Gloria Steinem talks to the next generation about gender, equality
The feminist icon reflects on her early years, politics and journalism at USC Marshall event
Gloria Steinem, author, activist and the face of modern feminism, spoke before a captivated crowd of more than 800 at Bovard Auditorium as the first speaker of the semester in Professor David Belasco’s class, “Entrepreneurial Mindset: Taking the Leap.”
“You might ask why this guest is being hosted by the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and the USC Marshall School of Business,” said Belasco, an adjunct professor and executive director of the Greif Center on Feb. 3. “We study thought leaders and entrepreneurs and disruptors. Who is a more disruptive and effective social entrepreneur than Gloria Steinem?”
Steinem drew the first of several standing ovations when she appeared onstage. The audience was a mix of students, faculty, staff and friends of the university, as well as members of the public who came to hear Steinem, an iconic figure in the fight for gender and racial equality, talk about her new book, My Life on the Road.
The talk with Belasco was wide-ranging, covering not only her early years, her beginnings as a journalist and her radicalization as a feminist, but also her politics and current thinking on gender and equality.
An insight into history
Throughout, Steinem treated listeners with insights into many historic moments, including how she came to choose the iconic Ms. for her fledgling magazine launched in 1972.
“Ms. actually came out of a secretarial manual from the ’50s as an abbreviation to use in the disastrous situation when you didn’t know if a woman was married or not.”
Men, she noted, don’t disclose their marital status. But at the time, women were addressed as Miss or Mrs. — there was no neutral ground.
“It’s hard for me to tell you this now,” she said of the decision to introduce a new vernacular with feminist overtones. “But it was quite revolutionary at the time.”
She worried people wouldn’t buy a magazine with such an unusual title, but in fact the first issue sold out in eight days. And today, Ms. has become the de facto prefix for two generations of American women.
After the formal interview, students from across disciplines lined up to ask Steinem questions, ranging from politics to gender equality.
A male student asked about her assertion that masculinity is a conceit and that there have always been more than two genders.
Gender and race doesn’t exist. We made it up. We can un-make it up.
“There are two kinds of people in this world: those who divide everything into two and those who don’t,” she said. “Gender and race doesn’t exist. We made it up. We can un-make it up.”
‘We are here because of you’
USC Student Body President Rini Sampath and Vice President Jordan Fowler presented Steinem with a T-shirt bearing the USC message “Fight on!,” which Steinem held up to applause.
“We are here in part because of you,” said Sampath, who together with Fowler are the first female presidential and vice presidential team in the Pac-12. “We thank you because you are truly living a life of service, and you inspire us all.”
Finally, Belasco asked his students to line up before a microphone and address Steinem.
“Five years from now, what will you remember from your time here with Gloria Steinem?”
“Don’t pass the torch,” said one young woman. “Light a lot of other torches along the way.”
“Make the un-visible, visible,” said a young man.
“No race, no gender, we’re all people. Hello!”
“We have a lot of work to do, both men and women,” she said. “I thank you. Because you are the future.”
Steinem’s talk was sponsored by the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and the USC Marshall School of Business, the USC Student Speaker Series and Visions and Voices.
More stories about: Gender Studies, Race and Ethnicity