Feminist Icon Gloria Steinem recently visited Toronto for a talk, Women Strong. Steinem was in town to speak with an audience of young girls, though her main message quickly became relevant for all of us: anyone can create the change they want to see.
Steinem said that Donald Trump has inspired a level of activism that she has never seen before. “Personally, I have never seen such activism in my whole life. Never, never, never. It’s huge. It’s enormous. People are self-energized [and] doing whatever they can,” said Steinem. “I do feel an enormous amount of energy and activism and wokeness coming from the bottom up.”
Within our workplaces, communities, and homes, Steinem shows us how to listen to each other and work through issues together, and as parents, mentors, and teachers, how to empower the young people in our lives.
“In my experience, everything that moves us forward in life comes from talking circles,” said Steinem. “We advance by listening to each other’s stories, discovering that a lot of the things that happen to us are shared; if things are shared by unique human beings, it probably means that they’re political, they’re being imposed on a group, and if we get together we can change them.”
It’s no secret that women in business are building a stronger female presence which creates a stronger community of support--Steinem challenges us to consider whether we want to create an all-female environment--be it a space to work or learn or both. She says it’s our choice to decide. She shared a story that encourages us to think about our traits as leaders regardless of gender:
“A woman said to me that when she was in a group of women by themselves she felt she was missing the presence of men, and then she realized she was missing the rest of herself. She realized she was missing those qualities of assertion or daring or whatever she attributed to men."
Steinem encourages us to learn to ask for what we need. Whatever change you want to see--whether finding strength within ourselves to speak up in a meeting, forming a support group around an issue that needs to be addressed, or actively listening as a team when a colleague brings up a concern, she says, “don’t hold your finger to the wind, become the wind.”
On that evening in Toronto she addressed the girls in the room with a message that’s empowering for every young person, “I hope that you have faith in the uniqueness that is inside you. All over the world, in my experience, young people no matter how young, say things of great wisdom. They say, 'it’s not fair.' ‘You’re not the boss of me.’ That’s the basis of all social justice movements, and you already know that. Our struggle is to keep it from being pressed out of us by outside systems that label us by gender.”
When we walk into the office tomorrow, we have a choice to listen a little more closely, ask questions to understand each other, and by the end of the day have learned something new from each other. Steinem ended on this note, “I hope I can be helpful to you because of my age, because I’m an optimist, and I remember a time when it was way worse. Having seen that much change, I realize we can do so much more.”