Gloria Steinem is 84 years-old and the woman is not anywhere near dropping the mantle of feminism onto her younger proteges and heading for a beach somewhere to live out the rest of her days blissfully unaware of the news cycle. The feminist icon has certainly earned it, but she’s got no interest in a life without discourse.
“That sounds so boring!” Steinem said at Courage of a Movement, a New Democratic Party fundraising event, in Toronto Wednesday night. Steinem gave a keynote address on the progress of feminism and then participated in a panel with 15-year-old activist Hannah Alper, actress Patricia Fagan and anti-sexual violence advocate Farrah Khan, moderated by The Social‘s Marci Ien.
Excited to visit Toronto for a discussion on the future of the women’s rights movement at #CourageofaMovement with a panel of local activists: @farrahsafiakhan @ThatHannahAlper, Patricia Fagan, and @MarciIen, hosted by @OntarioNDP at @the_rcm
Join us! https://t.co/ekz6pIk9s1
— Gloria Steinem (@GloriaSteinem) December 7, 2018
If you were concerned that after decades fighting for feminist issues, Gloria Steinem might have gotten stuck in a certain way of thinking, we’re here to tell you that no, she absolutely has not — this woman is as incredible a speaker as she has always been and her feminist ideas are still right on the cutting edge. (And so is her fashion sense, we might add — she wore a studded leather jacket to the engagement).
So basically, we’re as enamoured by her as we’ve ever been. Here’s a rundown of all the timely, inspiring, funny and thought-provoking things she said.
On the current U.S. President
There was a moratorium on the name of the current POTUS, but Steinem made her thoughts on the man clear. She began her keynote address by quipping that she was happy to be out of the States for the moment.
“As you can imagine, I’m glad to be out of my own country,” she said. “I promise you, I’ll go back though, I won’t try to claim asylum. He lost by six million votes though, he’s only president because of an outdated system that has its roots in slavery — the Electoral College.
“We’re using him as an instruction manual on the things we need to fix though,” she continued. “Don’t worry, we’re woke.”
Yes, Gloria Steinem would like you to know she’s woke.
On empathy and laughter
Steinem acknowledged the connection, mobilizing and organizing capabilities of the internet, but also asserted that it’s through real human contact that we truly learn how to empathize with each other. She emphasized that empathy and laughter are the most basic equalizers.
“We cannot empathize unless we are together,” she said. “Empathy is the key to human survival.”
She then connected empathy to laughter by calling it “the only free emotion.”
“Laughter is sacred, it breaks into the unknown,” she said. “It can’t be compelled; nobody can make you laugh.
“Use laughter as a guide. Never go any f–king place they won’t let you laugh. We can laugh our way to the revolution.”
How does one remain on the cutting edge of the feminist movement for decades? Gloria would attribute it to listening and listening like you mean it.
“You don’t learn when you’re talking,” she said. “And we don’t know we’re worth listening to until someone listens to us. It’s like how we don’t know we’re lovable until someone loves us. Actually listening and understanding each other isn’t a burden, it’s a gift.”
“If you are in a position of power over people, you need to listen as much as you talk,” Gloria said. “If you have less power, you need to talk as much as you listen. We can get timid, but we need to break free from that.”
One of the most crucial components of Fourth Wave feminism is the acknowledgement that we all have different lived experiences stemming from our placement on different axes of oppression, privilege and power. A concern modern feminists voice often is that older iterations of the movement didn’t account for intersectionality and that mainstream white feminism left women of colour behind or openly rejected them. Marci pointed out that Steinem is one of the Second Wave feminists who pushed to acknowledge the overwhelming contributions of women of colour.
“Women of colour have been disproportionately the leaders of the movement,” Steinem said. “Fifty-one percent of white women voted for Donald Trump. We need you.”
She was also careful to acknowledge that feminism is for men as well as women, or any other gender identity.
“There is no gender. It was invented and we can de-invent it,” she said. “I always say, ‘there are two types of people: those who divide people into two groups and those who don’t.'”
On where feminism is right now
“Movements — the feminist movement, the environmental movement — have become a majority consciousness,” Steinem observed. “Not yet a power structure, but consciousness comes first. And the group that feels threatened by that change is mad as hell. But they are all about the past — Make America Great Again — we’re about looking toward a future.”
Steinem likened the current place of the feminist movement to a woman escaping domestic violence. She said that a woman is at the most risk of being harmed by her abuser immediately before and immediately after she runs away.
“We’re at a time of maximum danger,” she said. “But maybe we’re about to be free.”
“I’m a hope-aholic,” Steinem shared. “If our hopes were not possible, they wouldn’t already be inside us. Hope is a form of planning.”
“You bring the anger, I’ll bring the hope,” she said, gesturing to the room at large.
“Sometimes I’m hopeful, sometimes I just want to burn everything down,” Farrah added. Marci then prompted the panellists to finish the discussion on a note about courage.
“It’s important to be courageous right now, because the alternative is boring, stupid, limiting, depressing — worse than failing is doing nothing at all,” Steinem said. “It’s the only way you will not go around regretting — and that’s the saddest word in the world — what might have been.”