Gloria Steinem's reputation as a feminist icon with wide appeal was reinforced when more than 600 people jammed in Lehigh's Packard Lab on Tuesday, March 26 to hear her deliver the first in a series of talks commemorating the 30th anniversary of women at Lehigh.
The activist, writer, and co-founder of Ms. Magazine was welcomed by the overflow crowd with a standing ovation before launching into a lengthy, wide-ranging and witty talk that touched on issues ranging from the historical hierarchy of women to George W. Bush's performance as president.
Regarding the subjugation of women, Steinem remarked, "Let's look at the last few thousand years as an experiment that failed."
On the notion of women having no identity without a man, she mused, "I wonder if men realize it didn't matter (to women) which man was standing next to them."
And on the progress of the feminist movement, Steinem explained that "it took centuries just for women to be viewed as human beings. Certainly it could take more than 30 years for women to finish their fight for equality."
Her two-hour talk and question and answer session was occasionally punctuated with laughter and, at one point, gasps of surprise after the youthful-looking Steinem announced that she had celebrated her 68th birthday the day before.
At the heart of her talk was the theme that self-esteem was the source of the feminist revolution.
"Society gives us all a self-esteem problem," she said. "Men can't express the feminine aspects their personality. Entrenched gender roles produce self-esteem problems. And the moment you look at unjust authority and say your are not more or less important than I am, there is a revolution."
Related to issues of male and female equality, she said, is racial equality.
Sexual and racial caste systems are so intertwined, they cannot be fought separately," she said.
In addition to resisting racial stereotypes and the notion of the superiority of the white race, Steinem told her listeners that women have to separate sexuality from reproduction.
"It affects our health, our financial situation and more," she added. "There is enormous motivation for us to separate sexuality and reproduction. Human beings experience sexual pleasure whether they conceive or not, and they are the only animal to do so. It is a way we experience love and caring. It is a form of communication."
While conceding that the feminist movement has far to go before true equality is reached, Steinem remains optimistic.
"In the second 30 years, maybe we'll understand the connection between social justice movements and understand that it is in our self-interest to speak out," she said. "It is not possible to have a successful feminist movement without speaking out against racism."
She also had encouraging words for men and women of all ages who care about equality.
"As you leave here tonight, think about ways you can carry the spirit of this room out into the world," she said. "I will make you a promise that if each of you does one outrageous thing in the cause of simple justice in the next 24 hours, two things will happen.
"By Thursday, the world will be a much better place. And, you'll have such a good time that the question will not be will I do an outrageous thing today, but which outrageous thing will I do today?"