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The Big Answer

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Revolution From Within

a book by Gloria Steinem

(our site's book review)

An instant classic. The best feminist book in all of history. A great book for healing and self-esteem work that even surpasses John Bradshaw’s work—it’s right up there with the two Louise Hart books: On the Wings of Self-Esteem and The Winning Family. Self-esteem is too important an issue to be left to just anyone. Hart and Steinem are the mother lode in this area.

This woman’s radical feminist activities and attitudes have put off many people of both sexes in the past. But since then she has become much more than a simple bra burner. She’s grown past that stage, to become a woman of courage and insight who has many wise things to say. She has helped many women who are oppressed by male domination to see an alternative. She’s a fairly good antidote for the male dominator society. She has overdone it at times, but she is definitely someone who has succeeded in helping millions of women to have a better, fuller life; and for this she deserves our acknowledgement and praise.

She's grown from bra burner to a wise, courageous woman we can all be proud of
She's grown from bra burner to a wise, courageous woman we can all be proud of

“If you ask me what the single most important form of arms control is, I would say it’s how we raise our children.” A beautifully simplistic truth, if there ever was one. Think about it for awhile. This is more than a profound truth. It’s a life philosophy. As you can see, this woman has wisdom that we would all do well to heed. She rightly takes authoritarianism to task as well as oppression in all its forms. “When we imagine nation-states, however, we could envision families that nurture self-esteem and unique talents in each person; that create independence, not dependence; and that produce people secure enough to take pleasure in empowering others.” For the full background on the connection between arms, violence, war, and childraising, see Good News and Bad News.

She truly understands the origins of negative power and positive power, and the critical importance of self-esteem. She cites research showing that low self-esteem is a primary causal factor in each of the seven areas of targeted social problems: crime and violence, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, child and spousal abuse, chronic welfare dependency and failure to achieve in school.

To show that the research was not mere theorizing or lip service, the Task Force handling the self-esteem studies looked into every program that was addressing problems via the approach of raising self-esteem levels of the people with the problems. The programs that dealt with social problems from this perspective were having spectacular success. There was no doubt about it: The parenting errors and other sociological factors that contributed to the low self-esteem of those with the social dysfunctionality problems were the actual main root cause of the problems, and self-esteem work which successfully addressed this low self-esteem was the best known factor for symptom reduction.

She has the courage to expose herself as she helps others see the light noting that most of us continue to treat ourselves the way we were treated as children, but few of us are figuring this out. She tells us that there is no way around it—we must become conscious of old, unchosen patterns if we have any hope of changing them. The more we confront the past the more we can respond consciously and awarely to the present. It’s strange that such a book doesn’t contain references to Thomas Gordon, Richard Louv, John Pollard, or Louise Hart, but happily Philip Slater, Fritjof Capra and Riane Eisler are in her recommended reading lists.

Since her main ameliorative—for herself and others—is to become conscious of our old patterns in order to avoid them, and then re-parent the inner child we find in ourselves so that the suffering and self-oppression ceases and is replaced with good affirmations and self-talk, insights, and nurturing of our inner child, it is very strange especially that Pollard (Self Parenting and The Self Parenting Program) isn’t in her book, since he’s the self-parenting expert. But her recommendation of John Bradshaw’s inner-child-healing materials explains the lapse somewhat, since he deals with that area as well.

In essence, then, Steinem has written a very insightful self-esteem book that will be especially helpful to women, since that’s her perspective, but it will be enlightening to men as well.

The author says that cultures and families that overemphasize roles, conformity, obedience, or just fitting in, as opposed to helping develop and reward each child’s specific talents, are penalizing themselves in the long run. The result of this oppression is that self-esteem will be low even into adulthood. She sees childhood needs as a kind of emotional black hole that no quantity of external rewards can fill. The resultant low self-esteem can produce totalitarian leaders for whom no amount of power is enough.

Such oppression also germinates "grandiose money-makers or spenders of inherited money" for whom no amount of wealth display and conspicuous consumption is enough. Once these oppressed young grow up (after so much support for their false selves and so little support for their real true selves) they become authoritarian parents for whom no obedience is adequate. If the kid's real self is ignored or punished at age two, some part of him remains two—until he faces his oppression, recognizes what happened, and begins to reparent himself. The idea of intrinsic worth (as opposed to the "kids are born evil" fundamentalist poppycock) is so dangerous to authoritarian systems, that it's condemned as self-indulgent, selfish, egocentric, godless, counterrevolutionary, etc. How can people be made to work if they feel they're worthy and okay? What will get them to continue to strive at all? she asks.

The 'kids are born evil' fundamentalist nonsense
The 'kids are born evil' fundamentalist nonsense

She answers this with the Maslovian answer that if children are loved and feel secure, they will adventure and explore and want to be very creative and productive, and the better they feel about themselves, the better they will be able to focus on jobs as responsibilities they wish to take, and as productive and creative endeavors that enable them to express themselves in the world.


The author understands authoritarianism, its weaknesses and its negativity, as well as its obsolescence better than all but a few people on the planet. Few authors understand most or all of the following issues as well as she does: self-esteem, reparenting, Maslow, healing, Freud’s error of concluding that most victims of child sex abuse are either lying or they wanted it and asked for it, witch-burning, clear thesis-antithesis-synthesis thinking, Putney and Putney’s indirect-self-acceptance and projecting one’s suppressed potentials upon another when romance is at its deepest, people trying to fill themselves with others in dependent and vicarious ways when they don’t like themselves, child abuse, the importance of a need-filling childhood, and women’s issues. See The Adjusted American: Normal Neurosis in the Individual and Society.

People do not perform better when they are competing against others
People do not perform better when they are competing against others

Studies have shown that, in spite of the heroic individualist and right-wing, dog-eat-dog capitalists’ beliefs to the contrary, people do not perform better when they are competing against others, but when they are cooperating with others. Steep-gradient nurturance produces the competition-obsessed person, while flat-gradient nurturance produces the cooperative person. Doesn’t it make sense that we go in the direction of teaching cooperation in families and in schools, given not only these research results but also the warnings from our American businesses that new employees cannot work well with others (or think or problem-solve, or do simple math or science)?

American businesses warn that new employees cannot work well with others—it's not in their competition-obsessed childhood training
American businesses warn that new employees cannot work well with others—it's not in their competition-obsessed childhood training

She understands that people aren’t brought up to love themselves and others (steep-gradient nurturance’s legacy—see MCs and search in the search box for steep-gradient nurturance—which means mother-only [steep] childcare rather than a few [flat] caregivers; or look for the subtitle Steep Gradience of Nurturance here: WHY Register for MC Search and Match?).

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match

But it is folly to ignore one's feelings and obsess upon others (steep-gradient nurturance’s legacy), which creates codependence, and facilitates a frustrating atmosphere ripe for spousal abuse, substance abuse and/or child abuse. She says “In short, internal wholeness that allows one to love both one’s self and another, freely and joyously, is hard to find anywhere. On the other hand, the personal wreckage caused by romantic obsession is a feature of our everyday landscape. . . . There are many more people who are trying to meet the right person than there are trying to become the right person.” And above all:


She supports flat-gradient nurturance in various ways: She helps us to realize that, as Alice Miller said, self-rescue is possible for a person if at least one person in our childhood affirmed our true feelings, and thus let us know that our true self could be seen by others and did exist. Steinem adds that it’s possible to become that “one person” for ourselves now (consult John Pollard’s and/or John Bradshaw’s books, and/or Nancy Napier’s Recreating Your Self), in the present. She’s right—it’s a fact.

But Steinem also says: “Perhaps a major part of the increased suffering of children is that the nuclear family, a new construct of the last century or so, has increased their vulnerability by making them exclusively dependent for the first time on only one or two adults. The rescuing grandfather, the loving aunt, the mother down the road who takes in a neighbor’s child as her own—that one person who, Alice Miller tells us, is crucial if only as a witness—is an increasingly rare phenomenon.” (See The Way We Never Were and The Way We Really Are.) Also, she realizes that much abuse comes from situations in which there is isolation, ignorance, and a stressed out mother trying to be the one and only emotional answer for herself, her spouse, and her kids. Such a ludicrously inadequate situation cannot possibly be what those in it wish it was—so everyone gets mad at everyone else, not realizing that it was their situation and their beliefs that they should be mad at—not each other!

Steep-gradient nurturance leads to a family full of anger, repression, competition, and unmet needs
Steep-gradient nurturance leads to a family full of anger, repression, competition, and unmet needs

Self-esteem helps whither away the old type of romance where two people are each half and the two together add up to a whole. Healthy romance allows the projection of potentials onto a beloved, but it expects for each to grow and become whole and independent, not dependent or codependent. Romance can be a deep, intimate way of learning and growing, or a greased pit we fall into and cannot leave, so we get mad and love and hate become nearly interchangeable. Romance is the most written about, and yet least understood of subjects, according to Steinem.

romantic couple
Romantic couple

Steinem says that striving for a whole self means going against—and thus helping to change—most of the parenting and relationship errors in the current culture, as well as a multitude of attitudes. "But however great the struggle, the rewards are even greater.” [She surely sounds like a person ready to go towards an MC—the epitome of the type of change she’s referring to.]

The wisdom just flows—this time a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke: “. . . the great renewal of the world will perhaps consist in this, that man and maid, freed from all false feeling and aversion, will seek each other not as opposites, but as brother and sister, as neighbors, and will come together as human beings.”

So profound it must be repeated is her assertion that: “WHAT THE FUTURE COULD HOLD, AND WHAT EACH OF US COULD BECOME, IS LIMITED MAINLY BY WHAT WE BELIEVE.” This woman is wise. These are extremely wise things to say. However obnoxious any of her overdone “femi-nazi” (a Rush Limbaugh term) tactics and ideas may have been in the past, she seems to have turned herself around, become enlightened, begun to like herself, reparented herself, and she’s now concentrating on spreading the best humanistic wisdom she can as far as possible. This is a very good sign, and hopefully other feminists will take this as an example to emulate. It’s hard not to have great respect for someone who gets her life together in such a way and then tries to help the rest of humanity do the same. Her book is more than a tome. It is a gift of healing from a self-healed healer to all those who need some healing themselves. And there are hundreds of millions of them—you are very likely one of them. Most people are.