Posted by Kate Butler
Hordes of eager students, faculty and community members packed into the Arthur Zankel Music Center on Thursday Feb. 21 to listen to Gloria Steinem, legendary social justice activist, feminist, editor and writer speak about the modern feminist movement.
American Studies professor Rebecca "Beck" Krefting described the importance of Ms. Steinem's impact in her life in a hilarious, yet deeply personal introduction. Krefting focused on Steinem's crucial role in reevaluating the American ideal of beauty through the founding of Ms. Magazine, and the lesson she learned in "how to be proud to be myself; how not to be ashamed."
When Steinem took the stage, she immediately established a rapport with the audience, emphasizing the importance of personal connection and empathy, and admitting her own fear of public speaking. This fear was hard to detect throughout the engrossing and thought-provoking lecture, which alternated between moments of serious discussion and unexpected bursts of humor that kept the audience entranced and amused.
Although her lecture covered a range of topics, Steinem generally focused on the future of social change, with a strong emphasis on women's rights. According to Steinem, the greatest obstacle society must overcome is its tendency to halt social movements before their completion. She maintains that society must understand lessons from the past in order to continue to make change in the future.
Social change becomes achievable through perseverance and efforts to reform policy. Steinem seemed hopeful for the future, insisting that this "country is escaping the old hierarchical ways of thinking" about such issues as sex and race. Steinem has explored the origins of social hierarchies by studying historical cultures and the ways in which hierarchies develop over time. Constructions of gender and race that dominate modern social systems did not always exist as they do today, she says.
Throughout her lecture, Steinem maintained her broad theme of social justice movements and the vital human links that connect them all and make them relevant to us all. "We are linked, not ranked," she summarized, after a discussion of women's historical descent into inequality, and the ramifications that degradation of women holds for all people. She insisted we must remember that our bodies "are instruments, not ornaments" and we should treat them, and those of others, accordingly.
Steinem closed her talk by looking to the future of the feminist movement and social justice movements in general. With her final words, she predicted, "Not only will we see ourselves as linked, but we will see our movements as linked."