Author and activist Gloria Steinem is still not afraid to piss you off.
That is what the truth sometimes does, the 73-year-old feminist icon told a near-capacity audience at the United Church on the Green on Wednesday afternoon. Steinem’s speech covered a plethora of topics, from the relationship between church architecture and the female reproductive system to the need for more democratic families. Students in attendance said they found her ideas thought-provoking but wished she had focused on just one or two.
Steinem, who founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, gained national fame as a leader of the feminist movement.
Steinem began her lecture with a historical and cultural analysis of religious architecture and how it reflects the patriarchal values of the church.
“Historians of church architecture tell us that religious, monotheistic buildings are built to resemble the body of the woman,” she said, pointing to the building in which she spoke.
She also discussed the country’s lack of knowledge about Native American cultures, or “how America remains undiscovered.” Steinem said Americans remain uninformed about the sophistication of the more than 500 cultures that inhabited North America before Europeans arrived. The Iroquois Confederation inspired later suffragist and socialist ideas, and Native American political systems, not Greek ones, were the true root of American democracy, she said.
“The truth shall set you free, but first it will piss you off,” Steinem said.
Steinem’s other points included the relationship between family and political structures, the need for reproductive independence, and the normalization of violence. She suggested that universities incorporate the study of family forms and child-rearing into political science curricula.
“We often learn that family is the microcosm of the state, but our false division of public and private fails to tell us that we need democratic families in order to have a democratic state,” Steinem said. “National Socialists in Germany were elected … because the normal family [model] was that of a cruel, physically punishing family. This convinced people that there had to be a strong dictatorial leader.”
While Steinem refrained from endorsing one 2008 presidential candidate, she said that when people ask her whether she supports Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. Hillary Clinton, her response is always “Yes, one or the other would be great.”
In her conclusion, Steinem sought to show how her varied subjects were all related.
“They are not a laundry list; they are a circle,” she said. “If I am working against sex discrimination as a feminist … I have to be anti-racist. Not only because women are half the world, but because racism itself necessitates the restriction of women and the restriction of reproduction.”
Yale students expressed mixed opinions about Steinem’s decision to discuss such a wide range of topics.
“I could tell there was so much more depth … there were also subjects she didn’t even touch on,” Caroline Albert ’11 said. “But I thought that was a good choice — she had a very short period of time.”
Justin Berk ’10 said that in particular, he wished Steinem had spent more time discussing the relationship between politics and the family.
“I thought she was all over the place and a little spastic,” Berk said. “It wasn’t a very in-depth lecture.”
But Steinem’s ideas were still thought-provoking for many.
Laurika Harris-Kaye ’11 said she was struck by Steinem’s proposal that parents who stay home to raise children should also be paid.
“I do agree, but that has never occurred to me before,” Harris-Kaye said. “It made me think, what’s wrong with me?”
Steinem graduated from Smith College and has worked as a journalist, author and activist. She was invited to Yale by the Chubb Fellowship, which is sponsored by Timothy Dwight College and seeks to spark student interest in civic society.