Sunday, August 21, 2011
Feminism: Lost or Found
How many of your remember the feminist movement? Gloria Steinem and the feminist movement are dear to my heart. In fact, I reflect on it almost daily when I teach yoga to those young women two generations removed from my experience of forging for women's rights in the early 1970's. I feel sad that the young university women I encounter do not appreciate or relate to this compelling moment in the history of women.
If any of you female boomers don't recall much of that time (memory fades), check out the HBO documentary on Steinem and the feminist movement. I caught it the other night and was transfixed by it's energy and determination, its love and spirit. What I didn't remember so vividly was how hostile the male gender was during the years of the feminist movement. Nixon said snotty things about the movement; Harry Reasoner said Ms Magazine would last 3 editions; most elected representatives were dismissive. Yet, women of that generation moved seamlessly through the hostility of both men and women. Their cause would not be denied. It was and it wasn't.
We fought for equal rights for women. We tried to pass the 14th amendment to effect the gender adjustment. The journey was really exciting and quite brilliant. Watching Ms Steinem move through her life as an advocate for equal right and equal protection under the law was always and still is inspiring. A mover and a shaker at 75, I couldn't believe Ms Steinem is still on the path to improve the working and social conditions of women. She was radiant as she spoke about the accomplishments women have forged since the 70s. Although women are still behind the wage curve, we've added millions of our gender to the all walks of life, most importantly in business, medicine/health, and education. We still haven't been fully invested into politics as evidenced by our less than impressive numbers in Washington.
I once hit the glass ceiling at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, in the Theater Department and I will never forget what the university president said to me when I brought my complaint of sexism in the workplace to his attention. He said: "I can't help what's going on in that department. They have their reasons. If you want to do anything more in theater, get off campus." And I did and I started Nevada's first year round professional theatre and the professors worked for me.
I feel compelled to pay tribute to a woman and a movement that provoked me to excel in my life, to be the best I could be, to make an impact in my universe. I see Gloria moving and grooving and I still want to emulate her style and her energy.
I look at this generation of college woman and wonder if they have a clue about the influence of the feminist movement on our society. I have had several conversations with young women lately reflecting on the inertia of today's women in terms of their professional staying power. These women seem to lack purpose on where their life is going or even how to get the life they want and deserve. I don't know if they are marking time until the right man comes along and they can start a family. I'm not judging that or labeling that as misdirected because I married very early and had children in my late 20s. But I also believed that if I invested in education, began a career path, trusted the passionate nature of my ife's trajectory that I would gain personal and professional satisfaction and my life would subsequently be richer and fuller.
The belief in a feminist movement does not negate the possibility of falling in love or being in love or marrying and raising a family. The feminist movement was a belief in the power of women to exceed and excel completely and fully in a life's work. Ms Steinem fell in love in her early 70s and married. The tragedy is that it was a very short marriage because the man she loved and married died of a brain tumor in the third year of her marriage. It must have been truly devastating to have fallen in love finally and then to loose that love. Although, I am sure that as with most women who tragically loose a partner and a lover, the recovery is tremendously difficult. I know from personal experience how sad and humbling that can be.
However, Ms Steinem is a woman above all who is immensely knowledgeable and sure of herself, whose beliefs are strong and clear. There is a through line of truth in her life's work and that is what makes her a role model for generations of women who want to create a live of value and productivity. I will tell the group of women that I am speaking to on campus at UCLA the story of Gloria Steinem and hope they are as inspired as I was to have been championed by the feminist movement.