You probably have your own dream celebrity, someone you’d like to have lunch with and chat. One of mine is Gloria Steinem. What a treat to hear her speak at the University of Redlands last week. The talk was held in a building called The Chapel, which seated 1500, and it was packed. Bill came with me. I’d bought two tickets, expecting a gal pal to join me, but he wanted to see Gloria. I love that guy.
Before the festivities began, I handed the event’s organizer, Denise Davis (thank you, Denise!), a gift-wrapped package for Gloria: a copy of each of my books, as well as a letter of gratitude, which contained an offer to buy her lunch if she’s ever in town again. Even if that never happens, wouldn’t it be a thrill if she visited our website and said hello? My letter included a printout of the front page of AnyShinyThing.com, which as you know, features her quote about aging.
To be defiant about age may be better than despair – it’s energizing – but it is not progress. Actually, after fifty, aging can become an exciting new period; it is another country.”
Gloria is charming to listen to. She’s funny, self-deprecating, wry, and joyful. In fact, she said we’re making significant progress, but, regrettably, we’re only halfway through the struggle for equality, and it would take another fifty years. She said the same people who, 40 years ago, were saying feminism wasn’t necessary are saying it now. She said “Gender is made up. Race is made up. We’re beginning to see beyond it. It’s very exciting.” No offense, but she called religion (as opposed to spirituality), “politics in the sky.” She also told us a grave statistic about domestic violence:
Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more American women have been killed by their husbands or boyfriends than all of the Americans who died in the terrorist attacks and in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
If I ever got to speak to her in person, here are some of the questions I’d like to ask:
- From your vantage point, at your age and having traveled extensively both geographically and across the human landscape, what bit of wisdom do you now know that might change our thinking about humanity? (I know; I don’t ask for much, do I? But she has to have been sitting alone in her hotel room some evening, staring out the window and thinking, “Jesus, I just never knew. And probably nobody else does, either.”)
- Who in your everyday life inspires you to get out of bed and keep going?
- Do you ever just want to hang it up and sit on the patio, reading trashy paperbacks? Maybe invite Hillary to come over for popcorn, wine, and the BHG channel?
Bill and I left the talk when the Q&A started. As we walked outside and passed an open door with a view of the stage, I stopped. “Look, Bill. Can you believe it? There she is.” Gloria Steinem, 80 years old, leaning into the podium, lit to gold by her beautiful surroundings and the joyful reception of the crowd, still entranced by her presence. I wanted to take a picture, but that would never have captured the emotions I was feeling. They almost overwhelmed me: affection for her; nostalgia for my youth and the sixties; remembering those sometimes heady, sometimes awkward, but always earnest early days of the Movement; and heartache for the time when I, a sad teenager, felt a little more hopeful about my future, thanks to Gloria Steinem and feminism. All of that was projected onto this slight figure at the podium. I hope I never forget that moment, standing there in the dark of a warm summer night, watching a legendary heroine hold forth.
To read more about Gloria’s talk, click here.