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Gloria Steinem Speaks to Santa Barbara
updated: Mar 04, 2017, 1:00 PM

By Lauren Bray, edhat staff

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem sold out the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara on Thursday evening. The event, hosted by UCSB Arts & Lectures,  featured an intimate dialogue with the legendary social activist, writer, editor, and lecturer. 

(courtesy photo)

Steinem has been a key leader of the feminist movement since the 1960's. She also helped create New York and Ms. magazines, worked to form the National Women’s Political Caucus, produced the groundbreaking Viceland TV show Woman, and co-founded the Women's Media Center. 

In 1993, Steinem was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and in 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, by President Obama. Most recently, at age 82, Steinem served as honorary co-chair of the Women's March on Washington.

The Arlington Theatre buzzed at full capacity with local students and residents eager to hear the words of a historical and cultural champion of women. This was Steinem's third visit to Santa Barbara and there was still so much interest in this event that UCSB Arts & Lectures provided an additional simulcast to accommodate the demand.

After a brief introduction, Steinem walked onto the stage to a raucous standing ovation donning a pink scarf, a nod to the most recent Women's March movement. She spoke at the podium for nearly two hours as the crowd listened intently to every word.

Steinem opened by addressing the recent Presidential election, or the "elephant in the room" as she called it. As a self-proclaimed hope-aholic, Steinem acknowledged those who feel endangered by the Washington policies. "It's important that we remember this guy is not too swift," she said referencing President Trump. 

Steinem said after the election she put on her "prisoner of war bracelets" that represent every woman who has died from being denied safe abortion services. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), every 8 minutes a woman in a developing nation will die of complications arising from an unsafe abortion. WHO deems unsafe abortions as one of the easiest preventable causes of maternal mortality and a staggering public health issue. Steinem reminded the audience that President Trump blocked U.S. aid to international organizations that use funds to perform or discuss abortions. The withdrawal of funding also affects AIDS services and basic health care as these clinics may have to shut down.

(Photo: Nancy Gee)

"But the women's march," Steinem started to say referencing the Women's March on Washington in January, resulting in roaring cheers from the audience. " [There was a] contagion of energy I've never seen before... it was everywhere, marching in Nairobi, and more remarkable, marching in Oklahoma." Steinem said the Women's March felt more energized than anti-Vietnam War protests because those were more tied to age, but this movement was uniting everyone on a global scale. She discussed hearing from women in Berlin who marched to the Brandenburg Gate and reminded her that walls do not work.

Steinem discussed progress over the years with the women's movement. "I remember when there wasn't a word for domestic violence, it was called 'life.'" Yet she acknowledged the work that is yet to be done, "Don't worry about what you should do, just do what you can, every day," she said. Steinem referenced a previous protest tactic,"Take out the percentage of your income tax that would have gone to Planned Parenthood and donate it to them directly, then send that notice to the IRS. We did this during the Vietnam War, it drove them crazy," she laughed.

A specific interest of Steinem's are the shared origins of sex and race caste systems. She describes race and sex as being intertwined. "You can't be a feminist without being anti-racist," she said while discussing how the same patriarchal systems that oppress women, also oppress people of color, the LGBTQ community, and more. 

Steinem spoke of all the women involved in the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War movements who weren't recognized. She said the absence of female leaders in these movements is what caused the Women's Movement long ago. Fannie Lou Hamer, Flo Kennedy, Dorothy Pitman Hughes, and Aileen Hernandez were civil rights leaders that Steinem named as being integral in the fight for women's rights too.

This past August, Steinem published My Life on the Road, which became a New York Times bestseller. After the event ended, she signed copies of her book in the lobby and personally greeted each person who waited to meet her. 

A message that was imprinted on everyone in the room was to connect with one another and never stop fighting. "We are so much more on a path to a real democracy now than we were when I was here two years ago... Are we woke now? Yes we are," said Steinem.


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