Gloria Steinem is 80 years old, tall, unbowed and aging naturally. Her voice is strong and despite chronicling the setbacks women have faced in the last number of decades, she retains a light, dry sense of humor. Ms. Steinem took us on an historical tour of patriarchy – in religion, government and culture. Coming to the conference from Austin, TX (where women are fighting to retain control of their reproductive rights) I resonated with her statement that men control women by controlling reproduction. Patriarchy has institutionalized rape, genocide and created a capitalistic system in which fealty to God, King and husband have been legislated for centuries. She views monotheism as religious imperialism with an imperative to subjugate nature and thus, women and children. It’s hard to argue when women are still fighting the battle for fair and equitable representation in the workplace, at home and in government. What would the world look like if women were in charge?
In Texas, many of us have been struggling to get out the vote. Three of the young people in my office (students at a university) either were not registered to vote or did not know who was on the ballot. Among other important considerations, we are electing a Governor and Lt. Governor who will control the money and the laws that will represent the wishes of the people or those of powerful elites. Ms. Steinem rightly said that successful social movements are like a tree, starting with the roots and spreading upward. Our power lies in how and where we spend our money and in exercising our right to vote.
One of the most powerful stories Gloria told was the story of how Clarence Thomas eventually came to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court. In 1982 John Danforth, a Congressman from Missouri narrowly defeated his Democratic challenger, Harriet Woods, by roughly 2,000 votes in his bid for reelection. He had earlier appointed Clarence Thomas as his aide, introducing him to highly placed Republicans in Washington DC. Thomas was subsequently appointed to the United States court of Appeals by President GHW Bush. Then, only 16 months later he survived a hard fought confirmation hearing by a 52-48 vote (after Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment). He was now the most conservative supreme court justice in the United States and has cast pivotal votes in electing George W Bush, among other decisions that have changed the course of history and will continue to do so. This is one of the best arguments I’ve heard for voting. Many people feel disenfranchised and unrepresented by their elected leaders. But I agree with Gloria; we really can make a difference by using our dollars wisely and by voting. There was a 13 year old girl at the conference who stood up on the last evening as we were summarizing what we would take home from our experience. She spoke passionately about how grateful she was to know that feminism is alive and well and that she now knew that whether or not she was considered weird by her friends, she had people. Let’s continue to fight the good fight for we are not done.