On Thursday night, Gloria Steinem sank to her knees and bowed down to Miss Piggy.
“This is the first time the largest feminist icons in the world have been on stage together!” Miss Piggy squealed.
The famous, feisty Renaissance Muppet had just been honored with the Brooklyn Museum’s Sackler Center First Award, which celebrates women who are “firsts” in their field.
Now she joins Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, novelist Toni Morrison, theater director Susan Stroman, and a dozen other female trailblazers who have received the award from the Sackler Center for Feminist Art.
“It is for your spirit, for your determination, for your grit, for your humor, for your confidence!” award namesake Elizabeth Sackler said to Miss Piggy, who bobbed theatrically behind a lectern on stage in front of a packed auditorium.
She bowed and swooned, thanking everyone who had “made it possible for moi to receive this award— it is truly a highlight in the highlight reel that is my life!”
And in true Miss Piggy fashion, she addressed the “naysayers” who said she was undeserving because she’s, well, a puppet, and listed her many achievements, including a black belt in karate.
“Who has broken more gender barriers than moi? Today I come to you as a tough woman, a proud feminist, an international star, a bestselling author, diva, major retail brand, and now, winner of the Sackler Award!”
The audience whooped and cheered as Miss Piggy’s cri de coeur segued into a video “retrospective” of her career: Miss Piggy yawning in boredom at the 1979 Emmy Awards with Kermit the Frog, her longtime paramour and partner; singing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” with Elton John in matching pink jumpsuits; getting her makeup done by Joan Rivers; spoofing When Harry Met Sally with Billy Crystal; and much more from the “highlight reel” of her life.
Steinem, the standard-bearer of liberal feminism, later interviewed the award recipient and speculated why some had grumped that Miss Piggy was undeserving.
“I was thinking the reason they thought you weren’t a feminist is because you do it all,” she said to Miss P, speaking on stage to an audience of children, grandparents, and the Brooklyn Museum Director Arnold Lehman. “You bat your eyelashes, you do jujitsu. And I think that’s the whole point: We can be whoever we fucking well please.”
It was a brilliantly unscripted, bad-ass moment from Steinem who, at 81, is still the same rabble-rousing, fist-clenching feminist crusader she was in the ’60s and ’70s.
Indeed, Steinem still speaks in the language of second wave feminism.
Chatting with her before the awards ceremony, while children and their parents gorged themselves on milk and cookies, I asked if Steinem thinks the feminist movement needs Miss Piggy’s humor right now.
“Yes, absolutely! It turns out laughter is the only free emotion. You can compel fear. You can compel love if you’re dependent or scared. You can’t compel laughter. Don’t ever go anyplace you can’t laugh,” she said, a big smile brightening her face. “Especially someplace religious!”
When asked what she thinks are the most pressing issues feminism should focus on at the moment, Steinem replied: “There are no shoulds. People need to focus on what’s hurting them. But on a more general level, violence against women around the world has a reached a new level so that now, for the first time, there are fewer females on Earth than males.”
Would she have carried her mattress around campus to protest her own alleged rape as Columbia student Emma Sulcowicz did this year?
“I don’t know if I would have done it but I admire her for doing it,” Steinem told me. “I think it’s both an art piece and a political action. She changed consciousness and consciousness is the precondition to action.”
When asked whether she thought some women on campuses are using victimhood as a means of power—demanding safe spaces and trigger warnings—she answered defiantly, “No! If you’ve been raised in an abusive situation you may feel that victimhood is all there is, but victimhood is not the goal.
“One of the big things Marx and Engels were wrong about was the idea that the end justifies the means. Actually, the means is the end. You can’t really have peace by war. And I don’t think you can reach a non-hurtful end by a hurtful means.”
Steinem dodged questions about whether identity politics were bogging down the movement, though she agreed that feminism is currently a mess of contradictions.
“And that’s a good thing!”
Indeed, we can’t all be Gloria Steinem. And we wouldn’t have made such strides in gender equality if we didn’t bring nuanced and occasionally conflicting perspectives to the conversation.
There is no “right” opinion or “right” kind of feminist. Miss Piggy may be a “hot feminist” by some standards and a “bad feminist” by others. But she’s still a feminist.
Feminism needs Miss Piggy’s sense of humor and her content in being a mess of contradictions.
So what if her goal in life is to be a glamorous Hollywood star, with Kermit by her side? She’s a strong woman, comfortable in her own skin, shattering gender tropes and the glass ceiling with her “hiiiiiyah” karate kicks.
So what if she’s a pig and a puppet, animated by the falsettoed voices of two men, Frank Oz and now Eric Jacobson. Men can—and should—be feminists, too.
“There are thousands of women who are worthy of this award,” Sackler told me before the ceremony. “I think what’s unique about Miss Piggy is that she embodies the characteristics that all the women who we have recognized hold dear. She’s tenacious. She’s stubborn. She knows what she wants, she gets what she wants, and she’s unabashedly herself.”
To see Miss Piggy honored at the Brooklyn Museum was to see feminism briefly, refreshingly stripped of political ideology—and a flamboyant, witty, “I’m a woman, hear me roar” puppet who represents everything that makes the movement relevant today.