Every day that I wake up, I feel tremendous gratitude for all I have.
Considering how dark my beginning was, child abuse, obesity, alcoholism…my life could have gone and ended in a horrible way.
And yet recently, folks, I really hit the jackpot big time.
I was so fortunate to attend the Ms. Magazine luncheon on January 27th, 2012 with the person I hold responsible for leading the feminist movement, my shero, Gloria Steinem. I know the experience will go down as one of the highlights of this year.
When I arrived at S.F. State University in 1980, I was a train wreck. My struggles with obesity and alcoholism were out of control; I was in a downward spiral. I had come to California from New York thinking the “Golden State” would save me; instead, I was landing on my face (literally, in a drunken stupor). And then something shifted. I found the Women Studies Department.
I began to take classes in the Women’s Studies Department, which spoke to me in a way that nothing else had. I had known I was gay from a very young age but had repressed my feelings. These classes helped me step into my fears about “coming out” and allowed me a safe space to be me; I did come out as a lesbian when I was 21. The Women Studies Department helped give me my voice.
Because of those classes, I began to read Ms. Magazine and to research its founder, Gloria Steinem. She was (and still is) my role model. I was incredibly moved by her calm articulate manner. Gloria was and still is (at 78 years old) a revolutionary and a natural leader. Back in the early 80’s I wanted to meet her and was fortunate enough to work at a book signing on campus and got a chance to say hello. I treasure that day and remember that she was everything I expected — kind, loving, generous, smart.
Fast forward 30 years.
Last year a documentary on Gloria’s life came out on HBO called In Her Own Words. I watched it and said to my life partner, Kathleen, “I have to meet Gloria again.” I just want to tell her how she inspired my life and path.
This past Friday, I got that chance. I met Gloria again because of my involvement in A Band Of Wives. A Band Of Wives is one of my favorite women’s groups out there. It was formed to provide a safe place for women to ask for and find the support they need, to have their voices heard through blogs and forum discussions, to introduce like-minded women to each other through specialized groups and events, and to bring women together around important issues as a united voice. And the most important thing you need to know is that you do not have to be married, to belong; you just have to be a woman.
I love A Band of Wives’ founder Christine Bronstein and find her commitment to serve as strong as Gloria’s. Christine is a beloved leader and was one of the women responsible for Gloria being at this fundraiser. She was also responsible for my being there.
The morning of the event, I am getting ready and this voice told me to turn on the television show, The View. I’m not a big TV person, but for some reason I flipped it on. The hostesses were discussing their mentors and heroes. Funnily enough, Joy Behar, a mentor of mine, names Gloria Steinem as her mentor! She goes on to discuss all of Gloria’s amazing achievements and how much she admires what Gloria has done for women around the world. I took it as a sign – this lunch was going to be seriously amazing.
I arrived at Spruce Restaurant in San Francisco happy to see some familiar faces and excited to meet a whole new group of innovative, empowered women. The fundraiser for Ms. Magazine was intimate – When Gloria entered, the entire room lit up; everyone was thrilled just to be in the presence of such an influential leader of the feminist movement. Kind, open-hearted, and gracious, Gloria was a delight to meet.
Gloria began her talk by saying, “People ask me all the time, why feminism? Why not focus now on something else at this point? Because all relevant issues are covered. It is the most prevalent movement and everything that we are facing stems from it.” Gloria then went on to speak about how women must treat themselves the way they want to be treated by others. It’s not enough to insist on equality from others; we must take it ourselves. We have to stop seeing ourselves through the eyes of Madison Avenue advertisers, through the perspectives of beauty put forth by reality TV. She talked about how common plastic surgery, including vaginal plastic surgery, is.
I found Gloria’s mention of the prevalence of vaginal plastic surgery fascinating. She talked about how such surgeries illustrate how willing women still are to voluntarily go under the knife for cosmetic procedures. I took it upon myself to research such surgeries, and I found it is indeed a growing practice. Procedures such as labia reduction and even hymen restoration are becoming more and more popular. This article from over six years ago discusses the growing prevalence of such surgeries, citing women who want to achieve the look of porn stars.
While I don’t judge those who decide to have plastic surgery, it does make me sad that so many women are still trying to change themselves to conform to society’s standards of beauty. And this relates very closely to the feminist movement. Before we can ask others to see us as equals, we have to see ourselves that way. We have to believe that we are perfect as we are. We must embrace ourselves, warts and all. Supposed “imperfections” are the things that make us unique individuals; we should celebrate them.
After giving her views, Gloria was very clear that she didn’t want to give a lecture; rather, she was there to have a conversation, to hear all of our voices. The host committee allowed everyone to stand up and share our work. I think we were all in awe of one another. What an amazing group of women…
The whole event was extraordinary. Meeting so many women who were following their dreams and who strive every day to make the world a better place was truly inspiring. Gloria’s influence was palpable – she has created an amazing legacy, of which I am honored to be a part.Tags: alcoholism, feminist movement, Gloria Steinem, gratitude, lesbianism, life partner, Ms. Magazine, obesity, role model, self-esteem, women studies department