On May 12, 2014, I got to meet Gloria Steinem and hear her speak.
Steinem was speaking at the Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan’s annual luncheon, where I volunteered for the day as an usher and lent a hand to my mother, who works for the organization. After hearing Steinem speak, I met her, shook hands, and exchanged a few words—which was challenging due to my crippling star-struck state. I have photo evidence to prove this meeting occurred and I will brag about this day for the rest of my life.
I learned about Steinem in my junior year of high school in my AP English course. The course focused on narratives that are often excluded from high school American literature reading lists—like female authors and authors of color. We read a lot of feminist authors. This marked the beginning of my self-identification as a feminist. Of course, I was experiencing micro-aggressions of gender oppression long before my light-bulb-moment at age 17, but it wasn’t until then that I fully understood or felt the gravity of the disadvantages women face every day. Reading Steinem in class will forever be associated with my feminist call to action and awakening. She is a role model and goddess.
So to say I was star struck when I met Steinem is an understatement.
Although this isn’t a formally reported event on my part (I regret not taking notes during her talk), I felt the need to post a little something just fleshing out points I’ve been reflecting on because meeting Gloria Steinem and hearing her speak is an experience I will value for the rest of my life.
Aside, there’s a great article of the event by Laura Berman of The Detroit News.
Let it be known, my recap of May 12, 2014 is enthusiastically biased with a generous sprinkling of my own reflections. Here are a few thoughts:
If there’s one message Steinem hammered down in her 40 minutes at the podium, it is that reproductive rights are the most basic human right.
For a quick refresher, reproductive rights, as defined by The World Health Organization are as follows:
Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence.
Steinem said Planned Parenthood is one of the most trusted and important organizations worldwide because it helps secure women’s reproductive rights—women’s power over their bodies.
Women and men and everyone in-between should be able to choose when and how they care for, nurture, and pleasure their bodies.
Choice is imperative to empowerment and Planned Parenthood is an empowering organization.
Steinem also spoke on how female empowerment is not a silo issue. She said feminism undermines racism, classism, and sexism, and therefore benefits everyone.
Feminism allows individuals to freely exhibit and develop all human traits—as caretakers, as leaders, as partners, as artists, as scientists, as athletes, as sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and the list goes on.
We will all become stronger and more complex, interesting, and capable people if we have the opportunity to do all of these things without the confines of artificially constructed gender roles (and therefore artificially constructed notions of power).
Steinem said gender inequality is the catalyst for hate crimes, political conflict, flawed governments, war, poverty, and religious clashes. She said the root of all of these problems starts at home—where children either see gender equality or inequality played out by their caretakers.
To explain this relation, she cited a work called Sex and World Peace by Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett. These authors found that the treatment of women informs human interactions at all levels of society. Essentially, a nation’s current or potential conflict is directly related to how women are treated at home, on the streets, and in their places of work.
Steinem related this concept to the April 15 kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian female students by the extremist Muslim group called Boko Haram. She called the kidnapping a supremacy or superiority crime—a crime committed against women by men to feel superior and powerful, and to satisfy some desire to dominate another person. The kidnapping is an extreme superiority crime, as are the acts of domestic violence happening throughout the world every single day. These events are all results of gender inequality—a worldwide plague that intersects and influences every person’s life.
A good place to work at realizing gender equality (and consequently fighting all the bad stuff in the world) is ensuring everyone has equal choices concerning their reproductive health and rights. A good place to start is Planned Parenthood.
I’ll conclude this long, jumping, and spanning blog entry with an announcement of my new summer work gig—for the next three weeks I’ll be doing canvassing work for Planned Parenthood in Michigan. I’ll be knocking on doors and working to get people voting on legislature about reproductive rights. I’ll be doing my part to get people voting because having a vote is something every citizen should take responsibility of, especially since women fought very long and hard to get that right.