Introducing the Lenny Questionnaire: our adaptation of your and Proust’s favorite 19th-century personality quiz. The first person to show us her shining inner depths is Gloria Steinem — a founding mother of second-wave feminism, an ally to the civil-rights movement, and a proponent of intersectional activism.
Lena Dunham: What is your first memory of your mother?
Gloria Steinem: Being held on her lap in the car while my father drove.
LD: Which of your body parts do you feel the most affection for?
GS: My hands.
LD: What is a moment of overcoming the patriarchy you have witnessed or taken part in this week?
GS: Well, our conversation.
LD: [Laughter.] I feel the happiest I’ve ever been.
GS: Our conversation, and going to dinner with two friends at Tavern on the Green, full of dance music from the ’50s and ’60s and lights on the trees. Feeling just as romantic as I ever would have on a date.
LD: What snack can single-handedly return you to sanity?
GS: I’m addicted to chai. Because it’s sugar, and I’m addicted to sugar.
LD: What is your power outfit, as in, what do you need to wear when you need to feel like you’re the queen of business and a rad bitch?
GS: Boots, pants, a sweater or a T-shirt. A concha belt. Something that’s Native American or Indian, or something that has a resonance from the past before patriarchy came along.
This is when Gloria asked which Native American belt she ought to wear. I have never taken a decision so seriously and when she agreed with me I thought, "Yes I can."
LD: What was the worst choice you made before turning 21?
GS: I’m just trying to remember what I was doing when I was 21.
[Gloria’s assistant Blaine chimes in]: Getting engaged? Was that a bad choice?
GS: Well, I got out of it, though. And also, he’s still the best-looking, sexiest person I’ve ever met in my life, so I forgive myself.
The worst choice was trying vainly to fit in, in college. Trying to convert from a person who wore blue jeans and loafers and big socks and came from Toledo into somebody who wore Bermuda shorts and cashmere sweaters. To be fair to myself, my entire dormitory took a collection and bought me a pair of Bermuda shorts, they were so appalled.
LD: What was the worst choice you made after turning 21?
GS: I would say the most consistent veering-off choice is wasting time. That’s pretty much all there is. Or wasting time and doing what I already knew how to do.
LD: When was the last time you cried?
GS: The last time that tears welled up was a couple weeks ago. I was performing a ceremony for two women who were getting married. It was at a beautiful resort. You were pretty sure everybody was there because they wanted to be, not because they had to be or because they had been socially pressured. And then the two women who owned the resort, which is a big, old-fashioned mansion, were sitting on the steps watching the most incredible fireworks I’ve ever seen at the same time they were blasting out music, every sentimental song, every dance song you’ve ever danced to. I found myself tearing up. Not sobbing. I’d have to figure out the last sobbing time.
LD: Hopefully sobbing decreases with age, because I sob way more than I think is appropriate.
GS: I don’t know about you, but if I really get angry, I cry. Does that happen to you?
LD: Always. I find it really embarrassing.
GS: We try to stay in control too long and then burst out. Instead of saying what we’re angry about in a reasonable way, suddenly we just explode. A woman who was an executive told me once that she got angry in work situations where she needed to get angry, cried, and just kept talking through it. She had mostly men working for her, so it wasn’t so easy to be understood. And she would just say to them, “I am crying because I’m angry. You may think I’m sad. I am not sad. This is the way I get angry.” And I’ve always wanted to do that. It’s still my goal.
LD: There’s one guy I work with who I have a complicated relationship with. We’re friends, but sometimes he makes me really, really mad. I always burst into tears, and I get this terrible feeling that my crying means that he’s triumphed and I’m wrong or I’m embarrassed.
GS: Why don’t you do what I can’t do? To say: “This is how I get angry. I am crying because I’m angry. Because I am crying, I will live longer than you.”
LD: What’s your favorite curse word?
LD: [Claps.] So good.
GS: I have to give [the musical] Hair credit. Because Hair had a song called “Abie Baby” [that had the line] “emanci-fucking-pator of the slaves,” and that made me realize that the art form of swearing is not to do it by itself, but to put it in the middle of other words.
LD: Who was your last text from? And what did it say?
GS: It was from Kathy Najimy. She’s wonderful. She’d been texting me trying to find the park bench she and others had given me. Kathy organized it. It has a plaque on it. It’s to me and to Sojourner Truth, who said, “Until we’re all free, no one is free.” She’s my hero, Sojourner Truth. So she was looking for that, and I didn’t see her text. She kept looking, looking, looking, and finally, she found it and sent me a photograph. With the text.
LD: Finally, what superstition do you believe in?
GS: If I’m walking down the street with a friend, and something comes between us, I say “Bread and butter.” Otherwise, the thing that came in between divides you.
Lena Dunham is begging for more pets.