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The “Power And The Gloria” Steinem Comes To Penn State

Even in her opening sentence, speaker, feminist activist, writer and generally awesome human Gloria Steinem managed to sum up her Wednesday night visit to Penn State better than I can. Steinem visited Penn State as a part of the Center for Women Students and World Campus partnership to stop domestic violence.

Coming out on stage to a tidal wave of applause, Steinem raised her hands up and said simply, “Well, are we going to have a good time tonight, or what?”

The answer was a resounding yes. Yes, the audience most definitely had a good time. By the first few sentences that Steinem said, one girl was claimed that “She is so awesome,” and it only got better from there.

“I devoutly hope,” Steinem, vowed, “that because we are here tonight, something will be better in our lives tomorrow.” What she may not have expected, though, was that the reason tomorrow will be better was directly because everyone was there that night.

Following an introduction from Center of Women Students Co-Curriculum Program Coordinator Jennifer Pencek, Steinem began by thanking the crowd for being there, calling them “a combination of people in the room that has never happened in the same way and will never happen again.”

Sharing a brief history of human rights movements, Steinem noted that rights for women had taken over a hundred years to come about, and said, “I don’t know how to break this to you, but…[equality] may take another 100 years.” Steinem continued with “in the early days of this movement, I thought if I could just explain [the lack of equality] to people, I could make them understand.” She explained to the audience that in the fight for equality, they’re “not just in this for a moment. [You’re] in it for life.” Steinem encouraged those who are silenced to speak out, saying that “any group that’s been invisible needs to say ‘Hi, here I am. Here’s my name and here are my issues.’”

Throughout the speech, Steinem referenced the issues of domestic violence, noting that when growing up in Ohio, “There wasn’t a word for it. It was just called life.” Domestic violence was generally ignored she said, unless it required hospitalization or worse. Though some are criticizing the pace of feminism now, Steinem said, “age keeps you from being a pessimist because you understand when it was worse.”

Steinem related domestic violence to the patriarchy, which she defined in part as “Women are the means of production and we control them.” Domestic violence and a patriarchal system have contributed to a time where, “If we arrive at a political system where half of the population tires to control the other part, it ends in violence and injustice.” A “determinate of [a country’s violence] is…violence against women,” she said. Still, Steinem added, “It’s important to note that all women don’t experience [domestic violence], though some do and not all men do this, though some do. While current statistics say that one in five women will be assaulted or raped in their lifetime, Steinem noted that there’s a disconnect in the numbers, not every one in five men are rapists or abusers, but rather, it’s the same men committing the same brutalities. They become addicted to power, Steinem said, “The idea of masculinity is out there, like a drug. And some people get hooked on it.” Oppression also comes from entitlement, she said, when people get the idea that they’re “born into, deserve and are somehow no longer human unless they maintain control.”

This mindset contributes to a large number of “sexist crimes and racist crimes,” Steinem said, and if these crimes were reduced or discouraged in the fight for equality, Steinem said “Trayvon Martin might still be alive.”

Steinem also discouraged the idea of slut-shaming, saying that in any relationship of any gender “Sex is the way we reach out to each other and connect” and it’s not just for procreation, as some religions believe.

During the lecture, the audience members were given an amount of time to ask questions. Steinem was excited about the opportunity to ask questions, in which she said, “I don’t learn when I’m speaking. I learn when I’m listening.”

After one question focusing on the African-American civil rights movement, Steinem criticized her own lack of participation in that fight as she was helping to expand women’s rights with African-American and fellow leader Flo Kennedy. “I was not a good role model in the racial [equality] department even though I thought I was [at the time],” she said. “I came home from India, and looking around my neighborhood, I thought, ‘Wow, I could go snow-blind here’…in the civil rights movement [then], women weren’t recognized as leaders,” Steinem said. She centered on the impact of women like Rosa Parks to help share their stories and change society for the better. Steinem said that even now, she hears things from people that are discouraging. “They tell me things like ‘a Black woman took my job’ and I say back, ‘Who said it was your job?’” She challenged the audience to think, noting that the original founders of the “Black Lives Matter” movement were “three young black feminists,” a fact that stunned the audience into near silence. Being a journalist, Steinem referenced books that she highly encouraged everyone in the audience to read, including Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street, and Sven Lindqvist’s Exterminate All The Brutes.

As an outspoken supporter of Hillary Clinton, Steinem shared some of her ideas about the election. She criticized the backlash against immigration, in which she said, “In about 20 minutes, we are going to be a no longer white country.” She talked about the benefits of this, eventually showing her humorous side by ending it with, “we’ll have better food.” Not a fan of Trump, Steinem shared that “coming from New York, I’m telling you, he is not a successful businessman, speaking factually, if he were a successful businessman, he would have more money now than when [he began].” Steinem also said that her generation differs from millennial in economic issues. Unlike millennial, she said, her generation “didn’t graduate in huge debt.”

Steinem did express her happiness to see women in positions of power, based off of Clinton’s ability to get this far in a presidential campaign. “Just as we would not tell anyone to turn back into a violent, controlling household, we won’t turn back and I think we’re about to be free.” Clinton’s ability to become so accomplished and get so close to the presidency, Steinem believes, “stands for ideas that women should be able to control [their] physical selves and our own fate, once we see that, we see our way out.” Steinem encouraged people to vote, in which she said “the voting booth is the only place on earth where the least powerful and most powerful people are equal.”

While she said that females aren’t seen as strong women because they’re viewed as “nurturing and not appropriate for public life” because they birth and raise children, Steinem said, “Oppressive systems work because they’re internalized.” Instead of women giving in to society’s ideas of “we need a strong man and can’t do [anything by ourselves], Steinem said all women should take time to begin “discovering our own strengths and our own talents and supporting that in other women…[that we’re] unique and powerful and can support ourselves.”

“We need to make sure when we’re representing a women’s movement – in photos, in panels, or conversation – that we look like a women’s movement. In the 1970’s she said, the feminism movement was so small “we were like 12 crazy ladies.” Even as a widely respected – if polarizing – figure, Steinem insists that she is only “here to serve as a resource” to the modern feminists of today. “Don’t listen to me,” she told the crowd. “Listen to yourselves. You’re so smart and you know things I don’t know.” Bringing in an animal metaphor similar to her classic “a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” Steinem told the crowd to remember that “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck and looks like a pig, it’s a pig,” meaning that listeners should be careful in trusting too easily and getting into danger based on false representations of someone’s character.

In a response to an audience member’s question about “passing the torch” to the younger generation of social activists, Steinem said, “I’m not passing my torch. I’m using it to light other people’s torches. That’s the problem with thinking there’s only one torch. No wonder we can’t see a f**king thing.” It was a response that got one of the loudest applauses of the night.

At age 82 (as she freely admitted), Steinem said that gender becomes less of an issue in later years or alternately, when you’re young. During youth, Steinem said that children are used to “being the rebellious 9 or ten year old, climbing trees and saying, ‘I’m sure what I want.’” This clarity gets less focused when people – especially girls – age, and until they’re past child-bearing age, trying to perform gender roles can take up a large part of people’s lives.  

Steinem noted that people “don’t radicalize [in a movement] from gratitude. We only get radical based on what happened to us.” Sharing her own experience, she added that she decided to fight for social justice only after she became angry at society’s ideas.

At the end of her speech, Steinem had one last message for the audience, one that they were more than happy to stay and listen to.

“Do me a favor,” she said. “When you walk out of here tonight, introduce yourself to three or four new people and tell them what you’re about. The benefits could bring a surprise, like a new friend, a new love affair, or something else.”

From the level of chatter in the lobby after she walked off stage, it sounded like the audience had taken her advice.


Gabrielle Barone is a freshman at Penn State, majoring in Print and Digital Journalism. In addition to HerCampus Penn State, she also writes for Penn State's newspaper, The Daily Collegian, and blogs for the scholarship website Collegexpress. She loves anything with chocolate and peanut butter in it, and reads way too much historical fiction.
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