Feminist icon Gloria Steinem speaks at Vanderbilt

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The Women’s Center partners with the Chancellor’s Lecture Series to host Gloria Steinem Nov. 1

November 2, 2019

Journalist and activist Gloria Steinem came to Central Library’s Community Room Nov. 1 to share her perspective on feminism. Steinem founded the magazines Ms. and New York and has written six books, including her latest “The Truth Will Set You Free, But First It Will Piss You Off!” which is a collection of quotes that address the role of anger in feminism.

Steinem has received numerous awards including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Writers Award from the United Nations, an Emmy Award for her producing role in an HBO documentary on child abuse and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. She helped found political groups such as the National Women’s Political Caucus, Voters for Choice and the Women’s Action Alliance.

The Women’s Center partnered with the Chancellor’s Lecture Series to host this event for the Vanderbilt community, and Michelle Murray moderated the discussion. Murray is an Assistant Professor of Spanish who specializes in research about the role of immigrant women in domestic work in Spain. Attendees also had the opportunity to ask questions and to attend a celebratory reception following the event, which occurred on the 41st anniversary of the Women’s Center.

Murray began the discussion by asking how Steinem would define the word feminism.

“Feminism is the radical idea that all female human beings are human beings and that gender is actually a new invention in most of our cultures, most of human history,” Steinem said.

Throughout the lecture, Steinem’s words about feminism and activism centered around the theme of inclusion. Often called the “face of feminism” herself, Steinem shared that she never wanted to be the only face in the fight for gender equality and that she found it essential to organize with people of a variety of backgrounds.

“If somebody’s taking a photograph, and it doesn’t look like the country, I don’t use it,” Steinem said.

Steinem described that public opinion regarding women’s rights has become more progressive since the 1970s. Though her overall message was positive, she also discussed her frustrations with the fact that even though the majority of Americans have increasingly feminist views, systematic corruption could prevent women from gaining social equality.

She referenced President Trump’s administration and the lack of consensus regarding abortion as barriers to progress. Steinem cited how Nazi Germany restricted abortions for Aryan women as a way to keep races distinct from one another and cautioned against modern-day restrictions to abortion.

“There is no democracy unless we all control our own physical selves–our own bodies and our own voices,” Steinem said.

Steinem also encouraged youth to remain hopeful and not to dwell on the negativity of others when pursuing activism. She noted that positive actions would attract more members to the movement and that youth should work across age groups in order to achieve success in activism.

“I can supply hope because I remember when it was worse, and young people can supply anger because it should be much better,” Steinem said.