'Feminism is an issue, not a word'

By Michelle Hurley

American feminist, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem thrilled her audience. Photo / Rex Features
American feminist, journalist and activist Gloria Steinem thrilled her audience. Photo / Rex Features

Striding out on to the stage, to the rapturous applause of several hundred women, and clad in a black and silver studded leather jacket, black shirt, pants and boots, her light brown bob framing cheekbones that could cut glass, it was impossible to avoid a distinctly unfeminist thought. At 82, Gloria Steinem - the woman who spearheaded the women's liberation movement in the United States and beyond - was smoking hot.

Glorious Gloria. From the moment she opened her mouth, the audience was in her thrall. She began by saying her book, My Life on the Road, was dedicated to the doctor who performed an illegal abortion on her at the age of 22, and who told her that she must do what she wanted with her life. She wrote in the dedication "I've done the best I can with my life. This book is for you." And so it went.

Her interviewer, Nick Barley, the director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival (charming, erudite, but surely a strange choice when Marilyn Waring was in the audience) took her and the audience through the seminal moments of her life.

On her coming to feminism: "People remember consciousness-raising groups. Now we call them book groups." On being a "bunny girl" and her expose of how women were treated at the New York Bunny Club: "A career mistake", but one she doesn't regret because it meant the women who worked there were no longer forced tohave an internal gynaecological exam just to serve liquor.

What were the conditions that led her to start the groundbreaking Ms. magazine? "Desperation. We wanted to start a magazine that we actually read." The march in 1963 where she heard Martin Luther King jnr's "I Have a Dream" speech, but more importantly, when a woman she was marching with said: "Where are all the women on stage? Are we just singing?" On The Bachelor. "I apologise." On Donald Trump becoming President: "I would ask for citizenship here." On her sense of humour: "Laughter is the only free emotion, you can compel fear and even love ... laughter is the pathway into the unknown."

In questions from the floor, a 14-year-old girl asked how can she raise awareness of feminism when so many of her schoolmates don't even know what it means?

Gloria was kind, Gloria was wise. "It's the issue," she said, "not the word. Find one issue that isn't fair and change that, and that's feminism."

- NZ Herald

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