Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Steinem's About Social Justice, Not Man-Bashing

Guest blog by Lisa A. Patterson

Gloria Steinem Rocked My World. How Was Your Monday?

This is a monster blog entry, but you know what? I have a lot to say about Gloria Steinem’s March 1 visit to campus.

I was one of the lucky ones – I got in line early enough to get a coveted green ticket, which would guarantee me a seat in McKnight Hall for the lecture. While in line, I overheard a conversation between the two individuals behind me. The man asked the woman, “So have you seen her speak before? Is this going to be, like, man bashing?” The woman explained that feminism is not about man bashing. I smiled – it was already an educational evening, and we weren’t yet in the auditorium.

The lecture began with a photo montage that aroused emotion, at least for me. One photo in particular caught my attention – a black and white still of a multitude of women standing with arms linked. I found that photo to be striking for several reasons: 1) the closest thing to that kind of solidarity I’ve witnessed personally are the crowds President Barack Obama drew during his campaign for the presidency; 2) it reminded me of just how young the movement for social and political equality for women really is; and 3) it reminded me that people committed to a cause can affect change. It also inspired a longing for connection and got me thinking about all of the things that get in the way of people forming connections with one another. All of this before Steinem even stepped on the stage.

In her speech (which was delivered by Kelly Finley because Steinem had laryngitis), Steinem addressed division – we separate ourselves from one another based on externalities such as race, social class, or age, instead of celebrating and learning from our differences and reflecting on the many similarities we share. Steinem warned against buying in to the stereotypes that are propagated by the media. She deconstructed the myth that young women are not socially aware and focused on women’s issues (citing some pretty compelling statistics), she talked about the inherent links between sexism and racism, and she implored us to share our stories and mentor one another across generational lines.

These things hit home. My grandmother was a woman with whom I identified not as a mother figure but more as a friend with a great deal of experience. I call upon the insights I gained from her nearly every day, and I wish everyone the opportunity to have that kind of relationship with someone. From the perspective of her 75 years, Steinem is saying that cross-generational relationships are essential to creating unity and understanding among people, and that we can and should nurture these relationships.

From a quiet kid, a silent observer, I became a story teller because I enjoy people and I love that they are not all like me, and they deserve to be heard, and maybe I have the words to help them or the platform to tell their stories. We all deserve to be heard. That black and white photo of a multitude of women (and I’m sure, some supportive men), standing with arms linked, is worth a thousand words. It gave me a glimpse of how far we’ve come, and it got me stewing over how far we’ve yet to go, and how I can contribute to advancing social justice for all people. At the end of her speech Steinem requested that each member of the audience perform one act of rebellion, and said that she would match us, act for act. I have to confess, I haven’t performed my act yet…or maybe I’ve taken one small step toward rebellion.

I’ve decided to reclaim the label of “feminist” because it is not a dirty word. It is a word that signifies a movement that has made life better for men, women and children. And I’ve begun to search for heroes, because inspiration is a necessary ingredient to the change making process. Some heroes I’ve met while working in higher education, some are among my family members, and many are in our community, toiling in obscurity.

It’s a bit daunting, this social justice thing. But it’s also invigorating, terribly human, and from what I gathered from Steinem, it can be a helluva lot of fun.
*Steinem said that women lose intellectual self-esteem for every additional year of higher education they receive. I’ve done a cursory search for studies on this, but if any of you can point me in the direction of a definitive study on the topic, please send me a note (

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Lisa A. Patterson is a public relations writer at UNC Charlotte, and a proud feminist.

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