When I was in the fifth grade, I became the first female altar girl at Blessed Sacrament Church in Paterson, New Jersey. That was probably my first and last contribution to the feminist movement (other than surviving as a female journalist in the misogynistic world of hip-hop for the past ten years). I’ve used Gloria Steinem as my compass—to not marry the wrong guy just to fit in with my unhappily married friends, to understand that no one will pursue my dreams for me so I have to (wo)manifest my own destiny, and most importantly, to drop her cool quotes like “Empathy is the most radical of human emotions” into my everyday conversation.
Last year, I attended “An Evening With Gloria Steinem” at William Paterson University, where Steinem talked at length about life as a woman and as a human being, in general. At the end of the evening, I stood by her limo like a creep and got a picture with her. I even look like a creep in the photo. The top button of my “is this what a feminist wears?” cardigan was buttoned, so I looked like Zorro. If you were fortunate enough to experience that photo, allow me to still apologize.
Anyway, on Tuesday, March 5, the 92Y hosted an event called “MAKERS: The Women Who Make America.” The evening arrived as part of a film series called MAKERS, where filmmakers Dyllan McGee, Betsy West, and Peter Kunhardt take individual women’s stories and place them in a long documentary that is chopped into vignettes on their website Makers.com. They have pieces with Oprah, Ellen, Gloria Steinem, everyone. Since March is Women’s History Month, I figured this would be an awesome event to attend. Also, Gloria Steinem was sitting on the panel.
The film MAKERS is narrated by Meryl Streep, and the first vignette that we viewed was about Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston marathon as an actual registered runner, #261. We learned that during that time, women were assumed incapable of running a marathon, that their “uterus was going to fall out.” Switzer ended up completing the Boston Marathon in a little over four hours, despite some crazed media man trying to push her off the track. We then saw a few more vignettes, including two of the other ladies sitting on the panel: military equal rights advocate Anu Bhagwati and NYC politician Reshma Saujani. Famed activist Amy Richards led the discussion, and when calling the panelists to the stage, she described Gloria Steinem as a woman who “needed no introduction.” G-Stein strutted out in all black with a studded belt, looking like Beyoncé, and everything was just magical.
She had some amazing one-liners throughout the discussion like “Post-Feminism? Post-Racism? Excuse me?” when she was discussing the idea that people think the fight is over. She recalled how she wasn’t taken seriously after her exposé as an undercover Playboy Bunny for Show Magazine, titled “A Bunny’s Tale: Show’s First Exposé for Intelligent People.” While the piece even turned into a movie, Steinem still endured b.s. comments like, “You were a bunny, what do you know?” when she offered commentary on serious issues. A girl in the audience told her that her eighth-grade class included a whole discussion on her, and Steinem replied, “Good. Maybe you can help me understand myself.” Then some lady in the audience told this weird story about how she was marching for civil rights back in the day, and at the march, one of the people made a remark about women, and she turned around and said something against the civil rights movement. Then she asked Gloria for validation (after all these years), and Gloria was like, “Uh, don’t blame the civil rights movement for one asshole’s comment.” Someone asked Gloria how she should respond when asked to define “feminism,” and Steinem replied, “Send them to the dictionary.” She’s everything I want to be at 78 and more.
So then the panel ended. My friend Jasmine and I ran to the stage and got on this line of people waiting to meet Gloria. By the time it was my turn, some random lady tried pulling Gloria away, but no, King G wasn’t having it. She knelt down in her cool black outfit, flipped her strawberry-blond-with-flecks-of-gray hair and had a conversation with me. I won’t tell you what she said because it’s none of your goddamn business, but she changed my life and also signed my ticket and shook my hand. I didn’t remind her that I was the creep from last year, and I forgot to tell her how I changed the face of feminism by becoming the first female altar girl at Blessed Sacrament Church.
Oh well. I’ll tell her next time.