Friday, November 6, 2009

Feminism Is Alive and Well

The great thing about living in a big city is that there is never a lack of something to do or see. The very day after Lenny Kravitz, I was watching and listening to Gloria Steinem, the founder of Ms. magazine and an icon in the world of feminism. Along with Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique, Gloria Steinem is considered to be the leader of the modern feminist movement that began in the 1960s. The photo above is how she is probably remembered by most people of my age. Besides founding the first and foremost feminist magazine, she also "went underground" as a Playboy bunny and exposed the exploitation of those women in an article that propelled her into fame and led to her own magazine. From there, Steinem became perhaps the most politically active woman in the world. She co-founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women, Choice USA, the National Women's Political Caucus, and the Women's Action Alliance. She has been immersed in every political campaign back to her support for Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and has spoken definitively on all issues of importance that affect women, especially politically, economically, and socially. Today, Gloria Steinem is seventy-five years old, although you would never know it from seeing or hearing her (see photo below).

So, the opportunity to hear this great feminist in person was much too good to pass up. Several hundred people filled the Grand Ballroom of the Georgia Tech Hotel in downtown Atlanta for the event, which was hosted by Charis Books and Charis Circle as part of the 35th anniversary of this feminist bookstore in Atlanta.

The evening was arranged as a "conversation" entitled "Founding the Future" with Gloria Steinem and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, a professor of Women's Studies at Spelman College. Despite the lousy sound system and a moderator with some very strange questions, it was still thrilling to hear Gloria Steinem. Every time she spoke, it was articulate, interesting, clear, and re-affirming. On topics ranging from demonizing same-sex relationships to helping tribal women build electric fences in Africa, she had encouraging things to say.

The ones that stuck most with me had to do with how all the "rights" movements are inter-related and the future of feminism. The civil rights movement helped women's rights and vice versa. Issues of race and gender and sexuality and handicapped access and immigration are all related. Limiting one group's rights or advancing them impacts all the others. While we have made much progress, "There is much work to do," as Dr. Guy-Sheftall stated several times. When asked how one lives today to advance feminism, Ms. Steinem said simply that you do it one day at a time, one situation at a time. When you have the right to say "yes" or "no" in order to stand up for the rights of women on any issue, in any theater, you must, she said. You cannot turn your head or keep your mouth closed. You must speak.

Young women take much for granted because of what Gloria Steinem and others have done in the past fifty years, but they must continue to examine what a woman is and what it means to be one, free and equal. It was not only a great opportunity to reaffirm my own past in "the movement," but it was heartening to see so many young women (and men) at this event.


  1. Maryellen,
    I continue to enjoy your blog very much! (Mary)

  2. WoW! You are getting to do some great things in retirement. I think that this was a very wonderful evening. What a great time! Yes, she was very important, and I'm glad she infiltrated Playboy. You're right; she doesn't look 75 at all.

    Great blog entry!! Keep them coming. (Sandra)