It's the one-and-only journalist, entrepreneur, and feminist icon, Gloria Steinem.
I had the chance to meet her yesterday, and hear her speak in front of about 1200 other women, at the The Commonwealth Institute's 9th Annual Breakfast for Champions.
And it wasn't entirely as I'd expected.
TCI's Breakfast for Champions brings together women business leaders to hear lessons learned from other successful women. Joining Ms. Steinem this year's event were:
- WBZ TV Anchorwoman, Lisa Hughes, who moderated;
- Grace Fay and Aileen Gorman, TCI Chair and Executive Director, respectively;
- Holly Safford, Founder & President of The Catered Affair, a business she started in 1974 ("The only people I'd managed previously were my 3 sons!") and now has over 300 employees and $10 million in sales; and
- Laura Trust, Owner and Co-President of Finagle a Bagel (who joked that she didn't take her husband's last name - not because of Steinem but because of a dislike for the alliteration in "Laura Litchman")
All of these women were inspirational, but the real highlight of the morning was Steinem herself. Still going strong (and looking marvelous!) at 74, she travels the globe as an organizer and lecturer, and is a frequent media spokeswoman on issues of equality.
I must admit, with images of a radical, outspoken protester in my head, she came across as much more genteel than I expected. She was incredibly well-spoken and thoughtful as she shared her most passionate interests and ideas, including:
- The shared origins of sex and race caste systems. In particular, the fact that both race and gender inequalities are a creation of modern man (and by modern, I mean within the last 5-10 thousand years), as the human race was all born out of the same African roots, and earlier cultures (including Native American Indians) regarded women and men as equals;
- The phenomenon of men getting more powerful with age, while women become less so; and
- Her wish for universities to develop a curriculum that ties the study of family structures and child rearing with political science, as she strongly believes there is a correlation between cultural upbringing and governmental structures
One thing I found interesting were her remarks about the media - more specifically that there are fewer outlets today for people to get the real story, and an implication that big media is controlling what the public hears. Having worked in digital media for years, I'm regularly educating people about the sheer volume of new media outlets available to both publishers and consumers. And with digital consumption being mainstream, and user-generated content on the upswing, I just don't buy it when I hear that big media is controlling the message. Regardless, Steinem has launched the Womens Media Center in an effort to broadcast women-focused stories and issues that may not get coverage elsewhere.
And when an audience member asked her to weigh in on Hilary vs. Barack, she acknowledged that she admires both candidates, but sided with Clinton in a show of solidarity, knowing full well that a black man had a greater chance at election than a woman of any color would. With this comment she echoed notes from her NYTimes op-ed piece earlier this year, in which she wrote, "Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women." So now she'll throw her support behind Barack, and would be quite happy to see him in the Oval Office, with Hilary as President of the Senate, and Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.
I had the chance to speak one-on-one with Steinem as she autographed a copy of her 1994 book, Moving Beyond Words, and this is when I saw a bit of the fiery activist I'd known from the media footage (which perhaps supports her point that we only see what they want us to see!). Upon learning that I keep a blog, she asked me to (re)expose the fact that Arianna Huffington refuses to pay her bloggers, and start a campaign to boycott the Huffington Post. Hmmm. I don't know enough about the issue to really say much more than that (other than: if the bloggers are voluntarily submitting their work in an effort to get exposure on a wildly popular Web site, then who cares?). I have a friend who recently published on HuffPo, so I'll have to ask her opinion.
And with that, dear Readers, I'll leave you with a Steinem quote we can all enjoy, regardless of political leanings:
No side will ever win the battle of the sexes, because there's far too much fraternizing with the enemy!