Gloria Steinem ’56 returns to campus, addresses viral mishap

Photo by Carolyn Brown '16 | Gloria Steinem ’56 spoke in John M. Greene Hall on March 28.

Molly McGuire '18 News Editor

82-year-old feminist icon Gloria Steinem ’56 delivered a lecture as part of the Presidential Colloquium at Smith on March 28. As President Kathleen McCartney introduced her, she was met with deafening applause. Steinem’s speech focused on thinking publicly in a networked world.

Steinem launched her legacy in 1968 when she helped found Ms. Magazine and has since published several best-selling novels. She has won many prestigious awards for her work in the women’s movement.

Steinem opened her talk by emphasizing the importance of these live events. “Something happens when we are together, in a room like this, with all five senses, that cannot happen on the printed page,” she said.

Steinem was sure to explain the benefits of technology inmovements that fight against certain oppressions, such as sexism and racism. “I think we understand much better now how all of the movements we follow are connected,” she said.

She further addressed intersectionality by connecting her own work to the death of Trayvon Martin. “If Trayvon Martin had not met a man who had been habitually violent to women, he might still be alive,” Steinem said.

Steinem then spent much of her time discussing the recent scandal that occurred after a comment she made on HBO’s show, “Real Time with Bill Maher.” When asked why young women support Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, Steinem, who endorses Clinton, said, “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys?’ The boys are with Bernie.”

The comment caused serious uproar and backlash against Steinem. In her speech, she acknowledged that she understood this anger. “If I had said what people think I said, I would be mad at me, too,” she said. She went on to explain that the faults of the interviewer and the pressure of speaking on the spot made her say something that she did not mean.

Steinem said that she meant to comment on how young women, who are very politically involved, are disadvantaged by power structures that are in place, and that power is more concentrated among men.

“Whether they gravitate to Bernie or Hillary, young women are activists and feminists in greater numbers than ever before,” she said.

She also expressed concern over the fact that she received such intense backlash over only fourteen words and that this is becoming more common due to the rise of social media. She said empathy is missing in online discussions, and that it is impossible to not make mistakes in a networked world.

“So this is going to happen, and we should value spontaneity over reputation, over legacy.” Steinem said. She added that students must “stay authentic.”

This sentiment resonated with many Smith students. “I thought her comments about losing empathy and context online were really insightful ... I see people get really outraged and nasty online in ways that they wouldn’t in real life,” said Molly Henry ’19.

Overall, the Smith community seemed to greatly enjoy hearing their iconic alumna speak. “It felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to see Gloria Steinem speak and also to converse with her. I was surprised at how honest, open and funny she was,” said Jenny Park ’18.