Feminist icon and author Gloria Steinem received a standing ovation from Mills women for tackling political and sexual issues during a speech she gave in the Mills Concert Hall on March 15.
Being the co-founder of Ms. Magazine, one of the first magazines to specifically address women’s issues, Steinem spoke about the acts of everyday rebellion any woman could do to enact change as well as gender stereotypes.
“As an iconic figure and leader, Steinem was the ideal person to bring to Mills,” said Renee Jadushlever, Vice-President of Information Resources at Mills, who organized Steinem’s visit.
Holly Kernan, Mills lecturer and News Director of KALW Radio; and Meredith May, guest lecturer and San Francisco Chronicle award-winning staff writer, interviewed Steinem in the Concert Hall.
During the event, Steinem disputed some of the stereotypes associated with feminism, such as the belief that feminism is only for white upper-middle-class women.
“To say it’s a white middle-class movement gives its ownership to white middle-class women – that is outrageous!” she said.
She drew audience attention to two feminist women of color sitting in the audience: Alice Walker, her longtime friend, and Aileen Hernandez.
Walker is an activist and author, most recognized for her 1983 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple.
Hernandez is the President of the National Organization for Women, which advocates women’s rights.
Steinem said that calling feminism a white movement “wipes out the history of women of color, who have always been the pioneers.”
Steinem noted that the first public opinion poll on women’s issues, which took place in the early 70’s, showed that African American women were twice as likely to support the women’s movement.
Steinem stressed changing parental expectations of men and women. Instead of just having maternity leave or expecting women to compromise their careers for their kids, she proposed that both genders work and be parents at the same time.
“It’s always the women and children – where are the men?” she said. “Women have to say, ‘How come I’m the only one asking that question?'”
Steinem recommended that men better their parenting by following The Mermaid and the Minotaur, by Doherty Dinnerstein. This book suggests that good parenting requires the traditional feminine qualities of patience, flexibility and empathy.
“It would be the path to full humanity for men – the path away from violence towards connection with other human beings – and away from the cult of masculinity,” she said.
Other subjects included the possibility of America voting Hillary Clinton as the first female president.
Steinem said that if a female were in office, her reform work would depend on behavior, not gender.
“[Having a female president] wouldn’t change anything. Suppose we had Condoleezza Rice?” she said.
“It’s not about biology, it’s about conscientiousness,” Steinem continued. “No one person at the top can change the structure.”
Earlier in the day, Steinem held a question and answer session in the Heller room of the library. The session combined two art history classes which are taught by Kathy Walkup and Moira Roth.
According to Walkup, this question and answer session allowed Steiniem and students to directly meet and Steinem would see “how wonderful Mills students are.”
Steinem said that the women’s movement and the gay and lesbian movement are linked in sexual issues.
“Women have to be able to separate sexuality and reproduction. Women should control their physical selves and not be controlled by the means of reproduction. Gay and lesbians also stand for the separation of sexuality and reproduction,” she said.
Roth spoke about meeting Steinem, “She has passionate conviction, but she has this subtlety in the way she thinks and the way she phrases things that is quite breathtaking.”
Following her interview, Steinem was drawn to the crowd below the stage and waved copies of Steinem’s books in the air for autographs.
Sophomore Rachel Levinson-Emley attended the event with her mother, who is also a Mills alumna, and said that they had a special boding moment that was “truly empowering.”
“I feel honored to be sitting in the same room with her for an hour and a half! It was very special to me,” she said.
Doreen Hinton, admissions staff, said that she closely identifies with Steinem, being a feminist herself. “I realized I would have no idea of who I am today as a human being if not for the women’s movement and particularly Gloria Steinem – so it was very moving and affirming to me.”
“I was fortunate to spend the entire day with Gloria and truly felt I was in the presence of greatness,” said Jadushlever, who organized the event.