A recent panel discussion at Northwestern University focused on feminism and Gloria Steinem's legacy.
The event featured four panelists: Veronica Arreola, assistant director of the Center for Research on Women and Gender and the director of the Women in Science and Engineering program at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Paula Kamen, author and longtime visiting scholar with the Gender Studies and Sexuality Program at Northwestern University; Lucy Knight, author and visiting scholar at the Gender Studies and Sexuality Program at Northwestern University; and Deborah Siegel, author and founding partner of the website She Writes. Each panelist talked a little bit about her background; then, the audience saw the HBO documentary Gloria: In Her Own Words.
Following the screening, the panelists asked audience members to share their experiences of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and then opened up the discussion to the rest of the audience.
Arreola said, "I see the feminist movement as a series of cycles. ... I do believe there has been a constant fight for equality in the United States since Abigail Adams wrote to her husband to 'remember the ladies.' ... As for today, feminists are everywherefrom the little girl on YouTube who ranted on about how girls' toys are pink to veteran stateswomen like Gloria."
Kamen added, "I also see the women's movement as a long series of cycles, not separate movements. Learning history ... we see that it takes all kinds. We see this diversity in the historic feminist fight for sexual freedom starting with Emma Goldman and later Margaret Sanger and now with Leslie Feinberg who has been working on transgender issues since the 1990s. ... It's important for each generation to define its place in feminism for itself: to define its own issues, and organize themselves while having fun.
"Today many young feminists work on issues that one may not even immediately see as feminist. For example, younger women are leaders in the LGBT-rights movement, the anti war and environmental movements, in movements against exploitive Third World sweatshop labor, against homelessness, and for prison reform."
"I do not see American feminism's history as three short 'waves' that took place between 1863 and 2000, but as a two hundred plus year struggle," said Knight. "We have not reached equality yet. The key, as Susan B. Anthony and Gloria Steinem agree, is that the younger feminists stay ungrateful to the older feminists, and don't stop pushing for women's equality in all realms, not just salaries and wages. Today's feminists are everywhere and are more likely to be experts in a field now, rather than generalists like Steinem, but that is good. Their numbers are legion and their feminist work is woven into the fabric of society."
"I think that sometimes older and younger feminists today are depicted as at odds, with veterans cast as relics of a bygone era and younger feminists portrayed as unaware of or ungrateful for the work their mothers did," said Siegel. "Younger women today aren't abandoning the movement; they're reinventing it. That is our legacy. Feminists have been creating, imagining, and reinventing since day one."
Northwestern University's Gender and Sexuality Program and Communications Studies Department, along with the North/Northwest Suburban Illinois NOW chapter, sponsored the event.
Steinem will be speaking at the already sold-out Columbia College Conversation in the Arts series Tuesday, Feb. 7, at Film Row Cinema.