Gloria Steinem: 'Cool Men Don't Buy Sex'

Well Known Feminist Activist Joins Ruchira Gupta in Asia Society Discussion on Sex Trafficking

Gloria Steinem and Ruchira Gupta at Asia Society New York. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

NEW YORK, March 3, 2014 — When we christened our series Asia: Beyond the Headlines a little over a year ago, the concept and goals were simple: Bring a high-profile issue to our audiences; bring top-flight guests to discuss and debate the issue; and have a great moderator lead the event.

This week in New York, we had an installment of the series that succeeded on all counts. The issue — the nightmare that is the global trafficking of women (a $32 billion industry, by some estimates, involving girls as young as 7); the guests, the great Indian advocate Ruchira Gupta and American icon of advocacy Gloria Steinem; the moderator, our president Josette Sheeran.

Steinem said she had first come to this issue decades ago, when a Minneapolis cab driver told her his daughter had been a victim of what he called the “Minnesota pipeline,” a trafficking scheme that brought blonde, blue-eyed girls from that state to New York City. Soon after, Steinem learned of the landmark work Gupta was doing in India to fight this scourge, and she wanted to learn more.

It was “vintage Gloria,” Gupta recalled on our stage. “Here is Gloria Steinem, asking ‘Would you have time to meet me?’” Before long, Steinem and Gupta were seeing the problem up-close, via rickshaw in Delhi, and working in tandem to spread the word, and lobby for change.

In terms of global solutions, Steinem stressed the need to decriminalize prostitution, punish or shame the johns, and be mindful that few women enter prostitution by choice. “It’s really not Pretty Woman, in my experience,” she said, referring to the film and Julia Roberts’ portrayal of a prostitute who falls in love with a rich client.

Much was said about the role men can play in solving the problem. Asked what she would do if she ruled India, Gupta said she would be sure that at least half of parliamentarians were women, and that the police force be reformed — “they are by and large corrupt, misogynistic and patriarchal,” she said. Steinem said there were creative ways to “reduce the demand”; among these, a campaign with a simple message: “Cool men don’t buy sex.”

Video: Watch program highlights (5 min., 20 sec.)

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