An Evening with Gloria Steinem
Monday evening, on the eve of International Women’s Day, Gloria Steinem came to speak at Three Stages in Folsom. The Stage One Theatre was full to near capacity as the audience waited in anticipation for Gloria Steinem to take the stage.
There are many people who come into your life and make an impact. There are others who can change your life and Gloria Steinem has been that person to thousands of people. I heard people around me relating when and how Gloria changed their life.
Dr. Monica Pactol, Dean of Instruction at Folsom Lake College, took the stage to introduce the evening’s event. She began by saying “I’d like to welcome you to this beautiful facility. Tonight we celebrate another first, the first lecturer at Three Stages. We hope that you enjoy this evening and come back for more performances.”
Dr. Pactol continued, “Each one of us has a story to tell, that’s why you’re here tonight and I’d like to tell you my story. When I was a little girl my big dream was to own a car. For me a car represented freedom, adventure and I was going somewhere but I had it in my head that in order to own a car I needed to be married.” Her misconception brought laugher.
Dr. Pactol continued with her story relaying how she thought she could get around the marrying part. She told the audience about her teenage years, working and going to school. During this time she was introduced to the work of Gloria Steinem where she learned about equal rights and social justice.
“Tonight we meet Gloria Steinem; leader, feminist, activist, co-founder of Ms. Magazine, Women’s National Alliance, Women’s Media Center and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Author of several books including the soon to be released Road to the Heart: America as if Everyone Mattered.” Said Dr. Pactol and concluded by saying “Please join me in welcoming Gloria Steinem.”
I have always had a sincere appreciation for Ms. Steinem’s involvement and role in fighting for equal rights in the United States. I felt privileged to be in the audience to listen to her thoughts, dreams, success and inspirations.
After a long welcoming applause Gloria Steinem thanked the audience for their energetic welcome. She spoke a little about her lectures and how much she enjoyed speaking at community colleges. “Community Colleges are so much more the real world and so much more diverse. Teachers are here because they love to teach and the incidence of obscure language is lower. I’ve really been looking forward to this evening. I’ve never inaugurated a hall before.” Steinem said in her opening remarks.
As Ms. Steinem spoke the audience hung on to each of her words. She spoke in a soothing authoritative manner and held the audience’s attention. She indicated that the event would take the form of a forum with a question and answer period at the end. “You should feel free not just to ask questions but to get some answers. I certainly could use some answers.” She said and asked the audience to “Make organizing announcements of any upcoming trouble making that you know of. I hope and believe that we can turn this time together into something that really changes how we feel, what we can do, what our dreams are for the next day and the next. I feel it don’t you? I feel the world could be a lot like the feeling in this room right now and that’s what we’re going to try to make happen.”
She went on to remind the audience that March is Women’s History Month. She said, “There’s Women’s History, there’s African American History, Native American History, Gay and Lesbian History all of which should be called Remedial History so that one day we actually have a Human History.” This and similar comments made the audience think.
Ms. Steinem brought many other facts to make us think. “Did you know Mozart had a sister?” was a question posed. She went on to say that Mozart’s sister was older than he was and they traveled and performed throughout Europe but she was sent home to marry at the age of 16. Much is known about her through correspondence with her brother. In those letters Mozart admitted that she was the talented one.
“Did you know we had 12 women astronauts before Sally Ride in the very first class with John Glenn who were washed out simply because they were women?” she asked.
Ms. Steinem went on to talk about the women’s movement that occurred all over the world and how India was one of those counties that took part. Gloria had spent time over in India and has returned several times. India’s culture has produced peaceful female activism and Gloria talked about some of the changes made by feminist activism.
Gloria spoke about current events and about the Egyptian demonstrations. She talked about the Egyptian constitutional group who is going to be writing the Indian Constitution has no women in it even though they were a big part of the current democratic movement. She went on to say that on International Women’s day a demonstration was being planned at Cairo’s Liberation Square made up of a million women.
The technology of today is being used to inspire people throughout the U.S. and the world. Ms. Steinem went on to say that many people in the streets of Wisconsin had relayed that they were inspired by the people in the streets in Cairo.
“I hope that we begin to forget about national boundaries and look for shared values. Look and think globally as well as acting locally.” Gloria said. “I was thinking about it because there is a suit against Wal-Mart for the systematic discrimination against women. A million female former employees are suing Wal-Mart and hopefully it will go before the Supreme Court. Wal-Mart is imposing this practice on China where they are the biggest foreign employer.” Other examples (good and bad) were discussed to illustrate that the struggle continues and what benefits it brings to those who are discriminated.
The struggle is now international and a spark ignited in one part of the world has been kindled by years of oppression and shift in different ways to different countries. Technology has changed and our commonalities cross borders as we communicate what is now truly becoming a World Wide Network.
Where is the women’s movement now? A question often asked but one that has several answers. As Gloria put it, “It’s like someone saying describe the universe and give two examples.”
Gloria went on to relate, “In the beginning they used to say feminism is not necessary it’s against god, Freud or nature. My wife is not interested, it’s not necessary. We did it anyway.” Gloria said as she talked about where the feminist movement was. “It used to be necessary but it’s not anymore. The same is said about the Civil Rights Movement.”
Thought provoking issues were brought up by Gloria Steinem through her presentation. Sometimes we think things are going well and then our eyes are opened to the inequities of those that have and those that do not have. Simple requests such as job, health benefits and equality can only be suppressed for only so long before revolt ensues. Things are changing and the change is coming at a faster rate.
“In a general sense this is where we’re going. Work; it used to be said that equal pay for equal work. Have we achieved it?” Gloria asked. “No!” was the answer. “We’re up to 79 to 80 cents on the dollar. With breathtaking speed we have come from 59 cents an hour.” Although achievements have been made there’s still a way to go.
Ms. Steinem brought to our attention things that we now take for granted. “As for the future we have to define work.” she said. “Homemakers actually work harder longer than any other class of workers in the United States. For less pay, for less honor, for more alcoholism, drug addiction, violence.” As she continued she brought up a most disturbing fact; “The most dangerous place for an American woman is still in her own home.” She continued “What we need to do now is revalue work for equal pay but redefine work and say all productive human labor is work. Raising and socializing baby humans is a really important job. It’s interesting, it’s so interesting men should do it to.”
Gloria Steinem is a very fascinating person and speaker. Forty years after finding Ms., she now sits on the magazine’s board of directors. She remains active as a writer, political organizer and lecturer. She continues to bring awareness not only to feminist causes and political causes but to activism as a whole nationally and internationally.
As Ms. Steinem continued her speech the topic of youth involvement was discussed. She indicated that today there are more young feminist than ever before. She brought up a statistic that indicated more women of all ages self identify as feminist than as Republicans and brought laughter and applause from the audience.
She continued to bring forth astounding statics. One of the most horrific issues she talked about was regarding law and issues within the American home. It used to be where, “The law stopped at the door of the household in the name of privacy.” she said as she talked about violence in the home. She continued, “It’s the one crime in which the main goal was to get the criminal back with the victim.” This astonishing comment hit home to many in the audience.
Other topics that she spoke about was a democratic family, violence, politics, sex trafficking. The profitability of sex trafficking is almost as big as drugs and arms. She brought up the fact that a human can be profited off indefinitely while drugs and arms are finite. As images of slavery came to mind I wondered what we as a society are doing to combat this.
Media has become more prevalent in daily life. As we watch the news we can see that it’s primarily focused on conflict. Ms. Steinem indicated that not only conflict is news, we need solutions.
Religion and racism were other topics discussed by Gloria. Her astute observations brought forth serious issues for the audience to ponder upon. As we think about the issues it would behoove us to also think about solutions that can help strengthen our society. There are many activists that work towards solutions and I’m certain many of them were at this lecture.
“We’ve come a long way, we’ve got consciousness, we see where we’re going and I think we have arrived at certain rules of activism. One; everything matters even if you think it’s a small action. Two; all changes come from bottom up. Houses don’t get built from the top down either and neither is social change. The ends are the means.” Gloria said regarding the main rules of activism.
Questions followed Gloria’s lecture and those who had questions lined up at the microphone. Questions related to activism in different issues were asked. Some of the people that lined up to ask questions also turned out to be activists involved in our community and young activists asking for advice regarding involvement.
When someone asked about being involved in politics Ms. Steinem answered that it is very important for all to be involved. “The voting booth is the only place in this whole country where a pauper equals a millionaire, where a Democrat can counter a racist. It’s the only place we have that is utterly completely totally equal. There’s a reason why it’s made more difficult to vote in this country than any democracy in the world. I believe we are now in the position to fight to vote. I’ve seen people willing to vote and now I see people fighting to vote and that is a good thing.” Involvement is part of the answer.
A High School student asked about Gloria’s thoughts on women in journalism. Ms. Steinem’s response included that all the “clout” positions (those that determine what stories are to be covered) in the news media is covered mainly by men. Women make up only 6% of those positions.
Ms. Steinem voiced concern about internet news bringing for example the Huffington Post. “I’ve refused to write for them because they don’t pay their writers, and who is profiting?” she asked. Gloria continued to offer advice for the young journalist saying, “We, the Women’s Media Center pay the writers, the Daily Beast pays writers. Try to support that which supports you and write what you know is news.”
Ms. Steinem ended with a challenge. “If in the next 24 hours beginning at 9 tomorrow morning, each one of you promises me that you will do one outrageous thing for the cause of social justice. Only you know what it is. It can be something as simple as saying ‘Pick it up yourself.’” She brought other examples as well.
As she continued with the challenge she said, “If you promise me that you will do this outrageous thing in the 24 hours that begins tomorrow. I promise that I will do one too. Tomorrow is March 8, it’s International Women’s Day. Women are marching in Egypt and other countries so what could be a better day?”
She ended by saying “I guarantee you two things will happen. One; is that by Wednesday the world will be better and the other is that you will have such a good time that you will never again get up in the morning saying will I do an outrageous thing but which outrageous thing will I do today?”
An evening with Gloria Steinem was a great experience. It’s great to see that activism is alive and well in America. The struggle for equality is being passed to a younger generation and they have a great example in Gloria Steinem.