By Marsha Sutton
I never expected tears. But without warning my eyes began to well up when I heard her speak about social justice, the endless fight for gender equality, and the desperate need in the world to embrace our common humanity.
The embarrassing trickle became a torrent when a young woman asked her what was the best part of being a feminist advocate.
“You,” she said without hesitation. That did it for me, as I reached for the tissues.
It’s Gloria Steinem, of course – gracious, lovely, articulate, passionate, full of humility, and inspirational as ever.
Steinem spoke Oct. 3 at Congregation Beth Am in Carmel Valley before a tremendous crowd of 1,300, women and men of all ages, who greeted her with thunderous applause. She was the inaugural speaker of Beth Am’s newly instituted Inspiring Minds Speaker Series, and the title of her presentation was “Feminism: The Longest Revolution.”
News for those who think the revolution is over because so many rights have been won is that setbacks abound. Legal challenges that seek to legitimize discrimination against women and reverse hard-fought battles continue to pop up like Whack-a-Mole.
“We’ve already lost most of Roe vs. Wade,” she said, referring to the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Steinem said the way women have been “kept in our place in this country is to say how much better off we are” – both geographically, compared to many third-world countries, and historically, given the progress in the last 40 years.
But do we stop caring at the edges of our borders? Have we achieved parity and equal opportunity in the workplace? Is there respect for full-time homemakers? Does domestic violence still exist? Are rape victims stigmatized? Do women have full reproductive freedom?
“To say to girls you can be anything you want to be is a lie,” Steinem said. “Then when they come up against boundaries, they perceive it as their own fault.”
The icon of the modern feminist revolution, Steinem rocked my world.
She was the ultimate transformative figure in my life. She did for me what personal heroes do – provide a “click” in our thinking, a moment that suddenly brings clarity to our lives, explains mysteries of human behavior, propels us to change.
Steinem introduced the concept of the “click moment” – an altered perception of your own life that never allows you to “go back” to being ignorant or uninvolved or self-absorbed. It’s when you suddenly get it – you see the discrimination, feel the wrong, experience the indignity.
She opened my eyes, 40 years ago, in 1972, just as I was entering college. She’s been with me longer than my husband of 35 years, and she changed my life forever.
She raised my consciousness in profound and lasting ways, just as she influenced – and continues to influence – generations of women and men.
Steinem inspired me to join the National Organization for Women, march for the Equal Rights Amendment, fight for abortion rights, demand equal pay, understand that rape victims never “ask for it” or deserve it, keep my own last name, not be embarrassed by my 5-foot,10-inch frame, pay my own way, and speak up for justice, human rights and deeply held values.