Feminism, Women

This is what 81 looks like: An Hour with Gloria Steinem

One of my favourite things to do is listen to people smarter than I am or who know more about a particular subject than I do. It’s why I love TED talks and my dream job would be going from place to place listening to intelligent people say intelligent things (for the most part). My idea of doing something adventurous is hopping on a train upon finding out at 10.30 on a Saturday morning that Gloria Steinem is going to speak at the Bath festival at 2.30pm. And tickets were still available.

If you don’t know who Gloria Steinem is, thanks for clicking on the link anyways, but you can also click here to find out who about her.

So yes, Gloria. I got to the venue (The Forum, beautiful hall) and it was overwhelmingly white and female. There was a representative of the Women’s Equality Party handing out leaflets. I’d like to believe we were all feminists converging to see this great woman speak. Ms Steinem, who was in town to promote her new book, My Life On the Road, was interviewed by Jenni Murray. I wouldn’t say that I’m a card carrying fan of Ms Steinem but man when she walked across the stage, I started clapping like a seal. Because I understand her place in the feminist movement.

An hour flew past. She was witty, she was intelligent, she was thoughtful. I nodded a lot. I applauded. It was goood. When she acknowledged the role that Black women played in the women’s rights movement and how they are being erased, she said she found it painful. It was refreshing to hear this. Black people, people of colour, LGBT people are continually being wiped from their roles in history, period.

From Ms Steinem, I also learnt about the book Sex and World Peace by Valerie Hudson and others, which posits that the way women are treated in a society determines the level of violence which occurs in it. I thought of Boko Haram, I thought of Lagos. It was sobering.

She spoke about her looks (she thought she was pretty and when she became a feminist was bumped up to beautiful), about advertising in a digital age, how Ms Magazine the magazine she founded decided to stop taking advertising money, about her surprise at a female member of a motorcycle club (a grandmother no less) recognising her and Alice Walker’s work, about how legislation should stay out of governing our insides (re women’s reproductive rights), about her inclusiveness (“We were like a chorus line”) when she’d hit the road to speak about women’s rights.

Ms Steinem continues to advocate at the age of 81. As someone who feels finished at 33, that was a light tap (one of many) to remember that I still have youth on my side.

I left feeling like there was more I could do for women’s rights in Nigeria and that it was on me to do it. I still haven’t figured out how yet but I know that the seed has been planted.

A final anecdote from Ms Steinem. She was in a meeting and the issue of her looks came up. People attributed her success to how pretty she looked. “If you can get a man, why do you want equal pay” was the prevailing attitude of the day. An old lady got up and said ‘It’s important for someone who could play the game and win to say the game ain’t worth shit.”

The game truly, truly isn’t worth shit.

(It’s my first post this year, let’s not talk about writer’s fatigue.)


Roxane Gay should like to try and come to jand. Many thanks.