By Susan DeMaggio
On July 10, 1971, Gloria Steinem, along with other feminist leaders including Betty Friedan, Myrlie Evers, Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug, founded the National Women’s Political Caucus and delivered her memorable “Address to the Women of America,” which launched the Feminist Movement:
“This is no simple reform. It really is a revolution. Sex and race because they are easy, visible differences have been the primary ways of organizing human beings into superior and inferior groups, and into the cheap labor on which this system still depends. We are talking about a society in which there will be no roles other than those chosen, or those earned. We are really talking about Humanism.”
Today, 41 years later, at age 78, Steinem is still espousing The Movement. She spoke before a crowd of 1,300 on Oct. 10 as the inaugural guest of the Inspiring Minds Speaker Series of the Congregation Beth Am in Carmel Valley.
At the podium the slim, 5’ 9” American icon attired in black explained why feminism is “The Longest Revolution.”
“Reproductive freedom for women around the world would singularly solve most societal and environmental problems,” Steinem insisted. “When somebody tells you the feminist movement is over, today’s young women are not interested in the cause, that’s NOT what the polls show.
“Young women are vitally concerned about class, race, sex, gender roles, workplace issues, domestic violence – all these are linked and tied … and there are no boundaries.
“You talk about foreign policy? If there is violence against women in the home, there will be violence in the streets and in that country’s government.” Since 9/11, Steinem said, there have been more women killed by boyfriends and husbands than in 9/11, Iran and Afghanistan combined.
Addressing the equal pay for equal work issue, Steinem pointed out that around the globe, “men profit from the unpaid, underpaid labor of women.” The situation begs a call to action, she said.
“Do not be afraid of conflict. It produces energy,” Steinem said. “(In an unjust situation) you must ask for what you want. Talk to your co-workers to find out what they get paid. Change your job. Bring legal action.”
Steinem challenged those listening to work for the full humanity of both men and women. “If we are honest,” she said, “we’ll acknowledge the folly of gender labels that suppress us. This masculine dominance/feminine submission business is not good for anyone.”
To prove her point, Steinem quoted studies that show men who actively participate in child-rearing, live three years longer than those who relinquish the role to their wives.
“It’s time to change. Time to understand the roots of the tree we can’t see,” she said of the way society has evolved. “We can challenge what’s out there as the norm with what we do with our votes, our dollars. If each of us behaves as if everything we do matters; we can make a difference. I’m a hope-aholic.”
Steinem had parenting advice for the next generation of feminists.
“Some mothers say to me, ‘My daughter doesn’t know who you are!’ I just laugh and say, ‘That’s OK, does she know who SHE is?’
“Listen to your daughters and encourage them to follow their bliss, to work at a job where the time flies by and they’re happy and fully engaged. The worst thing you can tell them is that girls can be anything they want because that’s a lie! Girls run into boundaries and then think it’s their fault.
“And don’t tell them they can have it all. They can’t. No one can. Your duty is to love and protect your child so she can become who she already is.”
Taking questions from the audience, Steinem was challenged by a young woman who said her nonconformist, multi-cultured background sometimes causes her pain … confusion.
Steinem’s response drew a standing ovation.
“You know,” she said, “the most dangerous time for a woman is when she’s just left … when she’s escaping control … this may be an analogy for our country. We’re no longer a white majority nation, so we’re filled with fear and skepticism, we don’t trust our financial institutions … we’re buying guns, we’re homophobic … it’s our time of danger, so maybe we’re escaping … maybe soon we can all be free!”
In introducing Steinem, event chair Jobi Halper called her a “true icon” because she “advances leadership among women, inspires humanitarian efforts world-wide and is a galvanizing call to women in the workplace.” Halper said the goal of the Inspiring Minds Speaker Series would be to present outstanding leaders to the community every nine to 12 months with affordable tickets that provide access to all San Diegans.