Power from within

Steinem talks feminism, connectedness during Chico visit

Gloria Steinem takes the stage at Laxson Auditorium March 1.

Gloria Steinem takes the stage at Laxson Auditorium March 1.

Photo by Jordan Rodrigues

Gloria Steinem’s most recent memoir, My Life on the Road, was chosen as Chico State’s—and Butte College’s—Book in Common for 2016-17 well before then-candidate Trump’s infamous comment about grabbing women “by the pussy” made headlines or the Women’s March on Washington had even been planned.

So, no one could have predicted just how timely Steinem’s talk last week (March 1) at Laxson Auditorium would be. As her memoir takes readers on a journey through her growth as a social activist and leader of a movement—through connecting with people “on the road”—it was easy to find links between feminism in the 1970s and what’s happening today.

Not that Steinem spoke directly to her book much during her talk. She didn’t have to. “I’ve never been in a room with so many people who know so much about me because they’ve already read my book,” she quipped early on. That out of the way, she moved on to broader topics, touching on the Women’s March, the dangers she sees in Trump’s presidency and the interconnectedness of feminism and other social causes.

What impressed Steinem most about the Women’s March, which she participated in but emphasized she did not help organize, was the magnitude. There were men, women, children, all illustrating the “umbrella of connection” she sees in people as a whole. “It was also the first march where there were too many people to march,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

At the same time, she does see issues today that echo those of the past. As a lifelong spokeswoman for women’s rights, she knows the signs of oppression well. The first thing men will do in trying to limit women’s power, she said, is limit their reproductive rights. That’s exactly what’s happening right now with threats to funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform abortions.

And, she took it a step further. “Why are the same groups against lesbians and birth control?” she asked. “The root of it is controlling women’s bodies.”

In the end, she said, all social causes—indeed, all humans—are connected.

“There’s no such thing as being a feminist without being anti-racist,” she said. That’s because, while some people will separate those issues, feminism encompasses all women. Likewise with other marginalized groups. “We see efforts to divide us, to create an adversary that’s a false adversary,” Steinem said. As an example: “Immigrants are presented as an enemy so we act out of fear instead of out of hope.”

While speaking about the Women’s March, she told a particularly powerful story of speaking with a woman by phone from Berlin who was united in the cause. “It’s the call that meant the most. She said, ‘We just want you to tell everyone that walls don’t work.’” The room erupted in applause.

Toward the end of her time on stage, Steinem opened the discussion up for questions and announcements. Many in the audience expressed their gratitude for Steinem’s decades of activism. Others asked what they can do.

“We are still into the ‘shoulds,’” Steinem replied. “We’re still looking up, for instruction. The truth is that each of us all know things to do that nobody else does. My hope is that we’ll begin to look at each other instead of looking up.”