Gloria Steinem visits Columbia

By Heather Scroering

Gloria Steinem, the legendary feminist icon from the Women’s Liberation Movement, has been making history since the 1960s, whether campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment or advocating for animal rights. As she appeared on the stage of Columbia’s Film Row Cinema in the Conaway Center, 1104 S. Wabash Ave., the seats of chairs began flipping upward one after another as both women and men in the audience rose to greet the historical figure with roaring applause.

Steinem, 77, visited Columbia’s campus Feb. 7 as a special guest of the college’s Conversations in the Arts program.

“Every single person in this room has benefitted from the actions of our speaker tonight,” said ABC Chicago news anchor Kathy Brock, who introduced Steinem. “If there’s a group out there, some segment [of society] that’s outnumbered or voiceless, Gloria Steinem is there. She’s been there, and you hear her voice and she made an impact.”

Steinem delivered an hour-long lecture followed by a 20-minute Q-and-A session.

She addressed topics from student loan deficits to feminist issues to the negative effects of a patriarchal society.

“We’ve proved to most of the country that women can do what men can do,” Steinem said. “And now we need to prove that men can do what women can do.”

Not only an activist for political and societal issues, Steinem is also a journalist and author. She co-founded the feminist magazine Ms. in 1972 and helped establish New York magazine in 1968. She still writes features and political articles for both, as well as for many other publications.

She’s written several bestsellers, including “Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem” and “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,” a volume of feminist essays.

Early in her lecture, Steinem touched on student debt. She noted that women will make an average of $2 million less than men in their lifetimes, but she also stressed how the gravity of the situation will affect all students.

“To not be able to graduate with the sense of adventure and not be able to do what you want to do with that much debt is peculiar,” she said.

Steinem also spoke to 40 students from women and gender studies courses and members of The F Word, Columbia’s feminist student organization, who prepared and discussed questions. When asked for advice to young feminists, Steinem said they should find power in themselves.

“Listen to yourself,” she said. “That’s what it’s about. We can help each other in all kinds of ways, but I think the core of it is to trust your own talents and inner wisdom with which you were born.”

Steinem addressed how the term “feminist” has developed negative connotations because of stereotypes associated with it.

Juliet Bond, adjunct faculty member in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department and adviser to The F Word, thinks those stereotypes cause people to fear the term “feminist.”

“We’re afraid of the word ‘feminism’ because we have these preconceived notions, you know: always a lesbian, always angry, always hairy,” Bond said. “I think if we didn’t have gender constructs, maybe it wouldn’t be necessary to even know the word.”

While Steinem offered some other words with the same meaning, such as “womanist,” she said the word is not the important part although she is disturbed when people shy away from the term.

“It’s not so much as whether you use [‘feminist’] or not; it’s whether you deny it or not,” Steinem said. “When you say, ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist,’ I feel denied. Would we say, ‘I’m not against anti-Semitism,’ if we’re Jewish?”

Attendee Cassie Sheets, sophomore fiction writing major, believes the term “feminist” should continue to be used.

“Anytime you’re associated with a group that’s fighting oppression, people are going to try to knock you down through making ‘feminism’ a bad word or ‘feminist’ a hyper-stereotyped term,” Sheets said. “I don’t think we should try to get away from ‘feminist.’”

Sheets, who is also a women and gender studies minor, said she found Steinem to be inspiring. Hayden Yaussy, sophomore film and video major, agreed.

Yaussy, another women and gender studies minor, spoke of the importance of male feminism, something Steinem also mentioned in the Q-and-A session.

“It’s really important for every person, despite gender, to have a say [in government decisions] and to have equal opportunity,” Yaussy said. “Patriarchy not only keeps women down, but it keeps men in specific, rigid guidelines. It’s not only important to me as a man, but it’s important to me as a human being.”

Though the definition of feminism is “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests,” Steinem said it is not about gender roles.

“There’s no such thing as masculine or feminine,” Steinem said. “There’s human, so we should just do what we feel.”