Students, professors and community members packed into Cemex Auditorium on Thursday night to hear Gloria Steinem discuss the future of the feminist movement and to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Ms. Magazine.
Steinem focused on the inequalities that still exist between genders while pulling apart myths about activism and calling for the protection of reproductive rights.
Over 35 groups, such as the American Studies Program, the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and the Program in Gender Studies, sponsored the talk.
Steinem spoke to a crowd that sold out Cemex Auditorium in only three minutes after tickets went on sale. The crowd consisted of women of all ages: from middle school Girl Scout troops to elderly retirees. The audience also included many men.
Shelley Fisher Fishkin, director of the American Studies program at Stanford, introduced Steinem.
“Ms. Magazine was about enlarging the canvas on which both men and women can paint their lives,” Fisher Fishkin said.
Although she is probably best known for her work in the feminist movement in the 1970s, Steinem stated that she did not want to talk about the past.
“I want to focus on the future because I live in the future,” she said.
Steinem began her speech by describing various myths about the feminist movement. One of these myths was the idea that there are no young feminists or that the feminist movement has become obsolete because we have entered an age of equality.
“A reporter once asked me, ‘What are you most proud of?’” Steinem said. “And I said, ‘I haven’t done it yet.’”
“The idea that it [the feminist movement] used to be necessary but not anymore… is just another form of obstructionism,” Steinem said.
Another myth that Steinem addressed was that various social justice movements should remain separate.
“I think that those of us in social justice movements need to take responsibility for failing to acknowledge links between our groups,” she said.
The interconnectedness of various social justice movements, according to Steinem, does not water down their various messages, but rather makes them stronger.
“Categories can be the enemies of connection,” she noted.
Movements such as the feminist movement, the environmental movement, the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement should acknowledge their commonalities and use them to lobby more powerfully, Steinem said.
“We need to move from dependence to independence to interdependence.”
Steinem expressed her belief that social movements must “overcome these crazy categories of race or sexual orientation or class.”
She also stressed the importance of reproductive freedom saying that “all movements are damaged when reproductive freedom is taken away.”
According to Steinem, “cults of masculinity and femininity grew” out of men taking away reproductive rights from women.
She was particularly bothered by the efforts of certain groups in the United States who are trying to curtail women’s reproductive rights.
“Backlash against reproductive freedom which, in essence, is an attempt to nationalize women’s bodies,” Steinem said is a sign of the troubling times she observes today.
“We have a right to be worried,” she said. “I think we live in a very scary time in our country right now.”
The situation, however, is not without hope.
“This is a time of maximum danger… and also we have to understand that we are not going to stop [organizing] because this country is about to be free,” she said.
Following the speech was a question and answer session with the audience. Steinem encouraged audience members with both questions and potential answers to share their thoughts.
Sally Lieber spoke about organizing efforts for her campaign for California State Senate. Lieber stated that she was inspired to run by the unequal number of female representatives in American government.
Organizers from a hotel workers labor union told Steinem that two housekeepers from the Santa Clara Hyatt were recently fired for complaining to upper management about pictures of housekeepers wearing bikinis that were posted on an employee bulletin board.
When asked by audience members how to inspire others to action, Steinem replied, “I think what works in all movements is true stories. Each person telling what happened to them and sharing it with others who thought it had only happened to them.”
“It is the stories that get us out onto the street and get us into physical action,” she added. “Fear is contagious, courage is contagious, humor is contagious.”
Audience members seemed won over by Steinem’s sincerity and humor.
Kathryn Green, a resident of Los Altos Hills, said that she was amazed at Steinem’s ability to be “knowledgeable on a huge variety of topics and be able to still affect people’s lives.”
Marianne Cooper, a research associate at the Clayman Institute, said Steinem was “amazing, inspiring and insightful.”
“[Steinem] is reinvigorating a lot of people’s sense of how to change things,” Cooper added.
Steinem offered the audience her philosophy on how to change the state of the world: “The answer is still blowing in the wind, but we must not just hold our fingers to the wind; we must become the wind.”