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Activist Gloria Steinem: 'We have to stop normalizing violence and hierarchy'

Women's rights pioneer Gloria Steinem signs a book for Dr. Katharine Westaway, professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Miami. Steinem, founder of Ms. magazine, and one of the pioneers of the women's rights movement, spoke to members of the community at the University of Miami on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015.
Women's rights pioneer Gloria Steinem signs a book for Dr. Katharine Westaway, professor of women's and gender studies at the University of Miami. Steinem, founder of Ms. magazine, and one of the pioneers of the women's rights movement, spoke to members of the community at the University of Miami on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Feminist activist and writer Gloria Steinem said Tuesday that societies need to stop placing everything in a hierarchical system. The impulse to order things needs to end, she said.

But now, we’re in the “it would be nice stage.”

“It would be nice if women were more equal in Afghanistan,” she said. “It would be nice if the terrorist groups were not so obsessed with masculinity. But we’re not uprooting it. We’re not talking about the cause.”

Steinem spoke to a packed audience at the University of Miami student center Tuesday about today’s women’s movement and how to spur change.

Steinem received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 and co-founded Ms. magazine in 1972. She worked as its editor for 15 years. She has also written many books including “Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem,” “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,” “Moving Beyond Words” and “Marilyn: Norma Jean.”

Donna Shalala, University of Miami president, introduced Steinem.

“Don’t think about making women fit the world, think about making the world fit women,” Shalala said, quoting Steinem.

Shalala talked about Steinem’s work in challenging and educating generations on issues of equality. Steinem helped found the Women’s Action Alliance, a national information center focusing on nonsexist and multiracial children’s education, Shalala said. She also helped start the National Women’s Political Caucus, which works to promote women in political office.

“She’s also a self-claimed hope-aholic,” Shalala said. “And frankly, our own wonder-woman.”

During her talk, Steinem discussed the process of implementing change.

First, someone speaks out about an unfairness, she said. When they find people who have had the same experiences, they rally together and fight for structural change.

These small groups have been the start of many revolutions, she said.

“We are communal creatures,” she said. “If we’re alone for long, we tend to feel crazy and there’s something wrong with us. So the changes we look at usually start in that way and then become bigger.”

Then, there’s backlash, she said.

“If it were easy,” she said, “it would’ve happened a long time ago.”

Steinem said people should look at the newspaper and “consciousness-raise” about what's in the news now. She mentioned Trayvon Martin, the Miami Gardens unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by neighborhood-watch organizer George Zimmerman in 2012 in Sanford, just outside of Orlando. But what people didn’t know she said, is that Zimmerman faced domestic violence allegations before the incident.

“If that had been taken seriously in the first place,” she said, “Trayvon Martin might still be alive.”

Among the police force, 40 percent of the families of police officers have had incidents of domestic violence, she added. Steinem said she has yet to see a training or hiring program that takes this into consideration.

“We are not looking at the newspaper with the right eyes,” she said “so that we can hopefully prevent some of these things.”

Steinem continued to discuss society’s patriarchal and male-dominated system.

“Some men become hooked on this dominance like drug,” she said, “and feel they are not properly masculine unless they have some degree of this dominance.”

She added that the race and gender equality movements are intertwined. It is impossible to name one more important than the other, she said.

After her talk, audience members asked questions about how to encourage people to fight for equality and how to best teach feminism in the classroom.

Steinem talked about the importance of voting, and “taking back” state legislatures. And she said although education is important, it depends on the content of that education to solve issues in today’s society.

She further emphasized having lateral rather than vertical relationships to fight and uproot the hierarchical system.

“We have to stop normalizing violence and hierarchy,” she said.

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