Steinem headlines talk about feminism

Gloria Steinem joined five other feminist activists in Linsley-Chittenden Hall on Sunday night for a talk about feminism in the past and present.
Gloria Steinem joined five other feminist activists in Linsley-Chittenden Hall on Sunday night for a talk about feminism in the past and present. Photo by Cora Lewis.

Famed feminist Gloria Steinem said college curricula should be revamped to be more inclusive, warning modern women against “reinventing the wheel” in their feminism because they do not know the complete history of the women’s movement.

“We need to include African-American history, women’s history, gay and lesbian history, everything I would call ‘remedial history’ so that one day we have human history,” she said to an audience filling Linsley-Chittenden Hall on Sunday night.

Steinem and five other feminist activists discussed the history of gender relations and equal rights, covering topics from stilettos and body image to women’s health in Haiti and violence against women in South Africa. The talk was the second of three, all funded by a gift from the first class of freshman women in Jonathan Edwards College, who graduated in 1973.

Arun Storrs ’08, a postgraduate associate at the Yale Women’s Faculty Forum, reflected on her four years at Yale. Today, she said, women face “covert inequality,” receiving different treatment in the classroom and lacking role models. But she also spoke about how far women have come, and recalled theater studies professor Deb Margolin saying at the start of a class: “I think a feminist is a woman who respects herself.”

Moderator Julie Sandorf, the president of the Charles H. Revson Foundation , said Storrs’s experience differed from her generation’s, when women defined themselves as feminists by specific acts, such as keeping their maiden names, wearing trousers and foregoing make-up. Asking the panelists to respond, Sandorf said when she asked her 26-year-old daughter why she wears 6-inch stiletto heels, her daughter answered: “Because I can.”

“Women should be able to wear whatever they f—ing well please,” Steinem said, to applause. “The question is: Why are we doing it?”

Steinem lamented the sexualization of younger girls and criticized women’s magazines for showing fake and airbrushed images of women. She said women today may have more choices, but society still imposes certain norms, such as pressuring women to dress provocatively.

Amy Richards , a nationally known writer and activist, also said her generation of women embraced their new choices, but she added that because modern women often hope both to work and to have a family, their high expectations can lead to frustration.

“I think there’s an expectation that not only should you work, but you should immediately be very successful, very senior,” she said. “And if you choose one thing, it feels as though it’s at the expense of something else.”

During the question-and-answer session, Claire Gordon ’10 asked the members of the panel if they thought women should feel obligated to continue in the workforce. (Gordon is a scene columnist for the News.)

“Dispense with the word ‘should,’ ” Steinem answered. “Don’t think about making women fit the world — think about making the world fit women.”

She said women should pursue the life choices they would most enjoy, regardless of societal expectations.

The discussion finished with a standing ovation, and four audience members interviewed said they appreciated the panel’s balance of opinion and diversity of experience.

Horace Ballard DIV ’10 said he appreciated that the speakers spoke about women’s suffrage, the abolition movement, and the second and third waves of feminism, not just the modern era.

“My mom would be so proud that I heard this — Gloria and the whole current movement,” Lesley Magnussen NUR ’10 said, “because we don’t talk about it any more. Feminism isn’t a discussion.”

The gift that endowed this talk was initially intended to fund the junior common room in Jonathan Edwards, said Eve Rice, one of the panel’s organizers. But, when many of the women alumnae were brought back together to donate the gift, they also decided to sponsor the talks on topics related to gender issues and women’s history, said Amy Shorey ’73, a JE alumna.

Joan Winant ’73, who was also in JE said she and several of her classmates wanted to give something personal to the college, rather than just a room.

“I came here expecting a tidy recap of the women’s movement, and what I got was a banquet, a firehose of different ways people are thinking and going,” said Cynthia Zujkowski ’73, who was also in JE.

There is now a plaque in the JE junior common room that lists the names of all the female members of the JE class of 1973.


  • Yale Woman

    When will Gloria Steinem’s merry band of man-haters realize that they can’t blame society for all their problems?

    It’s hard to blame men both for forcing women to dress like amish women and forcing women to dress like sluts. Steinem manages both in shameless fashion.

  • Another Yale Woman

    Clearly, #1 (“Yale Woman”) did not attend the talk or even read this article. “Man-hating” is hardly what went on at the event.

  • @2

    She didn’t say that she had. She was merely observing (correctly, I might add) Steinem’s general mindset. And I love that you don’t even condemn the possibility of man-hating, but simply dismiss that it didn’t happen at this particular event.

  • Anonymous

    “My mom would be so proud that I heard this — Gloria and the whole current movement,” Lesley Magnussen NUR ’10 said, “because we don’t talk about it any more. Feminism isn’t a discussion.”

    Of course we don’t talk about it. There’s nothing to discuss. Women are discriminated against in every way imaginable. Anybody who dissents from this point of view is obviously sexist and should shut the hell up. Of course it’s not much of a discussion! Only one point of view is acceptable!

  • male

    Internet fora on issues of inequality make me sad because people who don’t know any better take kneejerk stances that are hostile rather than curious. Curiosity is usually the appropriate reaction when you hear that someone feels marginalized. Chances are good that you don’t understand why, but that you could if you were to listen.

  • To: Male

    I feel that we hardly ever hear about feminism in the Ivy League. It’s just not spoken about because of the old boy’s club that runs the place.

  • TD ’10

    “we don’t talk about it any more. Feminism isn’t a discussion.”

    If Ms. Magnussen finds the discussion lacking, she could avail herself of any of the 27 courses offered this term in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, such as “Women in America: The Twentieth Century,” “War, Gender and Sexuality in the Twentieth-Century United States,” or “Beauty, Fashion and Self-Styling.”

    As for why women wear stilettos, isn’t it obvious?

  • Male

    “As for why women wear stilettos, isn’t it obvious?”

    To mark themselves as someone that I’m unlikely to be interested in talking to, as they are obviously overly concerned with their height and, therefore, less likely to captivate me with their intelligent conversation than their peers?

  • @TD’10

    Sure, you can go to a WGSS class to talk about feminism, but why should we have to go to a minority major, heavily stigmatised, disliked by employers and all about social science (not my thing)…to even hear that women are worth talking about?

    I’m told there are no classes cross listed in PoliSci this semester that deal with women in politics, for example. As women have always been 50% of the population, shouldn’t we talk about female populations and experiences in every class we take, not just the special weird ones with the WGSS label?

  • asdf

    Am in complete agreement with #9. Women’s studies has been used as a punchline–our generation’s “underwater basket-weaving,” the ultimate gut course/major–in many encounters I have had. Students who aim to be taken seriously (so the tacit understanding goes) don’t take it. Until this information is incorporated into the regular curriculum, students will still be clueless about women’s rights.

  • Hieronymus

    @#8 Even in his faux feminism, #8 is still “all about me,” i.e., all about the idea that females’ universe revolves around the male, uh, addendum.

    Maybe they wear stilletos “‘cuz they like ’em.'” Or because “they’re cute,” or because “mom bought ’em” or… well.. who cares? Why do men wear half the dump-azz crap THEY do?

    (Oh, don’t get me wrong: I think Steinem is a hypocritical basket case… but I support the idea that all humans should be more or less free to do as they wish without formal or legal obstacle…)

  • Questioning the relevance

    “shouldn’t we talk about female populations and experiences in every class we take”

    For the most part, gender isn’t that important of a factor. It’s not like you’ll be sitting in physics going, “yes, well, that cannonball fell 100 meters from where it was shot out of the cannon, but, if a woman had shot the cannon…”

  • Historian

    Bosch, are you an alum? And if not, will you continue to post as you and your class exeunt stage left into the broader world?

  • TD ’10

    #9 and #10:
    It’s true that some people (wrongly, in my view) have little respect for WGSS courses. That doesn’t change anything. The notion that “feminism isn’t a discussion” is a little silly, in light of the courses offered.
    You raised another concern, that women’s experiences should be reflected in every course. It’s a tautology in some fashionable circles, but as a general proposition, it’s absurd on its face. Someone else brought this up, but what does that even mean in the context of a math or science class? Even within the humanities, are you referring to any specific course in particular, or is it just a feeling?

  • guest from Stanford

    Did Ms. Steinem include a call for the history of her as CIA operative? And why Ms. Magazine was funded by them and why the CIA was so interested in fronting feminism?

    To always leave this information out is part of her agenda and its impossible to understand feminism without understanding divide and conquer. Gloria is not a benign person in the movement, either today or yesterday.

    for more of CIA role in social movements: