May 13, 2014
by Laura Berman
Gloria Steinem offers a fist salute to 900 well-heeled women and a handful of men in a Dearborn ballroom. At 80, she’s still talking about revolution.
In slim pants and a silver-studded belt slung over her hips, she’s a potent combination of graceful mien and incendiary message. This day, she draws the largest turnout for Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan’s annual luncheon in its two-decade history.
It’s a crowd of grandmothers, mothers, daughters, CEOs (The Henry Ford’s Patricia Mooradian; Florine Mark of Weight Watchers), political candidates (Debbie Dingell; Rudy Hobbs) — a room full of reminders that Planned Parenthood’s support is mainstream, not extreme. The most radical person in the room is probably Steinem herself.
Steinem, who rose to prominence in the late ’60s as an anti-war and feminist activist, founded and edited Ms. Magazine, has been speaking on college campuses for a half-century, playing and replaying a call for equality — and the idea that the right to reproductive freedom is as basic as free speech.
“This is not a cause that corporations jump up to support,” said Lori Lamerand, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Mid and South Michigan, with a wry smile. Henry Ford Health System — headed by CEO Nancy Schlichting — was the event’s sole corporate sponsor. “I wish the Legislature could be here to see this room,” she said.
I first saw Steinem as a college freshman in Ann Arbor. She was wearing jeans and a black turtleneck and her trademark aviator glasses. She yelled that fall day. Forty years later, her voice is softer, her perspective longer. Her longevity as a political leader is remarkable: She is still a sought-after speaker on college campuses, where young women meet her as living proof of an era they know mostly from books and TV shows.
Once she had the idea “that (equality) is a small reasonable thing, and if I could just point this out” — voila, change would result. Instead, she discovered that equality between the sexes is not small but fundamental, world-changing, threatening to the status quo. “We’re fighting the same battles because it is THE battle,” she said.
“People are saying it’s over because they’re hoping it’s over. It is not.
“To perpetuate the idea that half the human race — women — are inferior is a lie that takes a lot of violence to perpetuate,” she said. She offers up the idea that men killing women and children out of rage is another symptom of this sickness.
Hers is not a bland message to swallow over chicken salad and chocolate mousse. But Gloria Steinem is that rare legend who has not disappointed us. She has, over decades, remained true to her vision of a different world, true to her own keen insights and belief in other women, a uniter rather than a divider.
Undaunted, unapologetic, beautiful, her voice is still sharing a message that men and women should be linked, not divided into “two polarized boxes.” That people can change. That the world can be a better place.
Her voice is at once optimistic and subversive and still, at 80, bringing almost a thousand women (and a few good men) to their feet again.
May 13, 2014
June 10, 2014