In the world of public figures, one kind stands apart from the run-of-the-mill celebrities or politicians. There was labor leader Cesar Chavez, for instance. There is consumer advocate Ralph Nader. They made history in a way others have not.
Last week women’s rights leader Gloria Steinem visited Reno to aid the Holland Project, an arts organization. She donated her time, which allowed Holland to keep the price of tickets to her speech at the University of Nevada, Reno, down to $15. Tickets were gone in 48 hours. A scheduled book signing had to be cancelled.
Other appearances were added to her schedule in Reno, including a stop for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at the design firm Cathexes, a Truckee Meadows Community College appearance, and a Latina mixer.
Steinem first came to prominent attention in 1963 when she became a Playboy Club “bunny” and wrote a magazine article about the working conditions, attitudes and expectations of sex the young women—they were all young—faced on the job. In 1972, she was a founder of Ms. Magazine, which became a principal forum of the rapidly rising women’s movement.
She has been involved in numerous political campaigns as well as issue campaigns, such as opposition to genital mutilation of young girls. She received an Emmy for her work on a television special and numerous other journalism awards.
In recent years she has pursued a theme that all problems and movements are interconnected. “It is not possible to be anti-racist without also being a feminist,” she said at the Clinton event.
She said treatment of women virtually determines what a society is like, seeming to say that kind of violence makes possible tolerating other terrible crimes. “Half the human race cannot control the other half without a certain amount of violence,” she said. Control was often mentioned in men’s treatment of women.
Calling the Second Amendment “the fruit of the poison tree,” she said it was added to the U.S. Constitution to accommodate slave owners and the slave states, where militias were used to control African Americans.
At her appearances, she said, as a New Yorker, she felt obligated to apologize for Donald Trump, saying, “I don’t think Trump is a Republican, traditionally speaking. He’s Trump.” She claimed he was never a successful businessperson, and now his business life is more or less over: “He’s mistrusted by all the banks. He’s not building buildings anymore. He’s selling his name.”
With former lieutenant governor Sue Wagner—once a leading Nevada Republican—at her side, she said of the exodus of women from the GOP, “The Republican Party left women. Women did not leave the Republican Party.”
But she cautioned against a harsh reaction to such women, a point also made in her new book, My Life on the Road: “They felt abandoned by the Republican War Against Women, yet were turned off by accusatory Democratic women saying, ’How can you be a Republican?’”
At the Holland event in a full concert hall—she called the Holland Project today’s campfire—Steinem went back repeatedly to her talk of interconnectedness.
“I think we need to see the connection is all. But what we have not done is make the connection to the rest of the economy. … Female-headed households are the most likely to be poor of all the households in this nation.”
“Families with children under age 18 that are headed by women are 20.3 percent of all families with children in Nevada,” according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
“When [an abused] woman has escaped control, or is about to escape control, that is the point at which she is most likely to be killed,” Steinem said, a situation Nevada has experienced repeatedly. The very day she visited Reno, the Violence Prevention Center reported that Nevada ranked third in the nation in the rate of women murdered by men, with a rate of 1.98 per 100,000. Nevada has ranked in the first 10 states of this list for 10 of the past 11 years. (See interview, page 31.)
“A black woman took my job,” Steinem quoted the stereotypical male worker, adding, “Why is it his job? It’s a question of privilege.”
An audience member commented on the nomination of a woman as the Democratic presidential nominee. Steinem replied, “No, I feel it’s incredible, too, but if it were Sarah Palin, I would not be working so hard. … It’s content before form. It is both the form and the content.”
At another point when a question referred to some people as “millennials,” she said, “I don’t really believe in grouping people that way.”
Steinem recently hit the news with talk of the link between climate change and the birth rate, another instance of connecting societal problems. She said, “I am glad the pope is talking about global warming, but”—and here the audience started to chuckle, anticipating talk of birth control—“he is not making that linkage.”
While a good deal of her commentary and answers to questions touched on controversy, her remarks also dealt with hope and even love, and sometimes offered quirky, original observations.
“I just had to wait for some of my friends to be born.”
“So progress lies in the direction we haven’t been.”
“Here in the state where you still have native nations, think about vertical.”
“[We need to] get along with and even love people we don’t agree with.”
“We can’t only look at the person on top. We have to do it ourselves.”
“We have to be careful. We have to take care of each other.”
“We’re not about to turn back.”