Yeah, it's blurry. But that's just because I, Christina, was shaking a little bit because OH MY GOD WE JUST MET GLORIA STEINEM!
We were lucky enough to hear the incomparable Gloria Steinem speak at an event put on by Hedgebrook in Seattle just one week ago. We were in the front row where both Gloria Steinem and Cheryl Strayed (who was interviewing her) made eye contact with us repeatedly as they spoke. And it was just magnificent. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We wanted to share a bit of what we took away from it with you, Smarties. Read on, and pick up Gloria Steinem's memoir, My Life On the Road. We guarantee you will not be disappointed.
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Shannon: So, you know how meeting your idols can be terrifying? How you kind of dread meeting them because WHAT IF THEY ARE DISAPPOINTING? Not the case with Gloria Steinem. Nope. Not even kind of. She was amazing. Gracious. Kind. Funny. Glorious, if you will. She exceeded our expectations by leaps and bounds.
Christina: Agreed! Completely agreed! I was prepared to be amazed by her life story (after all, she's promoting a memoir) and her intelligent, critical discussion of feminism. What I was not prepared for is how genuinely warm and sincere she is. She's also a fantastic listener. It really struck me how when people were asking questions during the Q&A, she'd remember their names or organizations. Shoot, she even remembered those who had emailed her recently and what they had emailed her about. I think that's what really demonstrates her wonderful leadership skills. She rankles at being called an icon, which makes sense because it's such a one-dimensional, immobile, fixed object. She's not an icon. She's a leader. She communicates, speaks, listens, and remembers like a leader. And that, really, is one of my biggest take-aways from the talk. Watching her be a figurehead to all of the people in the audience, but insist upon being a real person engaging honestly and personally with other real people was truly inspiring and surprising. What inspired or surpised you? What was one of your big take-aways?
Shannon: I was surprised by how funny she was! I was expecting smart, well-spoken, wise, but damn… she’s funny. Which, in my book, is the one true sign of intelligence. Wit is everything. So often as she was telling stories about her amazing life, she’d break into this beautiful grin thinking about something… and then continue her story with the kind of nostalgic humor that makes memoirs like hers so inviting.
And like you, I was struck by her memory and her care for people. For stories. She’s lived this long, extraordinary life, but the way she remembers it is through the people she met. And one thing she said - over and over again - is that stories are the key. Our stories. She said, “Telling each other our stories is the single most revolutionary act.” And I think she’s absolutely right. It’s why listening to her speak was so remarkable. She was telling her story, and in doing so, she was telling the stories of those she met along the way. She was telling us about how she became a feminist, but she was also describing how the feminist movement grew. Toward the end of the night she said, “The key is personal stories and getting communities to hear your story.” That was a striking moment for me, because ultimately, that’s what gets to all of us, isn’t it? It’s not facts or statistics or even the very frightening realities we see around us every day. It’s the stories. People make the difference, and Gloria Steinem is so crystal clear on that. It was such a great moment and, as someone who writes personal essays and often wonders why the hell anyone cares about my thoughts or my life… it was reaffirming.
The icon piece is so interesting, too. Do you remember when someone else mentioned hearing her on the Daily Show and hearing her say that she doesn’t want to be an icon for the feminist movement because then, when she’s gone, the movement stops?
That was another moment when I just wanted to grab her and thank her and bask in her kindness. She’s an important figure - there’s no doubting that - and a vital leader to so many of us. And I think she will be an icon when she’s gone one day. But for now, she leads, just as you said. She leads with conviction and grace and as a peacemaker (because, as she said, she hates conflict… God I love her), and she leads successfully because she leads with humanity. Oof. She is just extraordinary.
Christina: Yes, oh yes. She is my pretend best friend and mentor. Absolutely and forever. Her emphasis on storytelling was both absolutely terrifying for me, a person who hates having or sharing feelings, and very inspirational, possibly because it's because* so terrifying. What really spoke to me as she emphasized the importance of sharing our stories and old-fashioned consciousness-raising was her history in participating in talking circles as a method of organizing and spurring activism. I both think that some of what we do in the Smarty Mommies FB group relates to this in that we share our personal histories and experiences online, which has been powerful and galvanizing for a lot of us. But it does seem like a diminished kind of talking circle in that the vast majority of our interactions are in the highly edited and mediated world of the internet. Stories can be polished and reframed, comments can be deleted or edited, tone is lost... for all the good my internet friendships and group participation has done me (and they have done a lot of good), I doubt that they can ever be as truthful as sharing stories in real life. For this reason, I'm very interested in bringing Smarties together in person for actual conversations with one another. I don't know yet what form this will take - a regular salon? A wine-spritzed feminist parenting book club? I don't know yet what form these conversations will take, but I do know that I'm now motivated to host and facilitate some kind of regular, dedicated Smarty Mommies talking circle. I don't know what it looks like, but I'm letting the internet be my accountability partner in holding me to building this salon. And you're invited! (Shannon. Shannon is invited. I'm not ready to have the internet over to my house yet. But Gloria's invited! Gloria! Come to my house!)
These are the faces we'd make if Gloria came to my house.
I know this because these are the faces we made when we went to the talk to hear her.
Shannon: (* I would like to note that having feelings terrifies Christina so much that she had to say "because" twice. So we're leaving that typo in. Because it is hilarious. ANYWAY.)
SMARTY SALON!!! That's a thing we're going to do. And it will be good. And Gloria is SO INVITED. And the internet may eventually be invited? But not yet. Not until we get figure out how to do this.
Here's the biggest thing that I got out of seeing Gloria Steinem: We're in this together. She spoke so much about community and telling our stories and listening, and ultimately that's why we were all there. To listen. To learn from her. And to be with the community she's helped to build. There was a sense of sisterhood in that room, and the feeling that if we can all support each other, we can keep fighting this fight. I feel like that's what Gloria would want us to have gotten from her presence. And we did. She's done it. She's taught us how to be in this together. So, let's do what Gloria taught us. Let's support each other and listen to each other and be in this together. Let's tell our stories, Smarties. Let's change things.
Christina & Shannon: Thank you, Gloria! Everyone, sing it with us!