Feminist activist Gloria Steinem urges MCLA audience to cast aside labels


Photo Gallery: Gloria Steinem at MCLA

NORTH ADAMS -- The patriarchal system took one on the chin Tuesday night when Gloria Steinem spoke to a capacity crowd at MCLA.

Steinem, a singular figure in the campaign for equal rights for women and for all of humanity since the late 1960s, explained to a crowd of believers that the Eurocentric patriarchal system of society is dysfunctional. It bears much of the blame for arbitrary and harmful assignations of roles dependent on gender and on race, when the celebration of each individual and his or her talents is the actual path to every human's brightest potential.

Her perceptions -- built by decades of education, organizing, questioning, advocating and protesting -- were humorous, eye opening, unique and had a laser focus on what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done. At the same time, she seemed down-to-earth, rational, and logical -- an everywoman hero of the poor, the struggling and the oppressed.

Near the opening of her remarks, she set the tone: "Hierarchy is based on patriarchy, and patriarchy doesn't work anymore."

Steinem explained that arbitrary roles assigned to the male gender -- such as bravery, strength, and leadership -- are just as prevalent in women, but suppressed through childhood in the hierarchical society. Just the reverse is also true: Traits like nurturing, grace, patience and attention to detail are all traits shared by men but discouraged through role assignations.

In the early days of the women's movement and the civil rights movement, Steinem noted, the backlash came from the claim that such change was against nature.

"But collectively, we were only beginning to understand that the uniqueness of the individual is against the hierarchical system," she said.

By eliminating gender roles or ceasing to regard humans in categories, "we start finding connections," she said. "God may be in the details, but the goddess in the connections."

Another perception she shared: "We have learned that violence at home is replicated outside the home."

Steinem noted that the basic indicator for military conflagration is not poverty or religion or political tension, but rather nations with higher rates of abuse of women have a higher quotient of getting involved in armed conflict.

"Such behavior normalizes violence," she said.

The Eurocentric hierarchical system is actually a small slice of the human experience, Steinem said. About 95 percent of societies in human history had no preconceived notions of gender roles or racial division.

Throughout her remarks, Steinem advocated for equality of all people, despite groups or gender.

"We are approaching an era of uniqueness of individuals and a community of all living things -- we are linked, we are not ranked," she said.

Her message seemed to hit home with many audience members.

"She was inspiring and just a regular person like me," said the retired Rev. Wendy Van Orden of Adams after the event. "I'm grateful I was able to be here. She has been a fellow traveler for all these 40 years."

Marla Robertson, a caregiver at the Greylock A Better Chance House in Williamstown, appreciated Steinem's views on gender roles.

"I feel like I'm sometimes judged because I haven't given birth," she said. "But I use those nurturing skills every day in my work. It was eye-opening."

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Gloria Steinem

  • 1968: Helped to found New York magazine
  • 1972: Co-founded Ms. magazine
  • Bestselling books include: "Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem, Outrageous Acts," "Everyday Rebellions, Moving Beyond Words"
  • Founder of "Take Our Daughters to Work Day"
  • Awarded the Penney-Missouri Journalism Award, the Front Page and Clarion awards, National Magazine awards, an Emmy Citation for excellence in television writing, the Women's Sports Journalism Award, the Lifetime Achievement in Journalism Award from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Writers Award from the United Nations.


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