Social activist, humanitarian, and writer Gloria Steinem shared her vast experiences over five decades as a leader of the women’s movement and the importance of advocating for one another at William Blair’s Inspiring Women event held in Chicago on International Women’s Day March 8.
Now in its 17th year, the forum attracts women investors, civic leaders, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists to gather and inspire change by discussing some of the world’s most important issues. Steinem drew a packed audience of over 300 attendees, who were captivated by the feminist journalist. She believes the fight for women’s equality continues.
In a conversation moderated by CNN senior political analyst Kirsten Powers, Steinem shared stories and lessons from the time of founding New York and Ms. magazines in the 1960s and 1970s to co-founding the National Women’s Political Caucus as well as her activism today. In 2013, President Obama awarded Steinem the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work in the women’s liberation movement.
Connecting With and Supporting Others
Renowned for encouraging women to connect and support one another to bring about change, Steinem inspired the crowd to advocate for each other and never lose hope in pursuing equality.
“The more friends you have to speak about that hope, the more real it will become, the more supported you will feel,” Steinem told the gathering, just the second in-person event she has spoken at post-COVID. “Hope is a form of planning. So to have that hope, no matter what it is, makes it way more likely that some part of it is going to happen.”
That was the purpose of the women’s movement, she said, to form groups and make connections across our diversity.
She cited her partnership with Florynce Kennedy, a legendary Black female civil rights lawyer and women activist, as an example. During the 1970s, the two would often speak together on women’s rights and civil rights. Kennedy and Steinem were fighting for both movements at a time when many saw them as separate.
“We need to see diverse examples of people who are doing different things, living in different places, coming from different racial, ethnic groups.”
Steinem said that has been one of the biggest changes she has experienced during her lifetime. As a child growing up in Toledo, Ohio, she faced a “way more racially divided” world. “The notion that the amount of melanin in our skin dictates our lives is just as crazy as our gender totally dictates our lives.”
Today, she sees a movement toward more individualism where people are more accepting of one’s uniqueness, individual interests, listening, and talking in equal proportions.
“That’s like instant democracy,” she said. “We, of course, were supposed to listen and not talk and I guess guys were supposed to talk and not listen. And of course you can’t learn if you’re not listening.”
Steinem believes listening and other behaviors often associated with women such as caregiving benefit all.
In many ways, COVID forced the issue. Men were at home looking after children, becoming more nurturing or “whole people,” as Steinem describes, just as women have become whole over the years by being more assertive and active outside the home.
She says it’s great to reach the age of 87 because you are beyond the role questions. “You are where you are. I’m also beyond the statistical expectation for age. So, I’ve already defeated that. My goal is to get to be 100.”
It was more difficult to overcome the expectations from the early and central years of life when you were supposed to live in a certain way, she added. In her generation, women were supposed to marry and have children; few sought careers outside the home.
“In a lot of ways, age frees you of that,” Steinem said. “The goal is to live in the present and live as fully, ethically, and communally with humor and as much joy as possible.”