It's the gift that every National Press Club luncheon speaker gets, a bright blue National Press Club coffee mug. But on Monday, it signified a much bigger deal when given to feminist activist Gloria Steinem.
"I get a big sense of history when I come back here, including my own history," Steinem noted. That's because in 1971, when women were finally allowed into the Washington-based club for journalists, Steinem was the first female speaker. "I remember so clearly my knees knocking and my voice quaking and losing all my saliva -- Does that happen to you?" she asked the crowd. "Each tooth gets a little angora sweater."
And for her gift? The club gave her a men's necktie.
"When they gave me a tie I felt completely free to say outrageous things," Steinem said.
This time she's in Washington to experience another first. Steinem will be receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom alongside President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey on Wednesday. "I'm grateful to have the opportunity to say here that I would be crazy if I didn't understand that this was a medal for the entire women's movement," Steinem said, saying she was particularly proud to be getting the honor from President Obama.
"Now, of course, with all that illustrious company, [if] I get uppity, I can remember that Dick Cheney received [the Presidential Medal of Freedom], as did Henry Hyde," Steinem said, naming the Republican lawmaker who lent his name to the amendment that bans federal dollars from paying for abortions.
And abortion is, in many ways, still the dividing line for Steinem. When Whispers asked her what having a female president, perhaps Hillary Clinton, would do for the feminist movement, being pro-choice was more important than having a woman at the helm. "Well, we need women who represent us -- Margaret Thatcher did not represent us," Steinem said, noting that Clinton would indeed represent feminists.
"To have somebody who looks like you and behaves like them takes your heart out," she concluded.