In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, the UJA-Federation of New York organized an evening of learning and inspiration with Gloria Steinem, one of the most influential figures in American feminism in the late twentieth century.
The evening in late September began with a V.I.P. Reception and book signing of Gloria Steinem’s New York Times bestseller My Life on the Road, the story of her travels and experiences as a writer, activist, and organizer.
Steinem, whose aversion to hierarchies is well known to anyone who reads her books or listens to her speak, explained to the audience gathered at Temple Israel that hierarchical systems based on race, class, and sex are not an inevitable reality. It is these very systems that open the door to violence and the mistreatment of those who are at the bottom of the hierarchy, said Steinem. In considering women and children who are at risk, Steinem pointed out that patriarchal systems are the root of the problem of domestic violence, and that these systems begin by seeking to control reproduction via legislation against birth control and abortion, therefore attempting to regulate the bodies of women. Steinem sees this sort of regulation as the precursor to domestic violence.
“We’re linked, not ranked,” Steinem insisted, showing that it is through our connections with people that we can effect change. “Tonight is part of it,” she concluded, “and I can’t wait to see what we do that will change the world tomorrow.”
Steinem’s message for all women resonated powerfully. “As women have to treat ourselves as well as we treat other people,” she said. “Our first purpose is to express this unique person. We have to take ourselves as seriously as we take other people. And do it not just for us, but for all the girls around us.”
According to Steinem, the most effective way for women to empower themselves is to share their stories, saying exactly what they mean and searching for the connections with other women in order to work together.
Steinem concluded the evening by encouraging women to be “outrageous” in the name of justice. “If each of you promises me to do one outrageous thing in the next twenty-four hours starting tomorrow morning, in the cause of simple justice, I promise you that I will do one outrageous thing too.”