An Evening with Gloria Steinem and Emma Watson

Last night I was in the same room as Hermione Granger. This is going to be an intelligent blog post about feminism (I hope) but first I just need to “fan girl” a little. I breathed the same air as Emma frickin’ Watson! Completely surreal. And before you ask or assume, this wasn’t an opportunity I got because I’m a YouTuber – it was an open event to the public and I just bought a ticket.

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know who Gloria Steinem was before I found out about this event but oh my has that woman done so many incredible things in her life. She has done a lot of living. There was a really great atmosphere at the event and even though I went on my own I made friends with a lovely woman, Nicole, from Austin who sat next to me. It was a pleasant evening and I think ‘pleasant’ is the right word to use here because even though it was a lovely experience it didn’t especially make me feel really angry and inspired to go out and change the world. And I think that’s due to the limitations of the feminism that Gloria and Emma were presenting.

First of all, Gloria Steinem is 81 years old – she fought through all of second wave feminism, broke off an engagement, had an abortion before it was legal, and she’s continued fighting. I am 24 years old and other than the sexism I’ve encountered because I’m a woman, life has been pretty great so far. I definitely felt that in a lot of her ideas and between her feminism and mine there was a generational gap, which is to be expected. I disagreed with her stance on porn, on the idea of being a “humanist” and there was not one mention of intersectionality.

If you don’t know, intersectionality is about how different parts of your identity interact which create a unique form of oppression. I experience oppression as a woman but I’m also white, straight, cis, middle class, Western, thin and able-bodied. A black transwoman will have entirely different experiences than me because of the other forms of oppression and intersectional feminism is about recognising that and including the voices of all women. Emma and Gloria did speak about the bigger picture of gender inequality such as the global economic impact and the effect it has on climate change which slightly touched on how the experiences of women around the world are different but there was no explicit talk about it or recognition of their own privilege. Not only as white women, but rich white women. Emma Watson recently announced that she is taking a break from acting to learn more about feminism and focus on her activism – I think this is awesome but if only we could all just quit our jobs to learn about feminism!

A lot of people give Emma Watson a hard time for being a “white feminist” and if we’re just using adjectives yes she’s white and yes she’s a feminist but from seeing her discuss feminism with Gloria last night I can really see that she is trying and learning. Being a feminist doesn’t mean you have all the answers, it’s a process and that definitely came across from Emma. Gloria, probably because of all her experience and age, seemed very stuck in her way about what feminism means to her but Emma seemed a lot more open to make mistakes, recognised that she didn’t know everything and was still learning because she’s only 25! That’s only a bit older than me and I saw a lot myself in her when she was stumbling over her words, losing her point half way through a sentence and asking questions when she didn’t understand something.

One thing that really irked me though was during the Q&A the only man who got hold of the mic started by saying “I think feminism would be solved if…” and started to mansplain to a room of feminists and turns out he wasn’t even asking a question – it was just a statement. Also, Emma and Gloria briefly talked about HeForShe and mentioned that there was a lot of men in the audience and then people started applauding. Not sure if they were applauding Emma and the HeForShe campaign or applauding the men. I really hope they weren’t applauding the men. Thank you very much to those men who showed up but it doesn’t deserve an applause.

Even though the event didn’t make me feel raring to go start a revolution, I’m definitely glad I went because I still learned a lot, Emma Watson was wonderful and Gloria Steinem signed my book.

I would love to hear your thoughts on intersectional feminism, generational differences between feminists and your own personal feminist journey – remembering that we don’t all have the answers now.

Signature hannah journal

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  1. I think this was very well written! You mentioned white feminism but did nothing more to talk about it though. White feminism has nothing to do with a feminist’s race and everything to do with how they seem feminism. For instance, if a feminist is all for reproductive rights and understands that lower class women have a harder time getting access to abortions and works towards a solution there, that is a true feminist. If another “feminist” would have come up and said “that’s great, and I’m all for reproductive rights, but all women should be granted access, not just lower class women,” that’s ignoring privilege and different social situations making that person a white feminist. And please please please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong; feminism is about seeing your mistakes and working towards a better tomorrow.

  2. I think feminism is something that changes over the years. Feminists 50 years ago were probably aiming for different goals than feminists today simply because the world has changed so much in these 50 years. While obviously the main goal, equality, is the same I think a lot of different factors have started to get mixed into this feminism. Transgenders, gay marriage, and people openly coming out as gay, bisexual, asexual, pansexual,.. is something that hasn’t been happening for very long when you think of it. And I think that this has greatly influenced the way feminism has changed over the years. And I also think that this may be where Gloria Steinem got stuck. When you have already lived for 82 years, and lived such a full life, I think there comes a time where your beliefs can’t be (or it is very difficult to do so) can’t really change that much. We are a new generation with new struggles and when there’s people actively trying to make this world a better place I can’t help but feel a bit of relief. And I honestly do think
    that slowly we are getting there.

  3. Intersectional feminism, just from your explanation of it I realise that I haven’t read or heard a lot about that view. Besides in the book Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay. That book felt more relatable to myself but only because I am not white (nor am I black). If you were to discuss more into that style of feminism, I am all for it! As would others! Although we won’t always understand each other’s views completely from that, we can try the best we can- and there’s nothing wrong with trying.
    The generational gap, well… That is something I think will always be in place, our views on feminism and how we think equality(the goal) should be- though, so SO simple really(in theory). Our grandkids are more than likely going to be the you(us) to Gloria’s views picking out things we disagree with. We can be optimistic but as long as the change in society becomes a majority with people not judging -or at least vocally- keeping to themselves but having the voice of equality being heard, a difference and safer society/environment can be made.
    I hope this feedback was in any way useful…
    Truly enjoyed reading the blog experience & holy heavens, Emma Watson shared a building of air with you! ?

  4. As a cis white guy, my experience with feminism is incredibly steeped in academe. I would say I probably started calling myself feminist in high school—I was certainly reading “gender issues” type books, more so fiction than non-fiction at that point. My first experience with intersectionality came in the form of a small collection of essays called Feminism for REAL: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex, edited by Jessica Yee. It had a lot of voices from poor, Black, and Indigenous feminists sharing their experiences with how class and race influenced their exposure to and thinking about feminism.

    These days I’m focused on challenging my rationalistic approach to many situations. While I’m proud to consider myself a sceptic and believe that we need to make decisions based on evidence and scientific rigour, I’m recognizing that: (a) science itself is prone to human biases, including gender biases; and (b) there are other value dimensions we need to take into account. The Enlightenment gave us many gifts, but it has also left us with a three-hundred-year debt of devaluing emotional thinking in favour of rational thinking.

    This has a lot of ramifications for the way the patriarchy socializes men and women and assigns relative values to men and women’s contributions. I’m often seen as more authoritative just because I’m a tall white dude who speaks very articulately and “rationally,” to the point where I know I’ve shut down women friends of mine not because I’m mansplaining but just because I’m a bit overwhelming in that sense. So in terms of challenging my privilege, I need to look at how I can step back from that and have discussions with more empathy.

  5. Congrats on sharing air with Emma Watson! I loved hearing her UN speech that introduced the HeForShe campaign, and I trust she will make great strides in feminism in the years to come.

    It’s strange for me to read your blog and hear you say you didn’t know who Gloria Steinem is before this event you attended. She was huge in America in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, so I grew up hearing her name. I can remember listening to women discuss her when I was a child, saying things like: I agree with some of her points, but her views are just so extreme. I’m not that out there! In your post, she sounds behind the times and too conservative. She hasn’t keep up with modern issues like intersectionality.

    I’m 45, and I’ve heard the term before (probably from you!), but I’m not too familiar with the concept. Discussions of privilege and intersectionality are still new to me. I don’t think I’d ever thought about these things two years ago before I got on Twitter and YouTube. Well, to clarify, privilege as a concept has always been around, but the way people discuss it now is very different than when I was a child. It’s basically a redesigned concept with old terminology labeling it.

    These things aren’t discussed as much in America (at least not among people my age). This century we’ve relapsed into having to fight for the right to have an abortion and equal pay to men… issues Steinem fought back in the ’70s. Sadly, much of her work has been undone on these issues. I don’t know if she’s out of touch, or if she’s simply focused on where she can do the greatest good.

    I love Emma, and I’m glad your generation is taking these issues seriously. I’ve learned a lot I had no clue about over these past few years, and I hope to continue learning. Thanks for all your work in this area, Hannah!

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