Rarely is there an opportunity to pick the brain of someone whose passion and beliefs launched social change across the nation.
But on Thursday afternoon a group of about 30 Northeastern student leaders and activists had that chance when they met with feminist movement leader Gloria Steinem, a trailblazer for women’s rights.
“In the present we get to feeling like our movements are in silos and that they are separate,” Steinem said. “They really aren’t separate. We need to name ourselves to become visible, but once we go through independence we need to go to interdependence.”
Steinem’s daylong visit to Northeastern was organized by the University Scholars program and included a talk Thursday evening to a sold-out Blackman Auditorium as well as a book signing of her memoir My Life on the Road, published last year.
The intimate meeting in the Student Government Association’s chamber gave students the opportunity to ask Steinem about her activism work and seek advice for getting involved with social movements.
“If you are just going to do one thing, I would say listen,” she said. “Because the people who are experiencing the problem know it better than the experts usually.”
She noted that a number of her experiences happened spontaneously and weren’t opportunities she sought out. This was the case in May 2015 when she and a group of international women activists crossed the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea to demonstrate the need for peace between the two nations.
“I never expected to be crossing the DMZ,” Steinem said. “But in my experience planning has not been a very worthwhile activity. Something different always happens.”
The goal of all her work, Steinem said, is to get to a point where all members of the human race are “linked, unranked,” a saying she wears on a bracelet. “I think that’s where we are going,” Steinem said. “You can’t go there all at once because everybody has to be visible and powerful in order not to fall into a hierarchy. But we have a vision today that we didn’t before.”
When asked about possible failures of the feminist movement and her biggest regrets, Steinem said she wished she and her fellow leaders of the feminist movement didn’t waste so much time in the beginning and that they weren’t so nice. But then she added that failure is better than not trying at all.
“One of the things that makes Ms. Steinem’s visit so exciting is it really showcases the fact that Northeastern is a place that prizes, and attracts, and develops students who feel socially responsible and civically engaged,” said Andrew Karas, associate director of the Scholars Program and Office of Fellowships, Scholarships, and Undergraduate Research.