October 29, 2012

It’s not every day that one has a chance to see a true icon.

I was fortunate to be in the audience when feminist and activist Gloria Steinem addressed some 200 attendees at a women’s journalism conference yesterday  in Albuquerque, NM.

The 78 year-old Ms. Magazine  co-founder and life-long women’s rights proponent made it clear that although women have come a long way in the U.S. since the magazine launched 40 years ago, when it comes to issues such as reproductive rights, the role of women in the workplace, and societal attitudes, there is still a huge chasm to cross.

“We have allowed the welfare of the female half of the U.S. to be called a social issue, not a financial issue.” She wondered how we could allow equal pay to be labeled a social issue when it was the “single biggest economic issue imaginable.”

Reproductive freedom is also directly linked to the economy, and is the major determining factor in women’s lives.

“When and where women decide to have children is the basis for everything else they do.” Yet, many women don’t see that women’s rights have a direct impact on the economy. “Women feel guilty if they think reproductive freedom is as important as Detroit,” she said. It’s not in our collecive psyche yet but should be. “Women’s issues are economic issues and should not be minimized,” she said.

Steinem expressed deep concern about what will happen to the hard-fought gains that women have made should Mitt Romney win the White House. “The Republican Party has been taken over by profoundly anti-democratic, anti-abortion ultra conservatives,” she contended. “It’s so dangerous to have a party overtaken by extremists.”

She contended that Romney’s move to a more centrist position on women’s issues is only to court women voters, that he will not act the same way if elected. Pay equity resolution would also net a huge boost for the economy “We could easily solve our debt crisis if women were paid fairly. It would mean an extrea $200 billion going back into the economy every year.”

When it comes to health care, “we need to treat ourselves as well as we treat others,” she said. Changes need to happen in the voting booth, “the only place on earth where the least powerful are equal to the most powerful.”

She worries for the future of the women’s movement. “With the huge gender gap and with the most anti-women candidates in history, a Republican victory in November will mean that we may never be taken seriously again.”

When asked about passing the torch to future generations, Steinem responded that there isn’t just one torch, but rather many torches, carried by women of all ages, races, economic status and sexual orientation — with more torches waiting to be lit. Women’s issues are not social issues, she said, but rather “national and global issues” that affect everyone on earth.