Time Magazine Once Tried To Pay Gloria Steinem With a Gucci Purse Instead of Real, Actual Money

In her new memoir, My Life On The Road, Gloria Steinem reflects on her long and storied career, including her time in India after college and the trips she’s spent jetting around the country campaigning for candidates and practicing her activism. She’s rallied behind closing the gender wage gap and argued tirelessly for the importance of equality.

She sat down with Fusion to give some advice to women dealing with this very real struggle. It turns out progress on this front has been glacially slow, as Steinem recounts a story about the time a Time Magazine editor tried to pay her with a non-returnable Gucci purse instead of real, actual money.

The most ironic that comes to mind is that Time magazine asked me to write an essay about the early women’s movement. It was a long time ago—it was maybe in the ’70s. First of all, they asked me to do it because they didn’t have a woman on staff. Secondly, I did it under deadline because it never occurred to me that they would pay me less than they did men writing the same essay. Time had a page in each issue in which there was a personal essay. When my agent got the check, he told me that I was getting paid less than men who wrote the same essay. So, I wrote the editor of Time and complained and he sent me a Gucci purse. I took the purse back to Gucci because I needed the money and tried to get cash for it and I couldn’t.

Cool, cool. Paying your electric bill with a Gucci purse isn’t something that would quite fly, but hey, nice of them to recognize the universal truth that women love designer handbags and don’t need actual, real money to survive! Steinem also offered some valuable advice about conquering the seemingly insurmountable task of speaking in a real and actionable way.

If we think of it as a curb on our free speech, it helps us to defy it. And of course we need to be attuned to the person we’re talking to. It helps to have a level of friendship and trust before you broach this—don’t broach it with a stranger. But it is an issue of free speech: We have a right to say what we earn and it’s perfectly reasonable to ask someone else, and that knowledge helps us get past the cultural resistance. At the other end of the spectrum, we begin to understand we are doing something socially useful when we see that equal pay for women of all races would be the biggest economic stimulus the economy could possibly have.

Hear that, guys? Speaking to men about the money they make in order to figure out where you should fall on that scale is an issue of free speech. Isn’t your review coming up? Let your inner Steinem run free.

[Fusion]