Steinem talks Bernie Sanders flap at Smith College

At Smith, Steinem reflects on real, virtual interconnectedness

  • Gloria Steinem speaks Monday in John M. Greene Hall at Smith College. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • A group of people wait to have Gloria Steinem's new book, "My Life on the Road", autographed by her following her speech Monday at John M. Greene Hall. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Smith College President Kathleen McCartney introduces Gloria Steinem, Monday at John M. Greene Hall. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Gloria Steinem speaks Monday in John M. Greene Hall at Smith College. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Gloria Steinem speaks Monday in John M. Greene Hall at Smith College. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Gloria Steinem urges the audience to sit as she receives a standing ovation Monday at John M. Greene Hall. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Gloria Steinem speaks Monday in John M. Greene Hall at Smith College. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Gloria Steinem autographs her new book, "My Life on the Road," for members of the audience after her speech Monday in John M. Greene Hall at Smith College. JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people wait to have Gloria Steinem's new book, "My Life on the Road", autographed by her following her speech Monday at John M. Greene Hall. JERREY ROBERTS—

  • Sarah Tanzi, standing left, asks a question of Gloria Steinem, Monday at John M. Greene Hall. JERREY ROBERTS—

Staff Writer
Published: 3/28/2016 10:15:00 PM

NORTHAMPTON – Smith College alumna and activist Gloria Steinem addressed topics ranging from her views on today’s activism to the recent controversy over a comment she made about young women who support Bernie Sanders during a lecture at Smith Monday evening.

“In this hall I will always be an 18-, or 19-, or 20-year-old person,” Steinem said to an audience of about 1,000 at John M. Greene Hall. “I don’t know what’s going to come out tonight. But I thank you for inviting me back to this place, where I feel like one of those nesting Russian dolls … we have our very young self inside us, a little older, a little older. But the beginning self, the true self, is always still there.”

Steinem graduated from Smith College in 1956. She went on to become a leader in the feminist movement in the 1960s and ’70s, founding Ms. magazine and co-founding the Women’s Media Center.

Steinem said it was pushback from editors during the start of her career as a journalist that allowed her to become the person she is today.

“It seemed impossible to publish what I thought was exploding in the world,” she said. “The editors I was working for said things like, ‘Well, yes, you could write an article about women being equal but then you’d have to publish one right next to it saying they’re not equal in order to be objective.’ ”

Steinem, who signed her latest book, “My Life on the Road,” said she’s pleased with this generation of social and political activists and that support for abortion rights is now more mainstream.

But she said those behind various movements today need to see that there’s strength in fighting for several causes together, because individual social and economic concerns are not contained in “silos.” 

“It’s high time that we made connections across and among movements,” Steinem added.

For example, when thinking about economic stimulus, Steinem said it’s important to consider the impact of guaranteeing women equal pay to that of men. If single mothers received equal pay, for example, they and their children would be at less of an economic disadvantage and there would be less of a burden on social services, Steinem said.

“Those women are not going to put it in a Swiss bank account,” she said. “No, they’re going to spend it.”

And the prevalence of violence toward women in the home can be connected to other violent acts in society, Steinem said.

“If Trayvon Martin had not met a man who had been habitually violent to women, he might still be alive. If we had allowed the evidence against (George) Zimmerman of his violence to women in court, he might have been convicted,” she said, referring to the neighborhood watchman who was acquitted of murder after fatally shooting Martin in 2012.

Domestic abuse against women often is the first type of violence seen by people, Steinem said, which tends to normalize such acts and solidify the roles of “masculine and feminine” and one class of people as more dominant than another.

Sanders controversy

Steinem said the theme of the Smith lecture series – titled “Thinking in Public in a Networked World” – gave her a venue to discuss the recent controversy over a comment she made in relation to young women who support presidential candidate Sanders.

During a February interview with talk show host Bill Maher, Steinem said that women tend to become more active in politics as they become older.

“When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’” Steinem said on the HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

The comment led to significant controversy on social media, prompting Steinem to issue an apology.

On Monday, she said the comment had been taken out of context. She said that in his response, Maher interpreted her comment as sexual in nature. But Steinem said she was actually saying that younger women often look to those in power — men — rather than seeing that women themselves can be in charge.

“If I had said what people thought I said, I would have been mad at me too,” Steinem said. “This was in response to a host who was belittling young women’s activism.

“We’re not voting on biology: Sarah Palin, exhibit A,” Steinem said as the audience laughed.

The incident illuminated the “generation gap” between technology natives and those of Steinem’s age, she said, and showed how Internet communication can be markedly different than previous modes of human exchange.

It was a theme she introduced at the beginning of her lecture: the power of being in the present moment with other human beings, in the flesh.

“I don’t want us to give up on all five senses,” she said. “I just want us to remember you can’t raise a baby on the Web.”

Soon after her appearance on Maher’s show, Steinem took her book tour to England, where that was just about the only thing people could talk about.

Even though she made the comments nearly 6,000 miles away from Britain, the negativity and misunderstanding followed her. It even affected an appearance she made with actress and activist Emma Watson. People were mad at Watson for appearing with Steinem after the Sanders comments, Steinem said.

It’s all reminiscent of “personality books,” in which classmates write negative, anonymous comments about each other, she said.

Steinem said a media coach suggested she come to interviews with prepared statements to protect herself in the media landscape of today — an idea she eschewed.

She said the experience taught her that authenticity — even when misinterpreted — is still vital, in an age where “everything around you feels accusatory.”

“We are going to f--- up — and that’s OK,” she said. “We just have to be able to say we’re sorry and move on.”

She said though technology has allowed for the valuable distribution of knowledge, it’s important that it not replace real human connection and understanding.

“It is in our cellular memory this is the way we communicate. This is the way we know how the other person is feeling,” she said. “We are linked, and not ranked. I want that to be my legacy.”

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com.




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