Gloria Steinem reminded a standing-room only crowd that the feminist movement is not over on Feb. 18 at The Hotel at Auburn University.
“I hope that we might leave here feeling empowered,” Steinem said. “And also leave here understanding that the idea that the movements are over, that we’re in a post-racist, post-feminist age, is just bull shit.”
The lecture was part of the Extraordinary Women Lecture series, sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Institute and Women’s Studies Program.
Steinem is an activist and journalist known for her role in the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s. She co-founded Ms. Magazine and the Women’s Action Alliance among others. She has received numerous awards including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award.
Auburn University students, ranked as the most conservative college students by the Princeton Review, and community members packed into the 600-capacity ballroom. The crowd had filled the seats and lined the walls 20 minutes before Steinem was scheduled to speak.
Steinem recognized how different the country is since the 1960’s. She cited rape being classified as a violent crime, and the development of the term domestic violence as progress in the feminist movement. However, Steinem still sees room for activism.
“We are at a time when our future is uncertain which way it will go,” Steinem said. “I think the biggest problem with our activism is that we have been deeply convinced the top is what makes the difference.”
Steinem said she believes that change comes from grassroots movements. Each person acting as if everything they do matters is where change comes from, not individuals, according to Steinem.
“The reason people know me … is because there was so few of us,” Steinem said. “We were 12 crazy people. Now there’s this kind of question of where is the next whatever. The point is there’s too many of us for that to ever be the question again.”
Steinem claimed people in power that want a majority white, Christian-run country are in a panic. The panic partly arises from birth control and gay rights gaining popularity, according to Steinem
“All of these things coming together tells me that this country is out of their control,” Steinem said. “That means two things. One, it’s a time of maximum danger and we have to look after each other, and the other is we’re about to be free.”
Members of the audience took notes on the pages of their personal copies of Steinem’s books. They clapped, nodded and laughed in agreement of her statements. Not everyone who attended agreed with her message however.
Adam Wolnski detailed his beliefs about the feminist agenda in the opinion article Dear feminists, the time has come. The article was published online by Auburn University’s student-run newspaper The Plainsman shortly after Steinem’s lecture.
“Feminists, like abolitionists, had a valid agenda at one point in time,” Wolnski wrote. “There were rights and laws in America that didn’t let women do the same things as men. But those laws have been overturned, and women in America have every right that men do. So why are we still setting ourselves apart?”
Other students found it important to learn about her views in a historical sense.
“I think she has a lot of correct views about things,” said Jon Harrison, senior in journalism. “I don’t agree with all of her views, but if you have a chance to go and see her I think everybody should take it.”
In addition to her beliefs on feminism, Steinem wanted her lecture to be a time for activism to continue. She asked the audience to not only ask questions during the question-and-answer period, but also give answers and make announcements for their own movements.
This led to a 45-minute succession of questions, stories and announcements that had to be cut short to allow time for Steinem’s book signing. Steinem fielded questions ranging from the politics of religion to sports.
After a question about Pat Dye’s comments on Condoleezza Rice’s inclusion in the College Football Playoff selection committee, the audience learned the extent of Steinem’s local football knowledge.
“I never thought I’d find myself defending football, or Condoleezza Rice,” Steinem said. “But if I were to make a choice for something we have to stand up for, I suspect the guy who said that was way too old to be out there.”
After the audience’s laughter at the expense of Dye, Steinem asked her own follow up questions.
“Is it somebody you all know? Was he way too old?”
This was followed by a resounding “Yes” from the audience.
Steinem left the conservative student body not only with laughs, but also with the notion that there is still room for the country to grow.
“To allow ourselves to hope less, means that we are defeated before we even begin.”
Written for Reporting, JRNL 2310, taught by Dr. Fuhlhage at Auburn University