Gloria Steinem was slightly taken aback when the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women asked her to deliver a speech entitled “Is feminism still relevant?”
She thought the answer was obvious: “We are only just beginning.”
In her keynote address on the last day of February’s “Women’s Week,” Steinem almost dismissed the question entirely. “It’s just part of the backlash,” she said. “First, they say you don’t need [feminism]. Then, they say you don’t need it anymore.”
The woman who helped found Ms. magazine, New York magazine, and Take Our Daughters to Work Day went on to explain why feminism is still very much relevantand necessary.
“We are so immersed in
Steinem highlighted the importance of equal pay and comparable worth for working women, who currently earn 76 cents to men’s dollar. And, at the rate the pay gap has been shrinking, it will be 50 more years until earnings are equal.
In addition to striving to obliterate the pay gap, Steinem said, activists should be lobbying to get an economic value assigned to “women’s work,” which includes care-giving, cooking, and cleaning. Right now, this work goes entirely uncompensated.
Parenting practices are also in need of a makeover, Steinem said. “We often hear that we should raise our daughters more like our sons, but how many of us raise our sons like our daughters?” she asked. Often, boys are forced to suppress the very qualities that are “the glory of the human race,” said Steinem, who was raised mainly by her father.
As people change how they raise their sons, society should “address masculinity with as much energy as we’ve addressed femininity.” While Steinem described masculinity as a better “prison”one with cushy furniture and wall-to-wall carpetingshe added that it is still a prison, nonetheless.
Steinem also pointed out that many of the issues in contemporary societyfrom race to gender to sexualityare interconnected. “It’s not possible to be a feminist without being an anti-racist and an environmentalist. It just doesn’t work.” And just as these current social movements are intertwined, so are their adversaries. “They are all the same,” she said.
In the end, though, Steinem expressed optimism about a bright, gender-equal future. “Not only will we get there,” she said, “but we will have a great time on the way.”
Molly Petrilla C’06
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