Gloria Steinem and PFLAG
On Tuesday, September 9th, we attended a Town Hall of Cleveland at CWRU which is a forum for people to engage with distinguished scholars and those who have been recognized as an expert in their field. This Town Hall was a fundraiser for CWRU's Flora Stone Mather Center for Women whose vision includes integrating "research and advocacy to actively engage and inspire all people to advance gender equity and inclusion..." The speaker was Ms. Gloria Steinem and the title of her presentation was "The Longest Revolution." We believe that it is fair to say that Ms. Steinem is a cultural icon as well as a feminist activist who co-founded "New York Magazine" and "Ms. Magazine". Due to the overwhelming number of people who wanted to attend this event, it was held in Severance Hall at CWRU to an almost sellout crowd that was overwhelmingly composed of women of all ages but there were still a few men there who were mostly late teens and early twenties. As we were taking our seats, we spoke to a couple of students and were told that they were taking the class "Women in American History" and were thus strongly encouraged to attend.
One older man who was there was Mr. Trevor Jones who, like Ms. Wong,we was an Ellis Island Award Winner that we last encountered at the City Club of Greater Cleveland on April 11th. Mr. Jones was there at Severance Hall with his wife, Jenny, and both of them wished Ms. Wong their best. We also had a pleasant conversation with Euclid City Councilperson Laura J. Gorshe who was there with her daughter who attends Kent State University. Both of them are strong admirers of Ms. Steinem. We sat in the upper balcony next to a married couple named Ted and Maria who said that Ms. Steinem is a "role model."
The program started with a "University Welcome" from CWRU President Ms. Barbara Snyder who said that we were going to be in for "an unforgettable evening".
She then introduced Ms. Beth Embrescia, Past President of the the Flora Stone Mather Center for Women Community Advisory Board who thanked President Snyder for "changing the culture of the campus in many ways" and told her that "your collective presence speaks volumes." Ms. Embrescia then talked about the history of the Center and how it has been a positive "catalyst for change" but cautioned all of us that there is still a distance to go before a "woman's value is not determined by anything more than her strength, contribution, and intellect."
President Snyder then introduced Ms. Steinem but said that "Gloria Steinem needs no introduction. She embodies an entire era in history."
When Ms. Steinem walked on stage she received a standing ovation before she began her presentation. She started off by praising the work of President Snyder and the Flora Mather Center. She said that the main reason that she was glad that she was there, though, was the attendees, themselves, which she described as a unique combination of individuals that has never happened before and will never happen again. She expressed hope that we all would leave with "some new meaning of responsibility" and asked that we all pretend that we were sitting in a sharing circle.
Ms. Steinem then went on to discuss what is happening today in 2014 and stressed the need for concerned people to unite and work for the betterment of all. We were impressed by the fact that her presentation addressed the needs of men as well as women as women and was anti-rascist as much as it was pro-feminist; in fact, we found it to be both honest and positive.
Among the contentions that Ms. Steinem made in her presentation were:
***That we should be inspired because the fight for women to be established as a legal entity took 100 years and the fight for legal equality has only been going on for 40 years and we have accomplished a lot in that time frame.
***Women's issues are not separate from economic issues. If women were paid for the same as men for equal work, it would put $200 billion more into the economy and it would do more good than the Wall Street bailout.
***A female doctor makes $50,000 less a year than her male counterpart. When women have children, they are likely not to be paid as much as they would havve if they had chosen not to have children but when a man has children, his earnings will go up because it is viewed as a sign of stability.
***Men are missing out on a lot because they are not more actively involved with the raising of children. Along these lines, we are the only democracy without a system of childcare and now the costs of childcare now outweigh the costs of a college education. She went on to speak with empathy about the amount of debt that the average college student incurs.
***Sexism/racism are intertwined. Due to the fact that the majority of people of color are women, wherever there is racism women are more "restricted".
***She discussed violence against women and noted that more women have been murdered by their husbands and boyfriends since 9/11 than the people who were either killed on 9/11 or have lost their lives fighting in the wars brought about by 9/11. Moreover, sex trafficking is threatening to become a bigger business than illegal drugs.
Ms. Steinem finished this part of the program by saying that in order to be part of a change, we should do "whatever we can." One way we can gauge if we are doing the right thing is that "if we are on the right track for the internal self, there is laughter" and if you are not laughing with the group you are involved with, then find a new group. Another way is to find the right balance of learning and talking. Ms. Steinem said that "when I have more power, I must listen and if I have less power I must learn to talk."
Next was the Q and A conducted by Dr. Karen Beckwith, PhD, Flora Stone Mather Professor. Among the things, Ms. Steinem said were that if she could start all over with the equal right amendment, she would include race this time; one of the problems of today is that we have become too individualized and have lost our sense of community; in order for the women's movement to progress, the emphasis should not be on past struggles but what is happening now; for instance, a young woman in college should know that she will probably incur the same amount of student debt as the young man sitting next to her but she will ultimately be making less money to pay it off.
Ms Steinem concluded the program by responding to another question about how to inspire young activists. She said that a young person perceiving something as being unfair has been the basis for many movements. She advised young people to honestly look at what is fair and what is not, to keep a perspective on who they are, surround themselves with positive people, and that older people should listen to them.
As the program ended, Ms. Steinem received another standing ovation and thunderous applause.
After the program wrapped up, we stayed around for a few minutes to talk to various people. We met Dr. Rhonda Y. Williams, Founder and Executive Director of the Social Justice Institute who met Ms. Margaret W. Wong on the CWRU campus last week and really admires her. We encountered our good friends from the Stonewall Democratic Club, Ms. Kate Kennedy and Ms. Karen Slaven and we all agreed that the presentation was great.
We wanted to find out what the younger attendees thought of it so we had a conversation with a young woman named Lilith Freed who said that it was "very inspiring...I've always admired Gloria Steinem...Just to hear her speak about modern day issues was incredible...even though the peak of her involvement was in the 1960's she is still up to date on issues affecting the young women of today." Ms. Freed is a freshman at CWRU and is studying biomedical engineering.
Lastly, we talked to Ms. Cynthia Demsey, Chair of the Cuyahoga Democratic Women's Caucus and told her that Ms. Wong wanted someone to represent her here and Ms. Demsey replied that "you got a great assignment!"
And we couldn't help but agree.
Next we headed over to the PFLAG meeting at Trinity Commons where we attended the educational section of the program which was a screening of a film called "Bullied" which told the true story of Jamie Nabozny, a boy growing up in Ashland, WI in the 1990's who was subjected to constant harassment by his classmates in middle school and high school because he was gay. Despite the pleadings of his parents, the administrations of both schools did very little to help him despite the fact that he suffered so much that he once tried to commit suicide and ran away from home.
Eventually with the help of LAMBA; a non-profit LGBT agency dedicated to reducing homophobia, inequality, hate crimes, and discrimination; Jamie Nabozny sued the school district and won a $900,000 settlement in 1996. His case was considered a landmark one because it sent an inspiring message to people that "we have more power than we give ourselves credit for."
Watching the film was a heartrendering experience, and afterwards we took part in a discussion about what has been done in recent years to protect people against bullying and several people shared their own experiences about being bullied.
Afterwards, we talked to our friend Mr. Dave Reems who is an excellent activist for human rights. Mr. Reams encouraged us to attend the Human Rights Campaign Dinner coming up on September 20th so we emailed Ms. Wong and she said that we could which makes us happy because, though expensive, it is always a beautiful evening with genuine class. We really look forward to attending this event.