Cosmopolitan editor in chief Joanna Coles flashed her feminist cred on Wednesday night when she interviewed Gloria Steinem, whom she called “the world’s most famous feminist,” at Hearst Tower here in New York.
Steinem, who is publicizing her book “My Life on the Road,” talked presidential politics, notably Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the problem with advertising and media today, and women’s issues.
Coles warmed up the crowd, which included Hearst employees and outside media, with an overview of what Steinem’s Ms. magazine covered, such as gender inequality, domestic violence and sexual health. The Cosmopolitan editor referenced an eye-catching Ms. headline: “If men could menstruate?”
“And I’m so glad they can’t because we know some of the men and Hearst and the idea of any of them with PMS is very frightening,” Coles said, wryly.
The editor dove in on the subject of women in politics, asking if Carly Fiorina is “good or bad for feminism.”
“Good for feminism because she demonstrates that it’s not about biology, it’s about consciousness. Bad for feminism because she doesn’t represent the majority interests, even according to public opinion polls of women in this country,” said Steinem, who evaluated the presidential candidate’s chances of winning. “There’s always someone who looks like you and behaves like them.”
Coles made the point that the fact there are “two serious female candidates” in the presidential race is illustrative of an advancement in women’s rights, to which Steinem rejoined: “No, we have one serious female candidate.”
A Clinton supporter, Steinem talked about her friend’s implementation of women in her foreign policy, and argued that her campaign was “quite good” — an 8 out of 10 — this time.
“You’d give it that much?” interjected Coles, who would later reveal that she had trouble with Clinton as the first female president because she was “married to a former president,” namely Bill Clinton.
“I think she should have a button that says: ‘I wasn’t born a Clinton,’” retorted Steinem. But that explanation wasn’t enough for Coles, who still expressed her unease with the legitimacy of Clinton’s rise to president.
“I do wish that the George Bush — the first Bush — didn’t have a son, but if it’s OK to be a son, it’s OK to be a spouse,” said Steinem, who referred to the Bush family.
“I just think it would be nice to have other women on the bench,” said Coles, “and to have a woman go into the White House free of the baggage that she will take with her.”
“But she is free,” Steinem replied. “How many women do we know who hang on to their husband’s baggage?”
Coles questioned that, but pulled back, perhaps in fear of becoming the subject of the interview, or worse yet, giving Clinton a reason to keep Cosmopolitan off her public relations tour in the coming year.
Lighter moments came when Steinem was asked to weigh in on Trump’s candidacy, to which she said: “In real life, Donald Trump was born on third base and he thinks he hit a triple.”
She noted that “even putting on a baseball cap over his weave” isn’t fooling anyone of his legitimacy as a presidential candidate.
The Ms. magazine cofounder also commented on the state of journalism and the media business.
“What worries me the most is that there are more public relations journalists than journalists. There are more people devoted, arguably, to not telling the truth or shading the truth or not telling the truth or whatever, and not reporting the truth,” she said, adding that the lack of fact checking on the Web is also a concern.
On the state of the media business, Steinem commented on how advertising is dictating editorial more. She noted that in her Ms. days, women’s magazines ran poetry and fiction, even though advertisers “didn’t want to” have their ads near it.
“We started to be more profitable when we stopped taking advertising,” Steinem offered. “What the readers wanted and what the advertisers wanted were not the same thing,”
Coles deflected the question. “Is there anyone from the publishing side you would like to respond to that?” There wasn’t.