April 1, 2009

Gloria, Gloria STEINEM -- IN EXCELSIS -- or not...

Okay, ladies of the world, do not hate me for falling asleep while hearing Gloria Steinem speak.

Today at Mason Hall on Lexington Avenue, I thought I was going to hear greatness from a speaker who has inspired waves of feminist fervor in America and abroad.

However, what I got was a woman talking on subjects she seemed to have limited concrete knowledge about and minimal interest in. She seemed the exact opposite of the word "icon", which they used again and again to describe her. I couldn't help thinking about the disparate image they were portraying in the slide show photos above her as she talked:

Long-haired, blond Gloria, bravely raising her fist to the sky in rebellion of the patriarchy, the system, the Man. And then, this woman below, talking about butterflies and the equality of women in broad, uneven, dated strokes.

But where was the activist fervor, the angst, the discomfort for NOW? It wasn't there. I know she's 75, but often age makes people more vigilant. She seemed complacent, comfortable. And I wasn't looking for a preacher -- just someone whose voice sounded authoritative and smart. I mean, we're talking about Gloria Steinem. She's had her hand in the women's movement since the 60's. She talked like she was reading Spark Notes of her own work.

And women's issues of today are not about blanket statements and the credos of the 60's. Today, women face nuance and shades of unfairness that she simply touched on. Women in the workplace, for instance, she simply glossed over with something like "women should work, yes,--they have to show that they can do what men do, but men should also take care of the children and do show that they can do what women can do". Her statements were left as maxims -- and were completely unrelated to current events, like she hadn't picked up a paper since 1980.

Great sentiments were everywhere about women and their right to live equally, but everything fell flat without anecdotes and a strong, interested and invested voice. Also, her jumpy style spread topics like civil rights, women's rights and LGBT rights too thinly to make an impact -- selling all of those subjects regrettably short.

After leaving the beautiful hall with its ironic, gender-specific inscription about something "He that inherits the Earth", I couldn't help thinking how the women who walked over us to get to the front seats of the auditorium would remember the event and tell their friends about it in 20 years.

"I got to hear GLORIA STEINEM speak in MASON HALL IN NEW YORK CITY when I was about your age. She was THE BEST SPEAKER I'VE EVER HEARD. I canceled all of my appointments just to go and I wasn't disappointed. She really is/was an ICON."

I will probably remember it like this:

"I heard Gloria Steinem speak in New York when I was struggling to find a job in one of the worst economies in recent history. I went to see her because I wanted some hope that women -- and humanity -- could overcome and move forward together. I remember little of what she said, and it's truly sad because she had an opportunity to spark new feminists toward forward movement. Instead, she took us back -- and put us to sleep."

Posted by Amanda Cochran at April 1, 2009 2:29 PM
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