Gloria Steinem has been called a legend, an icon, and a few other things I cannot print here. I call her one of the people that made me want to be a journalist. Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with her, and a few hundred others, to hear about her life, her work and the views and opinions that made her who she is today: pioneer for women’s rights, and human rights for the last six decades. Ms. Steinem came to Ohio University to speak as part of the Kennedy Lecture Series. Led by moderator Dr. Myrna Perez Sheldon, Steinem addressed what it was like realize that many of the issues she faced growing up were not because of her, but because of the system that surrounded her, and all of us. Of trying to overcome the discrimination rooted in race, gender, and class, among other things, Steinem said “If you grow up thinking that that is inevitable, then it takes awhile to get out of it.” And get out, she did. From a less than stable home life in East Toledo, Ohio, to the editor of her own magazine, and then some.
In addition to the moderator questions, the evening was opened up to questions pre-submitted via social media, as well as questions from the audience. One of the social media questions that stood out was:
“If you could give advice to your 30 year old self what would it be? “ To which Ms. Steinem replied: “I think I would just say “It’s going to be ok.” Steinem discussed her career, becoming a feminist and an activist in her later thirties and the plans she had for “getting married, having children, at some point, just not right now, because I thought everybody had to. Then I discovered that I was happy and it was ok.” The realization that she did not have to follow in what was expected of her by society was a step toward freedom, and into the leadership role she has embraced ever since.
The first audience question, proposed by a group of young Girl Scouts, was “ If you could design a patch or journey for Girl Scouts, what would it be?” Steinem responded, “Maybe a globe, to say we are all on space ship earth, or a bird. The human race is a bird with two wings , and if one wing is broken the bird can’t fly.”
Gloria Steinem is well known as a feminist, so logically a recurring theme throughout the evening was feminism, its past and future, and how it has evolved from the activism we know from the 1960’s to the present. When asked specifically “How do you think that feminism can or should transform someone’s life.” Steinem responded: “You don’t even need the word feminism, exactly. It’s just the realization for each of us, whatever our outsides look like, that each of us is a unique combination of millennia upon millennia of heredity and environment combined in a way that could never have happened before and could never happen again. At the same time, we are human and part of the natural universe. Feminism of one of many paths to get there. Whatever it is that allows us to know that, to get out of the hierarchical thing and understand that as humans we are linked, we are not ranked and that there is this uniquely valuable person in there.”
The questions from the audience came from young and old alike, from a 10 year old aspiring journalist named Isabelle, to a woman who referred to herself only as “an older feminist.” In concluding the evening, Steinem asked a simple favor of the audience, to introduce yourself to two or three people you do not know, say what you are doing, what you care about. Gloria Steinem created an energy that space that was almost indescribable. It was as if a few hundred of us were sitting down for a cup of coffee with our closest friends, to talk about life, what it has taught us, and how we can make it better in the future.
A recording of the Evening with Gloria Steinem can be found on YouTube.