Gloria Steinem: Can Men Do What Women Do?


This is famed feminist Gloria Steinem on The Colbert Report. Over at Feministing, Chloe Angyal summarized Steinem’s appearance :

She suggested that changing the way we think about masculinity is one of feminism’s great remaining challenges. After decades of feminism, she said, “we know that women can do what men and can do… But we don’t know that men can do what women can do.” And that needs to change, because “it’s really important that kids grow up knowing that men can be as loving and nurturing as women can.”

As Colbert says, yes, men can’t do what women can do. We can’t have babies! But Steinem really generalizes a bit too much here. We know that men can do what women can do—generally, that dads can care for their kids, too—just look right here. We talk about it every day on this site.

While not everyone has bought into this, and some people probably never will, men are doing things women “used to do.” It’s just that not everyone has realized that it’s actually happening—and many of those who have can’t handle it. Every day, men are, as Steinem hopes for, making sure our kids know that dad isn’t just the guy who comes home from work, watches football, and spanks you when you talk back to mom.

What do you think? Disagree with Steinem’s sentiments? Let us know in the comments.

About Ryan O'Hanlon

Ryan O'Hanlon is the managing editor of the Good Men Project. He used to play soccer and go to college. He's still trying to get over it. You can follow him on Twitter @rwohan.


  1. id argue that in the west, it is men who have changed more than women(im speaking of het men and het women).
    according to feminists there was/is a patriarchy. the laws regarding gender equality were changed by men under this ‘patriarchy’. yet ‘patriarchy ‘didnt sue for a peace after a war of conquest by women. It was men who decided to change the laws and change more. men became more accepting of masculinity in women

    and as one poster gleefully said to tom matlock in a recent thread. there are no longer any men-only spheres (save gay men ones, and het women have tried to penetrate *guffawguffaw* their way into there too).
    however there are still plenty of het women-only spheres, that are guard jealously.

    it is past time for them as a group to get to grips with becoming more accepting of the ‘performances’ of femininity in het men.
    unlike lesbians, like gay men and het men, we do not see the acceptance of masculine through to feminine expressions. femininity however it is expressed eg. clothing or manner in het men – well there is a miniscule market for it.
    time for het women as a group to look in the mirror and ask why they so despise femininity in men.

    het men became more accepting of masculinity in women
    het women have yet to become more accepting of femininity in men

    • You know, you may have a point there. It is very possible that het women have contributed to the social pressure preventing men from expressing their femininity. I’m going to chew on that one for awhile. Thanks!

  2. As a young husband and father, I applauded feminists including Steinem who encouraged us to aspire to be “as loving and nurturing as women.” Since then, we’ve gained women warriors and bosses and politicians who’ve shown they can be as tough and mean as men. What a far cry from the kinder, gentler progress I imagined!

  3. “Masculinity” doesn’t exist. It is a social construct designed to keep men straight-jacketed into a stifling existence apart from their sexual and emotional health.

    • I don’t know why this was thumbed down because it’s true. Both masculinity and femininity are social constructs designed to create gender roles. Just as there is nothing inherently feminine about the color pink or inherently masculine about the color blue, there is nothing inherently feminine about being nurturing (as if to imply masculinity is the opposite), or inherently masculine about being tough (as if to imply femininity is the opposite). To classify traits as feminine or masculine and then saying, ‘oh, but you can flip-flop between the two’ is still toxic because it implies femininity is everything masculinity is not and masculinity is everything femininity is not. That’s still binding.

      People just need to be people and stop acting like we need these distinctive roles to separate ourselves from the opposite sex. We don’t. What we need is traits that separate us from everyone else, that make you you.

  4. It would be nice if we could get away from the binary system and just have everybody working toward being a well-rounded individual. I know that staying in my wheel-house and doing what is socially acceptable doesn’t teach me anything. It rewards me, but it doesn’t challenge me.

  5. I think one of the reasons ‘masculinity’ (certainly in the West), it the broadest sense of both terms, is so difficult for Western feminists and women’s rights advocates to engage with, is that white men have not had a visible debate amongst themselves about what it might mean to embody and promote productive modern masculinities – and there isn’t enough (to my mind) criticism from men who are engaged in these debates of the dynamics which promote stale and destructive masculine identities – the game theory approaches to dating, the lack of criticism of institutional protection of sports stars who engage in harmful off field behaviour etc.

    It’s hard for feminists to work with men toward equality, when women critical of these silences are badged with being ‘anti men’ on the one hand, and have no popularly referable body of men’s work to drawn on in the public domain (outside academia and this site).

    This is not the say there is no productive men’s movement, or discussion among men about masculine identity and men’s relationships with women (yes, bear with my hetronormativity for the moment), but it hasn’t coalesced into a coherant set of debates which can be mobilised in a discussion. Feminisms are at least now referable in different schools, and priorities for action etc.

  6. Irena Komnenos says:

    Chauvinism, NOT masculinity, is the problem. Gloria Steinem is from a totally different generation, and I feel that she is misjudging American men of today.

    Culture has a lot to do with the way men treat women. As politically incorrect as this sounds, white American males are legions ahead of most others. I am sorry to say, but Latino men and black men are still more chauvinistic on average than white guys.

    Being a feminist does not mean you cannot acknowledge differences between males and females. Just because I work, share chores with my husband, and manage my own finances does not mean I do not appreciate strength, chivalry, and virility (the positive masculine qualities).

    • no in gloria’s case i suspect masculinity is the problem. i suspect like mary daly she wants not to share it, but steal it completely from men

  7. She suggested that changing the way we think about masculinity is one of feminism’s great remaining challenges. After decades of feminism, she said, “we know that women can do what men and can do… But we don’t know that men can do what women can do.” And that needs to change, because “it’s really important that kids grow up knowing that men can be as loving and nurturing as women can.”
    I have to say as a man that has tried to think of gender in different ways and has had his own interactions with feminism this comes off as a bit off putting. I’m of the mind that if there wasn’t such resistance to men among some feminists masculinity wouldn’t but one of feminism’s “great remaining challenges”. To me it feels like they intentionally kept masculinity (and men in general) on the back burner for as long as they could and now that they see some importance in working with masculinity (and by extension men) it is NOW the time to finally start addressing it.

  8. I went to see Gloria Steinem speak in Santa Fe a couple of years ago, and my ears perked up when she made the point that it’s not enough that women do men’s work; men have to do what women traditionally do. I’ve had what I like to call an unconventional conventional marriage since 1993, where my husband stays home with the kids and otherwise devotes his time to our house and property while I work fulltime outside the house. In those years I can count on one hand the number of couples I’ve met that have similar set-ups. It’s a personal decision; I’m not being judgmental. But I have been surpised. I thought I’d meet many more along the way. There us a lit of societal pressure–expectation–especially that says a man shouldn’t stay home with the kids. Believe me, I get it all the time from many who somehow think my husband is getting by with something. Yet it’s ok for women to take on that role. I think this is what Gliria is talking about. Once that caretaking role is valued so much that if men do it, it’s seen as acceptable–then we have reached equality!

    • That ‘societal pressure’ is better described by phrases like: “high cost of living” “job insecurity” and “moribund union movement.” Indeed, without a strong union in my industry, I wouldn’t have received the severance package that made it possible for me to be a stay-at-home-dad when my daughter arrived. Nor would her mother been able to support a family of four in the Bay Area if she were a non-union nurse.

      It is, of course, essential that traditional sex-roles be questioned vigorously and visibly. But, so long as movments like the feminist movment eschew class-conflict and refuse to make it front-and-center, favoring embourgeoisment as an alternative, all the encouragement of men to nurure that you can muster will be the proverbial fart in the tornado.

  9. I am not a big fan of Ms. Steinem, but in this case I think she is onto something. (I like to think I can look at someone’s work on an idea-by-idea basis, no matter how much I may disagree with other parts. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.)

    She has said many times that the assumption that women are more nurturing than men is something that holds women back at the same time that it hurts men. The idea that children are better off being raised by women than men is something that feeds many women’s guilt when they work outside the home. It lets some men (I said SOME men) off the hook when they should really be trying harder to be good parents. Women would be more free in their lives if they were more open to the idea that men can be just as nurturing as women.

    Of course, women give birth and produce breastmilk, and men don’t. (Well, actually a tiny percentage of men do lactate, and many mothers do not breastfeed for all sorts of reasons, but bear with me here.) I think it’s a huge leap to go from there to say that women should be the primary childcare workers for the 18 years after that. Nine months plus some breastfeeding means you’re set for the rest of your life as the main parent? Doesn’t make sense to me.

    And, the fact that babies only gestate in women is something that technology will probably change at some point. For better or worse, but I would never say it will never happen.

    • P.S. I meant to say that only women can give birth, not to suggest that it’s something that all women do. Obviously not all women do, and a growing percentage do not.

    • I second your comment here. My thoughts, except for the bit about techno pregnancies. I don’t even want my mind to go there. Ah!! Pregnancy is too beautiful.

  10. When the vast majority of men have been primary caretakers for a few more decades, at the expense of their earning power and general regard in society, I’ll disagree with Gloria.

    • Wow, talk about oversimplification.

      You’re making it sound like all women have been forced to stay home and be the primary caregivers for their children. As if they’re chained to their homes with leg irons. But you’re discounting the fact that many women choose to be the primary caregivers, while their husbands are the primary breadwinners working long hours at the expense of their time with their families.

      Not to mention studies such as the one this website mentioned recently that 34% of all women surveyed said they would NEVER consider being the primary breadwinner so their husbands/boyfriends could stay home and be primary caretaker.

      Gloria Steinem may not be all wrong, but she’s far from all right.

    • I would agree with you if women didn’t continue to choose to be the ones to give birth and be the primary caretakers.

  11. No, Gloria, women can’t do eveything that men do. Women can’t impregnate a woman and can’t be fathers nor can men give birth or be mothers. Nature obviously planned for children to have one of each. No matter what she says that will never change.


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