Gloria Steinem wants you to put your phone away sometimes, for feminism’s sake.
“As wonderful as the technology we have today may be, we can’t empathize with each other on a screen or even, as much as I love books, on a page,” Steinem said, looking out at a dozens of phones being held up to get her photo. “It only happens when we’re together in this way, with all five senses.”
The writer and political, social and feminist activist spoke Thursday evening with her friend and Ms. magazine colleague Amy Richards at a relatively small event hosted by Everlane, in support of Feminist Camp, an immersive multi-day conference of sorts held in multiple cities that explores women’s issues, causes and solutions.
Steinem and Richards touched on a host of social issues and ideas, from the female farm workers that sparked her now more than 50-year career as an activist and are still subject to pervasive industry harassment to the notion that all women, given cultural training, are essentially “female impersonators.”
Moving past cultural norms takes a long time, according to Steinem, who, despite so many years of awareness and incisive reflecting on the notion that women and men are forced to embody purportedly masculine and feminine traits, still is fighting them. “It goes deep,” she said.
“I began to realize that, in some way, in a very bifurcated gendered society, our fascination with the other gender is looking for the rest of ourselves, because we’ve assigned to men a daring or the ability to do all kinds of things, and they have assigned to us, I don’t know, nurturing, patience — whatever it is, it’s in all of us,” Steinem said. “So, we each have our whole selves to gain once we get out of this role-playing.”
Something else that’s taken a long time is the current moment of women coming forward and sometimes going very public with experiences and claims of harassment and assault and having their stories believed.
“It has been building, building, building, building and now it’s over the majority, it’s a tipping point, and what is so extraordinary to me, is that women at last are being believed,” Steinem said. “That has not happened before.”
But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of room for progress. Steinem noted that, on college campuses for example, it usually takes four accusations against a single person before there is action taken by a school. “So, legally speaking, we’re still a fourth of a person you might say.”
Richards said that over the past six months, too, since the allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein became widely publicized and launched a veritable outpouring of harassment and assault allegations across industries, including fashion and retail, she’s had many people turn to her and express their shock at how widespread these issues are.
“I look at them and say, ‘Do you not believe it?’ because this has been going on forever,” Richards said.
The orange elephant in the room seemed to be President Trump, who, despite efforts to avoid his name, came up a couple of times as the discussion, which included several questions from women in the audience, veered toward power and its role in harassment issues that affect women and men.
Steinem mentioned that more than 90 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton in the last election and that more than half of white married women voted for Trump and when asked how feminists should think of women in the latter group, she went back to the notion of empathy.
“If you’re entirely dependent on your husband’s income, you vote his interest, not yours,” Steinem said. “It’s like being occupied and I think we just need to talk to each other and try to understand that.”
But Richards and Steinem agreed that Trump having become president may not end up being all bad. Richards, for one, pointed out that people seem less inclined to decry voting as futile because all politicians are the same. “They’re really not,” she said.
Steinem pointed to the suddenly increased rate of activism and protests as at least a partial reaction to Trump’s electoral college win. Even compared to the Vietnam and Civil Rights protests of in the Sixties and Seventies, she said what’s happening now is “way more universal and self-perpetuating.”
“Will it be enough? We don’t know because there’s incredible destruction at the top,” Steinem said. “But I think it’s possible that Trump will go down in history as the person who made us woke.”
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