I had breakfast with Gloria Steinem the other day. No really, I did. With Gloria and three hundred other women who paid far too much money hoping that a few flying cells of her DNA might dance by on the breeze. There, on the off chance they might swallow and absorb even the most minute elements of her wisdom, her experience, her courage.
For nearly a decade now I have co-hosted an annual event, bringing speakers of interest to the doyennes Silicon Valley. Let’s be clear, I couldn’t point out a doyenne for the life of me. But, as a member of the Planned Parenthood Golden Gate affiliate Board of Trustees, I am responsible for helping to raise funds. Given that I live in the seat of some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, an event that enlightens, inspires, and engages my “friends” with money, is not a bad thing. And truth be known, there is a little Atherton Girl in me who loves to see the latest fashions up close and personal. I may not be able to afford those $1,000 Loubatin shoes or the $5,000 Burkin bag but it is more fun to see them in (or rather, on) person than through the latest Vogue fashion spread or sneaking a peak at Gossip Girl on TV.
Gloria (we are now on a first name basis) spoke and fielded questions for over an hour. During that time, she took us on a journey of recent history reminding us of what it was like for our older sisters and mothers who did not live with the presumption of reproductive freedom. She traced the economic, political, and social oppression that women experience when our biological imperatives are controlled by others. As we traveled across cultures and history, I marveled that she was able to bring it all back to right here, right now. She made us laugh, she shocked us, and she challenged us to take action: to model for the next generation what she continues to model for us.
As she spoke, I looked around the room, a sea of blond, blow-dried hair straightened to ensure that not a curl was out of place, and I wondered, do these women hear her? Is she connecting? Does a feminist from the 1970’s really speak the truth for women in their forties whose biggest struggle is getting Chad into private school and making sure that the house remodel is done on time so that they can enjoy their vacation sailing off the coast of Turkey. I could not help but feel cynical. But in watching the other guests, I noticed that as her talk unfolded, they sat up a little taller, clapped a little louder, and laughed in unison affirming all that she shared. I realized these women, as challenged as they may be by the constraints of too much wealth (yeah, I know, nice problem to have), yearn as we all do to find meaning. The gift Gloria gave that morning to the wealthy women of Silicon Valley is the notion that while they may not be changing the world as they remodel our homes, their acts of everyday rebellion are important and valid. She reminded the room that mountains are built one pebble at a time and despite this economy, the checks rolled in.
Icons are funny people. They become that way not just because of what they do but because of who they are. They are able to engage us, to connect with us even if they have never walked in our Jimmy Choos, or for that matter, we in theirs. Gloria Steinem, because she is gracious, elegant, and poised, invited us to believe that our efforts, however meager, make a difference. That the activist on the street, the volunteer in the shelter, the board member who hosts events, and the attendee who writes the check, all play a critical role in change. She reminded us that “acts matter.” She closed her speech by sharing that she considers herself the ultimate “hope-aholic”, and that the best way to heal and move forward is to share your knowledge and experience: “Tell your story so someone else can learn.” What better inspiration could a writer have?