“The most radical tool we have is empathy,” Gloria Steinem said during her keynote speech for the Forum on Contemporary Issues’ (FOCIS) tenth anniversary lecture series entitled, “What in the World is Going On?” on March 7.
Steinem is a journalist and activist who became the face for the American feminist movement during the late ‘60s. Steinem’s achievements for her work include: co-founding Ms. magazine, being inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Steinem opened her speech by talking about what she calls “immediate issues.” She talked about the history of sexual harassment and how the term was invented. Steinem then told an anecdote about Ms. magazine getting banned from newsstands across the United States due ton talking about sexual harassment.
Along with this Steinem talked about the issue of rape culture on college campuses.
“We are still ⅓ or ¼ of a person legally,” said Steinem, referring to victims of sexual assault who are met with actionless reactions when reporting to universities.
Steinem made the point that in order for action to be done against a perpetrator of abuse, it takes more than one woman to come forward.
Steinem then moved her speech to the internal part, as she called it. She discussed the historical correlation of misogyny and racism.
“The effort to control reproduction and decide how many workers, how many soldiers, and so on which are what the various forms of patriarchy are has turned us into various societies in many different forms into patriarchies. Which means men control reproductions, and therefore women’s bodies,” said Steinem.
Steinem ended her speech by encouraging everybody to learn from each other and to leave the room with, “one little thing or feeling of support or togetherness, some new outrageous organizing idea.”
In the audience, there was a mixture of people who all attended the event for different reasons.
Stephanie Hawks, a faculty member at Wayne State, said that her interest in Steinem’s work and feminism is what brought her to this event.
“This seemed like a memorable experience that would impact me moving forward,” Hawks said. “I think the things she will be talking about today impact everybody from little girls to women. Now that so many issues have been brought to life in Hollywood and the mainstream, especially with the Olympics and sexual misconduct, I definitely think that feminism is the most relevant that we’ve seen in a couple decades since the ‘60s.”
Olivia Laburn, a first-year WSU student, said that Steinem has been a major inspiration in her life.
“My friend told me about this event two weeks ago and I had to see her again,” she said. “I saw her when I went to the Women’s March and I knew I had to hear her speak again.”
Following her keynote speech, Steinem participated in a panel discussion with Dr. Georgia Chao, a professor in the department of management at Michigan State University and Dr. Lilia Cortina, a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan
The panelists were asked about the #MeToo trend, and whether it is a moment or movement.
Cortina said that it was too early to declare the status of #MeToo. Chao said that it was “neither of the above,” and hoped that the movement was just accepted.
When Steinem was asked, she disagreed with both Cortina and Chao. Steinem said the beginning of #MeToo looked like a rebellion and is now taking the shape of a movement.
“Don’t listen to me listen to yourself, because you know when something is unfair,” she said. “Saying it is better than not saying, because even if nothing happens you won’t be walking around afterwards saying ‘what would have happened if I would have said something,’ so say it and you can’t go wrong.”
“I thought she brought a lot of hope in a moment where we need it right now, we need a reminder. I liked when she [Steinem]said, ‘The good news is it’s been worse and we can tell you that you will get through it.’ It gives me hope,” said Whitney Hunt, a Ph.D student at WSU.