aggression, and it makes us feel that it’s inevitable that one group will be born to be dominant over another. … So it normalizes the idea of dominance. … And it turns out to be the biggest indicator — more than poverty, more than degree of education, religion, access to natural resources, even degree of democracy — violence against females is the biggest indicator of whether a country will be violent in itself or be willing to use military violence against another country.
How did you decide what to focus on for these eight episodes?
We were clear that we wanted to include every continent. We didn’t want to make it seem as though problems of violence were limited to one part of the world. They take different forms in different parts of the world. We looked at what was most prevalent or important to the women’s movements in that country.
Will you make more?
The challenges facing some of the women you show are upsetting, but you’ve said the series makes you feel less helpless. Why?
We have to know before we can act, and the very fact that this is allowing millions of people to have the experience of walking around and talking to people and listening is a step forward in itself. We know from many forms of suffering that what is important first is a witness — people want to know that someone else knows what’s happening, that they’re not alone — and someone who listens to what is needed and tries to help. So this is a chance for all of us — me, too — to be a witness, and we will put enough different ways of helping so we hope viewers will be able to find a way to help that fits into their lives.
What real, concrete changes have you seen in your fight for feminism?
We now know, deeply and in the majority, that the old discriminatory systems are crazy, we are not crazy. We now know that racism is not real, it’s made up, it’s cruel, it can be stopped. We know sexism is not inevitable. It’s only about controlling reproduction and therefore controlling women. If we have reproductive freedom, that is the ability to decide for ourselves when and whether to have children and what happens to our bodies, it can be reversed. It’s the understanding that it’s not inevitable. I think that is crucial.
Woman premieres Tuesday, May 10, at 9 p.m. CT on Viceland, with selected episodes available at viceland.com.