Renowned feminist activist and writer Gloria Steinem discussed her upbringing, inspirations and obstacles she has overcome during a lecture and Q&A session Wednesday night at the Faulkner Performing Arts Center.
The event was the UA Distinguished Lectures Committee’s first of the 2021-22 school year and first since March.
Steinem is a writer, political activist and feminist organizer. After graduating from Smith College, a women’s college in Massachusetts, in 1956, Steinem began a storied career in journalism and activism. Steinem helped found several feminist publications and political activism groups, including Ms. Magazine and the National Women’s Political Caucus, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting women seeking elected office at all levels of government.
Angie Maxwell, an associate professor of political science, opened Wednesday’s discussion by referencing Steinem’s role as one of the most prominent leaders of the feminist and women’s liberation movements in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Steinem described the notable divide between men and women at the magazine company Warren Publishing when she was a journalist there in the ‘60s.
“When a new woman writer came to town, you know, we’d all hang out and tell her who the editors to approach were and who...the bad guys at the New York Times were when they’d give you a choice on your way out: ‘Would you like to go to lunch or go to a hotel room?’” Steinem said. “So there was always that, kind of, underground team of women helping each other, but it wasn’t above ground.”
Sydney Barnes, a senior, attended the lecture because her mom often talked about Steinem when Barnes was a child.
“She is so prominent and has so much impact in women’s liberation, but I love how she brought (up) other people's names and people I wouldn’t have known, people I wanna research more into,” Barnes said.
Steinem’s activism in the early ‘60s focused heavily on deconstructing traditional gender roles and breaking stigmas about women working outside the home. There is still a long way to go, she said.
“What makes it difficult is, it’s too often a discussion of women alone, not also the men, so it's seen as progress for women to have lives outside the home, which is great, but how about men having lives inside the home?” Steinem said.
Mackenzie Selby, a senior, learned about Steinem in her Gender and Politics class and she appreciated Steinem’s optimistic outlook on current events, she said.
“She was just super positive and she was like, ‘no we’re in a good place, it’s not as bad as it seems’ and it was just really positive and good to hear,” Selby said.
The changes wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic have taught women and men how to live in one another’s shoes, Steinem said. Men being able to be home with their children, something their partners might do every day, has been transformative, she said.
“I hope it’s changed our consciousness,” Steinem said.
One attendee asked Steinem what she would have done differently during her time in the women’s liberation movement if given the chance.
“I would’ve written more, I would've wasted time less, I would have been more daring about asking for money, I would've been more organized, I wouldn't have stayed up so late watching television movies,” Steinem said. “I guess all of my biggest regrets have to do with wasting time, because time is all there is.”
Katie Strickland, a senior, said the lecture taught her more about Steinem’s background, including the obstacles she has overcome.
“I think being able to learn a little more about her background (and that) she started from a similar place we might have, or that she was a college student at one point too...being able to learn more about those in-between steps was something that was really neat for me,” Strickland said.
Maxwell ended the lecture by thanking Steinem for her work and the sacrifices she has made for the advancement of women’s rights.
“Without Gloria Steinem and the women across this country that decades ago locked arms and did the work, my life as I know it, and the lives of many of my friends and colleagues, is simply not possible,” Maxwell said. “Because of you and your example, we are never giving up.”