No More Empty Fortune Cookies!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Feminist Anonymous?

Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes, circa 1970
Photograph by Dan Wynn.

I got a text from Lilley asking if I'd like to go with her to a Women's History Month lecture at her school.
The speaker would be Gloria Steinem.

Are you kidding me? Would I like to go? That's like asking if a puppy wants a treat or if a bee wants some honey!

I often talk about the overt, obvious ways that I witnessed repression and misogyny in my own home growing up. I'll always remember my father telling my mother who to vote for, and my mother obeying, even when it seemed to be contrary to her own wishes.
It seems to be in life that the negatives, such as that, stand out in our minds much more vividly than the positives. At least for me they do. I wonder what that's all about.

But with the mention of a lecture by Gloria Steinem, my memory raced back to my MS magazines. I remember my mom sitting down with me when I asked for a subscription to one of the glamor magazines, I don't really remember which one now, but she sat down with me and said she would be happy to get me a subscription, but she would rather I get a magazine with some substance. We looked over a few choices and with a little bit of urging from my mom, I ended up with a subscription to MS.
I can remember reading through those magazines and trying to resolve the discrepancy of a mother who simultaneously denied herself her own voice in the voting booth and gave her daughter such a powerful tool to add to an already growing arsenal. My mother instilled in me, at a very early age, the importance of my femininity. She showed me that even though she seemed to play by my father's rules, I could make my own. When I said I wanted to play soccer on that boy's team, she signed me up. When I said I wanted to ride the dirt bike, she bought me a helmet. And later, when I said I wanted to write, she taught me to type. It didn't matter to my mom one way or the other. She had been in the Army, she had played filed hockey, she had coached softball. My mom was one tough cookie.

I suppose my mom would probably cringe today to know that it was her idea for that subscription for MS magazine that greatly influenced me to be who I am now. But that's OK, because as much as it makes her cringe, it fills my heart with gratitude.

Last night, I was able to bring that with me and listen to one of my all time heroes talk about topics that stir my passions. I was moved listening to Gloria's speech, read by stand in's, because Gloria, although present, was suffering a terrible case of laryngitis. I was a bit sad that I didn't get to hear her speech in her voice, and wondered how the inflection would have varied had she have given it, or what ad-lib there might have been...But all in all, it was an enlightening, delightful, and thought provoking speech. Gloria was present, and she did participate in a Q&A after. That was the highlight, at least for me.

She discussed everything from health care to domestic violence. She discussed the isms: racism, genderism, classism. And how we created them, so we can defeat them.
I loved how she explained her conflict with topics such as abortion, stating that every child deserves a chance to be born and live a life, but at the same time, every woman has a right to decide what happens within her own body, and how it really is such a personal issue. I connect so deeply with her message of changing society to fit people, rather then changing people to fit society, and I just loved her analogy that we are like flowers, some of us are daises, and some are petunias and some are lilies. We're all flowers, just different kinds. But society tries to make the lilies and petunias look and act like daises instead of simply appreciating them for just what they are.

I thought about what question I would ask Mrs. Steinem, if given the mic, and all I could think was, how on earth did she motivate and maintain momentum with so many people for so many years? I mean, I tried to get a marriage equality rally together and sent out thousands of fliers, emails, phone calls, twitters, you name it and all that showed up was the Wifester, myself, one reporter and a couple of guys who drove by and said they would be back with their signs, but never came. And then she answered my question without even being asked. She said these movements started with small groups of women who gathered to talk. Talks turned to what was wrong, then turned to what should be changed, then to how it could be changed. She suggests that groups, small groups so that every voice can be heard, groups no larger than about 20 people - should be gathering to discuss topics of equality and rights. She suggested, and I loved, that there should be a network, not much unlike AA, in which people could know that no matter where they traveled, they could look up the network and find a meeting of other people with similar ideas.

Feminists Anonymous. I love it!

Gloria Steinem exemplifies a lifetime spent in service to us, to mankind. Not just "us" the women, but us, the human race. She has fought for the rights of African Americans when it was physically dangerous to do so. She has fought for the rights of gays and lesbians, from demanding more focus on AIDS treatment, to the right to serve in our military to the right to marry and adopt children. She stands up for the battered woman who has lost her voice. She fights for the children who have no one else to fight for them.

She teaches us to question, to think, and to act.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to listen to one of my personal heroes, and I will cherish the memory, utilize the knowledge gained and remember her words for the rest of my life.

Thank you Lilley!

1 cookies cracked:

Jay said...

I remember when I was a kid how many people saw Gloria as some kind of enemy of the state. Man they hated her. I never saw what the big deal was. I guess I just never saw her as the threat that my parents generation saw her as.