Director of Media
“Once there’s a problem, how can you not do something about it? That’s activism.” – Gloria Steinem
The Arlington was packed with people of a wide variety of ages, men and women, on the night of February 13, as my fellow junior AAPLE students and I excitedly traipsed into the monumental and historic theater to hear someone of identical accolade. Gloria Steinem was to grace the stage that evening and speak to all of us eager activists, scholars, or admirers, about her beliefs and actions as one of the leading feminists of our time. We all took our seats and began to realize the opportunity we were really being given. We were out on a class excursion to supplement our learning of U.S. history, but this experience enriched our lives, as well.
Our AAPLE cohort teacher for AP United States History, Mr. Burrows, had assigned, “encouraged,” us to read a (very dense) biography of Gloria Steinem prior to that night. And I say very dense lightly. It was a 40 page packet. Though we complained of how this was incredibly excessive on top of the other regular homework he continued to assign, it became apparent how helpful this knowledge really was. How else would we have known what the ERA was? Or how Steinem relates to Ms. Magazine?
On the cover of the cumbersome yet invaluable biography, Steinem was pictured as a young lady, but upon further examination we found out she is 79 years old. The youthful and beautiful lady who walked out on stage shocked us all. She was poised, fashionably dressed in a studded black blazer and boots, and gave off an aura different from the aggressive, rebellious one we often assume of radicals. Her smile was warm, tone firm, reverent, passionate, and ideas sensible; she made the principles of equality in allforms seem the only logical way to interact as humans, saying “allmovements are connected.”
Not only was she personable, but she took the liberty to engage us in a variety of discussions, ranging from world peace to porn to oral sex. Basically, she had our attention as high schoolers. Right from the start she also admitted how she hated that she couldn’t see us, and wanted much of our gathering to be us speaking to each other about our efforts and passions, and indeed once she had finished talking, she invited anyone in the audience to come up near the stage and offer a question for herself or announce about a community event or organization, which dozens did. Overall, the atmosphere was comfortable and totally and beautifully conducive to thinking about frustrating and intricate issues of female discrimination that are deep seated in our society today. In facing the issues head on, Steinem tells us, “change starts from the bottom.” She confesses she doesn’t see how all persecution and injustice can be remedied within her lifetime or even within ours, “look at the fight for racial equality from slavery to civil rights,” but we are an integral part of the journey to recognizing the power of women. And don’t misunderstand, she warns; feminism is not a hatred of men. Women today harbor a level of acceptance for the status quo which has been imposed on them for all of their history in this country. Steinem proposes that this subordination has long been associated so closely with our culture, that it seems a danger to our national identity, to all of United States history, to advocate for equal treatment. But we must overcome this.
The ways we were made to consider gender inequalities, and how this has been a source of mass debate and struggle throughout history, as presented by Gloria Steinem during that evening, greatly transcend the usual high school experience. Each and every junior member of AAPLE who attended the excursion believed it to be an eye opening and enriching experience. Anthony Burre says he enjoyed her as she was “intelligent and engaging as she answered the audience’s questions.” Ashley Julio reflects “she mixed passion and humor to convey her thoughts on feminism, which was incredibly inspiring and thought provoking.” Sarah Kang admires the undeniable “wisdom [that] radiated through every word she spoke… I appreciated her willingness to address all of our questions no matter how personal it got.” Ben Goldberg marvels it “was enlightening to be able to hear the story of a woman who played a large part in the feminist movement that has drastically transformed our society.” Kayla Simmons says she “was surprisingly youthful and easy to connect with. Her speech was extremely inspirational and a pleasure to hear.” All of the AAPLE students agree that this outing was a revolutionary life experience.
We often forget that those people pictured in a textbook are real, out there in the world, and have done or are doing something for our world. When learning takes you out of the classroom and into the forefront of what is yet to be printed in textbooks that our children, or our children’s children will read about… that is profound. That is experience beyond any test in school. We all thank Gloria Steinem for her time on February 13, and offer her our further gratitude for giving us not only a greater appreciation for her revolutionary contributions to feminism in the past five decades, but also for the inspiration she has given us to continue this fight, and stay determined, bold, and passionate in whatever else we choose to do in our lives.