I received a Land’s End catalog in the mail yesterday, the Spring 2016 issue (it must have come with Wednesday’s mail, but I only checked our mailbox yesterday morning). In it there is an interview with Gloria Steinem, who appears in an accompanying photoshoot wearing Land’s End clothing. I thought it was pretty neat, though I wondered if maybe that could be considered selling out a bit (promoting clothes to get one’s message across). So imagine my disgust upon finding out last night that Land’s End has pulled the interview from their website and has apologized for it, in addition to removing the possibility on their website for customers to donate to the ERA Coalition’s Fund for Women’s Equality through monogramming. This was apparently done over complaints made by pro-lifers (or, as I like to call them, anti-choicers). Frankly, I think Land’s End should apologize for its apology, both to the rest of its customer base and to Gloria Steinem (and I’m not the only one)! This has me so upset that I’ve decided to reprint the interview here, in case anyone wants to read it who isn’t subscribed to the paper catalog. Any typos are mine. Note that there really isn’t anything controversial in this interview, quite the contrary. Also note that the introduction sentence to this article makes Land’s End look particularly in the wrong to have retracted it.
Introducing the Legend Series, our ode to individuals who have made a difference in both their respective industries and the world at large. We honor them and thank them for paving the way for the many who follow.
Gloria Steinem – The Woman Who Paved the Way
By Federica Marchionni, CEO
In her new book, My Life on the Road, legendary writer, lecturer, editor and activist Gloria Steinem writes, “If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye.” I couldn’t help but recall these messages when I sat down with her to discuss her life, her lessons and her legacy.
FM: When I first came to the United States, I started using a quote of yours as my own. It said, “Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” In my opinion being a dreamer means that along the way you’ll have to be brave. And you have proved that throughout your life. Where did that courage come from?
GS: The rest of the quote was, “If our dreams weren’t already real inside of us, we couldn’t even dream them.” I don’t think this requires a great deal of courage because our dreams already have a kind of reality. If we don’t imagine what could be, we can’t reach for it. Dreams are bigger than goals; they’re more personal.
FM: So are you a rule breaker?
GS: I felt that there was an unjust, irrational situation, and that we were just trying to say what made sense, what was rational, what was equal or what was kind. I didn’t feel that I was being so brash at the time, just pointing out unfairness – as I would want someone to say to me if I was doing something unfair.
FM: The other thing that I see from your experience that’s very close to my philosophy is change. You changed the landscape, creating Ms. magazine. What was your first step?
GS: We were simply trying to create a women’s magazine that we read – one that addressed real issues in women’s lives and could also publish new fiction writers and new poets and news of women in other countries. We wanted to create something that would be like a helpful friend coming into your house once a month.
FM: What do you think the key challenges are for women in today’s workplace?
GS: It differs from woman to woman. For some, it’s trying to both look after children and have a work life. For others, it’s inequality in general. Every group of women is most effective when we’re working on that which we really understand and know. We just need to support each other while we’re doing it.
FM: As a mother myself, I am well aware of the challenges facing working parents today. I’m so proud that for many years Land’s End has offered a subsidized childcare center on our campus.
Indeed, there is still so much that we need to teach our daughters and our sisters, the ones coming behind us. What is the project you feel you have yet to complete; the one that you would like to make sure is passed on to those behind you?
GS: We’re still not part of the Constitution of the United States. One reason we need an Equal Rights Amendment is because nowhere in the Constitution does the word “women” appear. We need a constitutional principle of female equality. The Equal Rights Amendment would give us a constitution that prohibits gender discrimination. That’s why we started the ERA Coalition (www.eracoalition.org).
FM: Tell me more about it. What is it you’d like to achieve with this amendment?
GS: It’s a statement of principle. It just says that men and women have equal rights, and that equality under the law shall not be denied. From 1972 to 1982, we tried to get the Equal Rights Amendment into the Constitution, but we fell short by three states of getting it ratified. So now, there is a new national effort to remedy this situation in which discrimination against women is not mentioned in the Constitution. The Equal Rights Amendment would be good for men as well as women, and equality is a fundamental American value.
FM: I have always strived to lead with purpose and can’t help but be inspired by your incredible life; if there were one lesson you could bestow on those who look to you as their beacon, what would it be?
GS: The truth is that each person is a unique miracle, a combination of millennia of heredity and environment that could never have happened before in exactly the same way, and could never happen again in exactly the same way. Yet at the same time, we share everything as human beings. We can both find our unique voice and realize that as human beings, we are linked, not ranked.
FM: Thinking about Land’s End, for me, it’s a journey, one that compels you to take whatever roads lead you in your own direction. In your new book, My Life on the Road, you write, “Taking to the road – by which I mean letting the road take you – changed who I thought I was.” Who was it that you thought you were all those years ago? And who is it you believe yourself to be now?
GS: I meant that literally because I was a writer, and before that I had been a dancer – both professions in which you don’t have to talk. When I couldn’t get articles about the then new women’s movement to be published, in desperation, I began to speak about it instead – though I was terrified of public speaking. In that way, I discovered that something happens when we are all together in a room with all five senses that cannot happen on the printed page or the screen. Some literal magic happens when we are in the same space with one another. Our species would not have survived if we didn’t automatically feel the urge to help another member when they’re in trouble – because of that leap of empathy.
FM: That is one of the reasons I was so pleased to introduce you as our Legend. Making personal connections and speaking to our customers on a much deeper level is so important to me and to Land’s End. You have spent your life making deep connections with people across the globe.
For many of us, personal style is what gives us the confidence we need to make lasting impressions on the world. How has your own personal style given you confidence in your endeavors as you make first and lasting impressions every day?
GS: Thankfully, I had an instinct that told me I didn’t need to dress a certain way to accomplish my goals, even if I still felt slightly at fault for not being a “lady.” Still, it took me a while to find my own authentic style and not be seduced by any passing fashion.
You might say that Land’s End is helping people become themselves by choosing exactly what suits them, what feels comfortable, and is an expression of themselves. I think what Land’s End offers is authenticity and simplicity.
Fashion is what someone else tells you to wear, but style is about personal expression and freedom.
FM: Any final words of wisdom?
GS: What I always tell people is that the wisdom about our lives is already within us. I’m here less to give advice than to urge people to listen to themselves and to offer support to each other. Just ask yourself: What do you love to do so much that you forget what time it is while you’re doing it?
FM: I just want to thank you for joining us, on behalf of myself, the men and women at Land’s End, and our customers. Thank you for sitting down with me and for everything you have done with your meaningful life.
In honor of Gloria’s work, we’ll donate 50% of the monogram fee to the Fund for Women’s Equality for every ERA logo ordered. Add it to your choice of styles. Find out more at landsend.com.