Gloria Steinem at CWRU

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Lecture Report, by Cara Byrne

Gloria Steinem, Author and Activist, at the Town Hall of Cleveland

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

On September 9th, Gloria Steinem delivered an empowering and inspiring lecture to a sold-out crowd of 2,000 people at Severance Hall. Prior to the event, students were given the chance to compete in an essay contest for the opportunity to meet her in a smaller gathering. As I wrote my essay about my newfound realizations about gender inequity as a new mom of a daughter and my struggle to live out the theoretical feminist politics I write about in my scholarship, I recognized how much I anticipated the responses to the many questions I had for an iconic figure who has led waves of feminist action. Steinem did not disappoint.

When she walked into the room, she smiled at us and said that our gathering “should be considered an organizing meeting instead of a lecture.” Despite her status and fame, she was humble and repeatedly emphasized her commitment to listening – and encouraged us to do the same, especially when we were speaking with someone who has less power, whether a child or fellow student.

A self-described “radical feminist,” Steinem directed the group to keep pushing against the current backlash against women’s rights: if someone tells you that you are “too aggressive,” respond “thank you!” She also coaxed us to recognize that we limit ourselves if we are only sending emails in a search for change, as we can get bogged down by cyclical email chains and our ever-growing inboxes. She encouraged us to see that “when I press send, I have done nothing.” She also spoke on how racism and sexism are inherently linked, and if the Equal Rights Amendment were to be put up on a ballot today, she would want both gender and racial inequities to be addressed. In reflecting on one’s participation in organizations, she said, “If you are part of any group that doesn’t let you laugh, leave.”

The meeting and lecture not only provided an opportunity to hear from a living legend, but it also demonstrated the commitment to gender equity and social justice of many members of the Cleveland community. Witnessing high school girls from John Hay discuss their plans to begin a feminist club, and men and women pass out flyers for congressional candidates and arts events led by women left me and others in attendance with hope. Even though domestic abuse, sex slavery, and inequity in pay between men and women are rampant in our society, there are many fighting for a better world, and at eighty years old, Steinem is still leading the charge.

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