By Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan
The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem spoke to a packed 1,600-seat Duke Chapel on a rainy Tuesday night. She talked about connections and how “we are linked, we are not ranked.”
Steinem recently turned 80 and told the audience that life is long and we are like Russian dolls. The original self doesn’t go away, she said, but stays the same and builds and builds.
After 50, the person you resemble is more the girl you were at 9 or 10, she said, who knows what she wants and what she thinks.
Saying “you’re not the boss of me” is part of every liberation movement in the world, Steinem said.
Steinem led the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s and founded the first woman-led magazine, Ms. She has continued her work as an activist, author and speaker. She said if someone calls themselves a feminist, they’re a feminist as far as she’s concerned.
Steinem told the audience that the idea that U.S. society today is post-feminist and post-racist couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a revolution and evolution that has barely begun, she said.
Steinem also talked about violence and how it is connected to everything else in life. Violence and control normalized in families spreads elsewhere, she said.
“We’re never going to have a democratic society until we have a democratic family. We’re never going to have a non-violent society until we have non-violent families,” she said.
Steinem also talked about higher education being underfunded by state legislatures, equal pay for women, and attributing value to work like caregiving, and offering tax deductions for it.
“The single most important thing is understanding we are not crazy, the system is crazy,” she said.
She spoke for about an hour and then took several questions.
A Duke senior who said he grew up “a sissy” before being proud of it asked Steinem what can be done culturally to bring up boys differently.
“We just need to treat those male human beings like people and listen to them,” she said, and take labels off.
Another Duke student, a woman applying to med school, wanted to know how to respond to interview questions of how she would balance a career and family.
It’s an illegal question, Steinem said. “Just don’t answer it,” she said.
In response to her thoughts on the Duke student who came out as a pornography actress, Steinem said that the problem is not the woman but the industry.
“I worry when we isolate one person who isn’t the power,” she said.
Another Duke student asked Steinem’s reaction to the “oppressive social system” of Greek fraternities and sororities. Steinem suggested the student support what she sees in women that is their own unique worth.
Another student who grew up in a Southern household where women were second-class citizens wanted to know how to talk about her anger with her family.
“It is true that sexism was worse in the South because racism was worse in the South,” Steinem said. Maybe discuss it one at a time rather than at the holidays, Steinem suggested. In families, you learn how to love and get along with people you don’t like, she said.
“Maybe you can’t, but at least can honor yourself and them by trying, and you might be surprised,” she said.
An 8th grade girl told Steinem that she just did a school project on her.
“What’s that like?” the girl asked.
“It is really weird,” Steinem said, but that just seeing a 14 year-old there is a huge reward.