A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men. – Gloria Steinem
I had the most amazing pleasure of meeting Gloria Steinem on Wednesday at an event to benefit the Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation and the Women’s Media Center (for which Gloria is a co-founder). As a feminist and an advocate for human rights, this was not only a dream come true but an inspirational moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. I will tell my daughter about it one day. I will share it with my granddaughters. I will remember the words of wisdom she dispelled on that night cold night in Chicago in a lovely family’s home amongst 125 women and girls.
It has taken me a few days to write this post because a) I was on travel for work and b) it’s taken me a little while to come down from cloud 9 and process everything she said. I’m still processing, but I am ready to share my thoughts and feelings around the night.
First, I have to mention that Gloria Steinem is so incredibly kind, genuine, and such a kindred spirit. When introduced to her, I expected to shake her hand, smile, pose for a picture, and be on my way so the other 124 women could get their photo opp. But instead, she shook my hand, asked what I did, looked me in the eye, smiled, and then told me I was an inspiration. Yes, Gloria Steinem said I was an inspiration. I just about died. I know what you’re thinking — she probably says that to all the young women she meets. And you’re probably right, I am sure she said it so several of the women and girls she met throughout her 3-part event on Wednesday. But what matters is the genuine way in which she said it. The thing about Gloria is she truly does find inspiration in young women and girls who are using their voices, speaking out, impacting change, and pushing forward.
I got my photo and had a permanent smile plastered across my face for the rest of the evening… heck, the rest of the week.
And then, we were all hushed and began to gather in the living room for Gloria to share her words of courage and wisdom with us. The coolest part was that there were 25 or so 13-17 year old girls who were invited to have a small “fire side” chat with Gloria. I will say with 100% honesty, I’m not sure what was more inspiring: Gloria or the young group of girls. The poise and intelligence these girls demonstrated was fantastic. They asked questions like “How can we utilize all of the political capital that women and girls have?” and “How can we make sure these conversations are not being led by just white women but rather a diverse group of women.” I remember looking at my friend and saying “Gosh, I was not even thinking about these things at 15, 16 years old. Heck, I’m not saying “political capital” now.” It truly was amazing to watch the conversation unfold with Gloria Steinem, the mother of feminism, a hero who paved the way for women and girls, and a group of our future. It was refreshing. Inspirational. and brilliant.
Gloria said something that truly struck me even though it seems so simple and common sensical. She said something to the effect of “we shouldn’t focus on generalities but instead particularities.” So many arguments are made in sweeping manners. “Everyone on welfare is lazy,” “feminists are man-haters.” These are the arguments and the radical points that attempt to silence the rational thinking of complex issues facing society. Generalities are isolating, suffocating, and can be ignorant. Instead, we must focus on the particularities. The “Why’s” and the “whats” It’s unpacking an issue and not seeing it face value. I also think this can be related to how we view ourselves, our goals, our passions, our dreams. My mentor, Rebecca Sive once said to me “It’s not about how big the dream is, but how possible.” Sometimes we think if we aren’t on the path to being the next Gloria Steinem, then what’s the point. But there is so much we can be doing to achieve our dreams.
Which leads me to a conversation I had last night while speaking at a panel on human trafficking for the World Affairs Counsel in Jacksonville, IL. At a pre-panel dinner, an older gentleman in his late 60’s early 70’s looked at myself and two students who were also at the table and said, “What’s wrong with the world and how are you going to fix it?” We chuckled and looked at each other wondering who was going to answer that loaded question at which point the gentleman followed up and said, “No but seriously. My generation, we were angry. Really angry. And we marched. But yours, I don’t think you’re angry.” I smiled and said “Oh don’t worry, we are angry. It just looks different. You had your voice and your feet, we have our voice and technology. We use social media to express our anger. We write letters to representatives. We create documentaries and videos.”
And then after the panel discussion on human trafficking, an audience member asked “well what can we do?” I knew exactly what to say and who to quote. I said:
Organize. It sounds simple. But look around, there are 120 people in this auditorium. If you organized and told others about this issue, it could be extremely powerful and impact change. The way Gloria Steinem organized perhaps looks different than how you and I might because of the tools we have available today. But make a Facebook status, Tweet this event, write a blog article. Do it together. Do what you’re not supposed to. Challenge yourself and others to think creatively about how to combat human trafficking.
I believe we will all look back on our lives when we’re older and remember a few moments and a few people. I know that when I look back, my moment will be in the living room and a person I will remember is Ms. Gloria.