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An Evening with Gloria Steinem — Our Three Perspectives


This post originally appeared on my blog StyleSubstanceSoul.com.

The three of us were lucky enough to get to see Gloria Steinem last week during the inaugural event of Congregation Beth Am’s Inspiring Minds Speaker Series. She was the perfect person to launch this new series because, as Chairperson Jobi Halper said in her introduction, the woman is “an icon.” Steinem was at the forefront of the feminism movement and, as the founder of Ms. magazine, has helped empower women and change the face of the American workforce. We were all very excited to hear what she had to say and we each left with very different takeaways. Here are our thoughts:

Amy:

It was as if I was going to see a rock star. This person was of such influence and fame in my world, in my frame of reference, it didn’t occur to me that she did not hold this stature for everyone. It would be like not knowing the name Rosa Parks. Gloria Steinem was my Rosa Parks, America’s Rosa Parks. Or so I thought. But as the time got closer to what you would have thought was my personal evening with Gloria Steinem, I soon became aware that some of the young adults I work with had no idea who she was. I was outraged on Gloria’s behalf (I am not sure why, but I feel as if I can call her Gloria). An emotional reaction I would soon learn Gloria herself did not share.

Although every generation was represented at the event, I quickly learned my earlier encounters were not isolated ones. One woman told a similar story with the same disbelief and indignation I had experienced. To which Gloria replied, “That’s okay. Does she know who she is?” I loved it! Another favorite moment was when a young woman introduced herself as a young feminist and then asked Gloria what her favorite part of being of an activist was. Gloria simply replied, “You.” I was verklempt.

Photo courtesy of Alan Alpert


Throughout the evening I was reminded of Miriam Mendoza, the young Girl Scout speaking out to end domestic violence after her cousin Diana Gonzalez’ brutal murder. Gloria recounted a horrifying statistic, stating that more women have been murdered since September 11 than all deaths on September 11, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.  She spoke about the relationship between a society’s stability and how women are treated, and that the context in which this is presented needs to be flipped. It is not that countries that are economically and/or politically unstable treat women badly but it is because they treat women badly that they are economically and/or politically unstable.

She went on to discuss the ways in which all our lives are better, richer, even longer, when women have equality and when men are more involved in parenting. And why feminism isn’t a women’s issue, it is an issue that concerns us all. It is a human rights, civil rights, global issue with much accomplished, much at stake and much to be done. I thought her presentation was thoughtful, passionate and inclusive. No longer one of a warrior, but one of a sage. I loved her calm, her ease, her authenticity, her vast knowledge, humor and humility. I love that after all she has seen, all that she knows, and all the work to be done that she referred to herself as a “hopeaholic.”

Photo courtesy of Alan Alpert


Susan:

Being in high school during the Vietnam War, watching the civil rights movement unfold on TV before my very eyes, reading about the feminist movement in books and magazines, listening to the arguments about women’s rights and the Equal Rights Amendment, and experiencing the social unrest that all of this caused certainly had quite an impact on this farm girl.


Photo courtesy of Alan Alpert


I remember listening to Gloria Steinem speak with such passion and eloquence before the Senate Judiciary Committee about why Congress should pass the Equal Rights Amendment and thinking, “Yes, we are equal! We should have equal rights!” and “Go get ‘em, Gloria!” I admired this brave woman who had the gumption to be outspoken, strong and not be afraid to speak up for what she believed in, all of which were traits I did not yet possess. Another check mark in the “impact” column for me.

When I entered the workforce, it didn’t take long for me to see that the glass ceiling — something Steinem had passionately spoken about – really did exist. As I continued on my journey in the corporate world, I watched it become easier for myself and other women to get ahead, become leaders, earn positions of power and make more money even though we often had to work harder and longer than our male counterparts to prove ourselves. I knew I had the women’s movement to thank for making my journey a little easier. More “impact” check marks.

As Steinem spoke about how far we have come, I nodded my head in agreement. And when she said there is still much to be done, I nodded my head again. I admire and appreciate that she is still fighting the fight. While we have made much progress, there is much that remains to be done worldwide. There were several young women in the audience who spoke about the impact Steinem has had on them. We need these young women — and men — to continue fighting for women’s rights on a global basis.  I have shared my “impact” column of check marks with my daughter and she knows it will be up to her to continue the fight. It won’t be easy but progress seldom is.

Lois:

I was glad to have an excuse not to watch the Presidential debate because I was going to see Gloria Steinem, and I knew that she would put the upcoming election in perspective better than the men who are actually running for office.


Steinem was warm and witty, and a lot less angry than I remember her (although that could just be me). Articulate and obviously an expert on her subject, she offered lots of staggering statistics and studies that prove that empowering women – which means paying them equally for equal work and giving them control over their own bodies – is inarguably the solution to a country’s economic and environmental problems, and the only way to naturally and effectively balance population control. These are the same FACTS we learned on Half the Sky last week.

“This is a dangerous time,” Steinem warned, citing the Republican war on women and the hundreds of bills that have been introduced and passed in the past year limiting our reproductive rights. She reminded the audience that the first thing Hitler did when he came to power was shut down family planning clinics and make abortion a crime against the state. We need to stand together as sisters, she said, adding that the good news is more females are now self-identifying as “women” than “Republicans.”

Although she was asked by audience members to provide a call to action, she left that up to them. I guess, at 78 years old, even the most passionate activist is ready to pass the baton. If the crowd reaction is any indication, they’re up for the responsibility. Women will decide this election, and Steinem’s legacy will continue.

Thank you, Alan Alpert of IShootYourPhoto.com, for allowing us to use his photographs.

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