Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Center Hails Steinem, Others
Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, `It can’t be done.’ – Eleanor Roosevelt the best known living proponent of American feminism; a fierce, smart, and energetic advocate for gender equality who first emerged on the political scene in the 1960s and has been active ever since.
On Sunday at the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal Award & Brunch Ceremony, Steinem—along with Joan Davidson, the Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, Glen Johnson, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Marcelle Pomerleau Leahy—was honored for her lasting humanitarian contributions. She agreed to an interview while we were there; the COURIER received a special invitation to cover the event.
The Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Center described Gloria Steinem as, “Extraordinary social justice activist; Change agent; Galvanizer.” But especially significant to us is the fact that Steinem is also an accomplished journalist and author.
Now 79, she’s instantly recognizable with her trademark hair and glasses. In person, she’s warm and engaged, a thoughtful conversationalist. This native of Toledo, Ohio was raised by a mother who revered Eleanor Roosevelt, and Steinem recalls vividly how that informed her own perception of women’s capabilities.
Steinem is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Smith College, a historic women’s school in Northampton, Mass. We asked her, “How important is it to you that women have safe spaces for education?”
She responded, “I believe that we should support the historically female campuses and the historically black campuses because if we’re in that group or groups that’s not central to society we need to have that experience of centrality at least once in our lives.”
As for the future of women in American politics? “What we make it. Only what we make it. It’s never been about biology; it’s always been about consciousness. …There will always be some men who are better feminists than some women, but the best combination is when it comes together, when you know what it’s like to walk around as a female for 30 or 40 years in this culture.”
As for the role of feminism in today’s world, Steinem said, “We’ve barely begun.” Asked what a modern-day feminist should be working on, she added, “There are no ‘shoulds.’” It’s important, she said, that “we support each other in our diversity, not that we dictate one goal.”
On Eleanor Roosevelt, Steinem said, “She was a big part of my childhood. She was the single thing that connected my mother to the government.” And, Steinem added, “Because she stayed true to herself, her message about human rights is as fresh and inspiring now as it was when she was alive…”
Kathleen Durham, who is the president of the Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Center, welcomed all of the honorees and guests for a meet-and-greet reception followed by a festive luncheon at which the medals were conferred.
Steinem has traveled extensively and written seriously about the cultures in which women are key participants.
“What we are all demonstrating in different ways is that people are people and that gender is an artificial invention. …What inspires me are the original cultures,” some on this continent, “who didn’t have gender [roles]… Right where we’re sitting there was a nation of the Iroquois Confederacy in which women were…part of every decision making structure.”
Our final question for Steinem was. “What are you most proud of?”
Her smiling reply: “I haven’t done it yet.”