Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

In SF speech, Steinem urges women to take action


Feminist icon Gloria Steinem spoke in San Francisco Monday. Photo: Sari Staver
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When election statistics revealed that 53 percent of white women voters pulled the lever for Donald Trump, feminist Gloria Steinem was not surprised.

Speaking Monday, March 6 before an audience of 400 at Brava Theater Center, Steinem said while the statistic was outrageous, she was "less surprised" than many other people.

That because, Steinem explained, she remembers a poll in the 1960s commissioned by Ms. magazine, which she co-founded, that showed that only 30 percent of the white women surveyed considered themselves "feminists," compared to 60 percent of the black women.

"Remember," said Steinem, a journalist, activist, and philanthropist, "it was not poor Chinese women who had their feet bound, it was rich Chinese women. If you're a woman who is economically dependent and you think that you may be one man away from being on welfare, you're much more likely to vote for your husband's interests and possibly not even see your own.

"Well-to-do women have better medical care, better food, and better clothing, but we're much more likely to have our minds restricted," she said.

Steinem was interviewed by Lateefah Simon, a BART board member and former MacArthur "genius" grant recipient. The event was sponsored by the Women's Building, but moved to the larger Brava venue.

Class "works in reverse for women," Steinem explained, noting that families with inherited wealth have more instances of child sexual abuse because men in such families "are made to feel they control the world." Additionally, "society often does not intervene" with such families, she said.

An enduring icon of the feminist movement, Steinem, 83, is now traveling the world organizing and lecturing. She recently co-chaired the successful Women's March on Washington.

The Women's March "was the first time in my life that there were so many people at a march that you couldn't march," she said. "It was amazing. I have never ever in my life seen such spontaneous energy."

Acknowledging that she doesn't want to downplay the danger people face with President Donald Trump and his administration, Steinem said that Trump's reinstatement of the so-called Mexico City policy – also known as the global gag rule that blocks U.S. federal funding for non-governmental organizations that provide abortions – will lead to the death of one woman every five minutes.

Trump "doesn't seem to know fact from fiction," she said, theorizing that the "people around him" – including the women – may be more guilty than he is.

Steinem urged the audience members to become "entrepreneurs of social change," meeting with other women to figure out the problems and the solutions.

"Those who are experiencing the problem are the ones who know the solution," she said. When attending a meeting about sex trafficking in Zambia, Steinem asked the women from the village what needed to happen to stop women from having to earn money through prostitution. The women said an improved yield to farming crops would provide the women with enough money to support their families. Steinem raised several thousand dollars, enough to buy and install an electrified fence, to keep elephants from destroying the crops, she explained.

When considering how to focus their efforts, Steinem said women have "dollar power, vote power, and ass power," the latter referring to where women will decide to direct their efforts.

Recalling the national network of safe houses created by feminists decades ago to house children at risk of being sent back to the homes of abusive fathers, Steinem suggested that something similar might be an effective means of helping families who fear deportation, if U.S. policies remain restrictive.

Steinem also suggested people deduct money from their income tax, notifying the Internal Revenue Service that the funds were used to support Planned Parenthood. While the government will eventually take the money out of the taxpayer's bank account, the tactic sends a message, she said.

"There are no 'shoulds' about what people decide to do to contribute," she said. "Just get up in the morning and say, 'I'm going to do what I can.'"

Both short term and long term solutions are needed, Steinem added. She urged women to work toward the elimination of the Electoral College. That "will take a constitutional amendment," she added, but said such a strategy should appeal to people in California, "who are getting screwed" by underrepresentation

Short term ideas could be as simple as having an extra room for someone in need or offering support to a friend or neighbor who seems to be scared, she said.

"Whatever you do, do it with joy and adventure," Steinem advised. "When you get up in the morning, think about what outrageous thing you can do that day."


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