Anticipation, hope and excitement pulsed throughout the overcrowded Alfond Sports Center’s Warden Arena as Gloria Steinem, one of America’s leading feminists and activists, made her way to the podium.
A hush descended upon the crowd.
With a cup of herbal tea close by to ease her flu, Steinem smiled at the audience and made it clear that this would not be a lecture-based evening but a shared communal experience.
“This room is so full of energy,” said Steinem. With these comments, she laid the foundation for the rest of the evening, which Steinem said would be “a gathering of people that has never happened before in the same way and will never happen again in the same way.”
Immediately, Steinem discussed the current political and economic issues that are affecting Americans today. She began, “When we can see the politics of religion, it’s a very effective kind of politics because nobody wants to discuss it and yet it has deep political meanings and the separation of church and state has become ever less reliable. The government has been funding faith-based efforts to such the degree of the two Bush administrations, even The New York Times couldn’t even figure out how much it was; so many millions of dollars.”
Steinem emphasized how unclear and uncertain the complete laws and social policies are in the United States. The result of the confusion could lead to a powerful backlash in which the majority wins. She continued, “[This confusion] is the effort in which we are meeting [because] we are not sure. I, of course, am a hopeaholic; I am going to continue to go forward.”
Steinem said she felt hopeful about Occupy Wall Street. This thought was received with a roar of applause from the audience. Another topic that Steinem touched on was the human condition. She said, “we [must] act in a way that most closely resembles the way we wish to be treated.” The art of behaving ethically matters.
Steinem shared a personal story about the time she met a female banker in Texas who wanted to know what she could do for the women’s movement. Steinem suggested that she start a credit union. Remarkably, Steinem returned 15 years later and the woman that she had met in Texas did just that. She started her own credit union and now owned the most successful one in all of Texas. Her words of wisdom from that story were, “we just have to do it.“
Steinem did not shy away from addressing sensitive issues that are currently being faced in the United States. “People are graduated from college with more debt than collectively with credit card debt,” she said.
In the current economy, many individuals, metaphorically and literally, spend the rest of their lives paying off their debts in order to avoid going bankrupt. Another problem that she surfaced was the unsettling fact that when a “woman is going to earn, over her lifetime, $2 million less, it is much harder to pay back that debt. For a woman of color it’s more, and for a man of color it is almost as much.
They don’t tell us that when we are getting our education and paying the same for it.” Steinem also stated that “violence against women and sex trafficking is at an all time high.” It has become a major industry that is almost as profitable as drugs. She said that “[it] is so easy now to transport people over borders, and it’s not just from other countries into this one, it is also from South Dakota to Minnesota. There is a huge, huge industry in buying and selling human beings worldwide. We have the highest rate of unwanted birth in the developed world.” She emphasized, “The highest.”
And with a fiery sting of wit, she exclaimed, “It certainly went up when we were under the Bush administration. Having sex education — that was the only cool thing that you were rewarded for: ignorance.”She spoke out about reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right and a decision that could be imposed on women. Steinem emphasized that children have a right to be born, loved and wanted while at the same time, a “woman has the right to give birth to herself before she gives birth to someone else.” Her exclamation was rewarded with another uproar of celebration from the crowd.
As the evening continued, Steinem kept the audience at the edge of its seat with her deep insight and reflections on the power of voting. She affirmed that we need to become a true populist, democratic society in order to instill change, because we have been led to believe that our votes do not matter. Steinem remembered when Nixon tried to minimize the value of voting during his presidency, saying that we were conditioned to
believe from early on that all politicians were the same and, in turn, this passive form of thinking was exactly what the politicians wanted us to think. In Steinem’s opinion, the running candidates would benefit from the low voter turnout. She said, “voting is not the most we can do, but it is the least.”
At the end of the evening, Steinem answered questions from the audience with a tasteful sense of humor and striking fact, using keen listening skills. The final question, which was taken from a gentleman, was not left unnoticed. A woman in the audience playfully exclaimed, “A man has the last word!,” to which Steinem quickly replied with a slight grin and chuckle, “Oh, I’ll have the last word.”
Needless to say, being a speckle in a sea of audience members, it truly felt like a welcomed and personal evening with Gloria Steinem — it was a
memorable, thought provoking, illuminating, and in Steinem’s words, “a fan ‘fucking’ tastic evening.”