When it comes to watching television, Gloria Steinem is no fan of the "Real Housewives."
"I think the worst are the 'Housewives' shows, because they present women as rich, pampered, dependent and hateful towards each other," the feminist icon said at Simmons College in Boston on Friday, 40 years after the school honored her with a doctorate in human justice.
But Steinem said "there are things less bad than other things" on TV these days. She enjoys musical variety shows because "at least they show a variety of people," and likes the direction in which Lena Dunham's HBO series is going.
"I only saw the first couple episodes of Girls, so I can't speak to all of it, but I think it was much more realistic as to how girls look and dress and talk, and that all sex is not wonderful," Steinem said. "Some of it is silly and boring. It felt much more realistic to me."
The Ms. Magazine co-founder spoke before a crowd of 500 about the struggles she faced as a young journalist ("I would ask to see a politician and they would forward me to the politician's wife") as well as the influence of violence against women on gender roles and reproductive rights. She emphasized that despite how far the women's movement has come in the last 40 years, there's still much more to be done. But pushing the movement forward doesn't mean condemning the women who choose to "opt out" of the workforce, quitting their careers early on in order to be stay-at-home mothers. It's not a choice she's opposed to, Steinem said. In fact, if that's their choice, then so be it.
"I think we'd have to ask each individual woman," Steinem answered. "This endless accumulation of money by insecure men with holes in their chests… why? If somebody opts out of that I say fine, it's up to them. I don't think we can judge an individual without knowing what they really want to do, nor can we say that opting into things as it exists is helpful."
What really needs to change, Steinem said, is the way we educate young men to believe that accumulating wealth and power is a suitable measure of their self-worth.
"You have to be raised to be incomplete," said Steinem. "It's the nature of telling men they have to have X amount of power to be masculine, or that women have to attach to those men. It's not human nature. It has everything to do with how we raise kids. Are they secure in and of themselves? Are they doing something they really enjoy and love? Then they won't turn into Donald Trump."
Steinem answered questions from several Simmons students in the enthusiastic crowd, many of whom were interested in understanding how identifying as a feminist had taken on negative connotations. That's for people who misunderstand the word's meaning, Steinem said.
"The word 'feminist' has been demonized by the Rush Limbaugh's of the world, who call us feminazis," said Steinem. "It has been distorted. If you sent somebody to the dictionary, it does just mean the full social, economic, and political equality of males and females. And I would only add acting on it as well as believing in it."
Overall, Steinem told the crowd that equality for women is a vital component of helping America move forward.
"We cannot have democracy without feminism," said Steinem. "That's just not possible."
Megan Johnson is a writer in Boston. She is New England's premier Saved by the Bell scholar. She was also left on the school bus once.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.