Happy 85th Birthday Gloria Steinem!
We have not met yet in person but you have changed my life.
Thank you for all you have done for women and men.
I had the honor of being taught by Joannie Parker for high school English and senior elective, Women’s Studies. She brought the women’s movement to our all-girls high school. We held hands at Hands Across America, we registered voters at supermarkets on ironing boards, and we stood our ground at clinic defenses. She was president of CARAL and active in NARAL and NOW and brought Ms. Magazine into our classroom. She was part of NWPC and brought inspiring speakers to our school every year for Women’s History Month.
For my special mikvah ceremony, she gave me a copy of your book, “ My Life on the Road,” and inscribed it to me: “For my treasured friend, Lisa, who herself might someday write a book with this title.” Abiding Love, Joannie.
I read your book in honor of your birthday and have been thinking of all the ways you changed life in America and how many of the topics were part of what Joannie brought into our classroom. We are all strong women together as Marge Piercy describes in her poem: “A Strong Woman,” “A strong woman is a woman determined to do something others are determined not be done,” but when we come together collectively what we can do is amazing and as Piercy says: “Strong is what we make each other.” Thank you for making me stronger and helping me find my community.
I have now published six stories on the Ms. Magazine website and one story about a women’s economic development project in Zambia in the Winter 2019 print issue of Ms. Magazine. I am proud to be part of the writing community you created. When I saw your play, “Gloria: A Life,” I shared that I was now writing for Ms. Magazine and it was one of my greatest accomplishments. Thank you for allowing me a place to share my stories.
I know that 85 Artists, Activists, and Journalists are sharing toasts and tributes to you today for your 85th birthday.
I wanted to what inspired me from your work, your travels on the road and your book, “My Life on the Road.”
I have traveled for much of my life working on cruise ships for seven years and backpacking for almost three. Many people suggested that these were mistakes. I loved reading about your time on the road living in Europe for a year and in India for two. I know you traveled with your father and for much of your feminist organizing. I love when you wrote: “My purpose here is to tempt you to explore this country. American travel seems to need an advocate.” I agree that many people discount traveling within their own borders and want to go somewhere internationally but there is so much to see in the USA.
I appreciate that you wrote: “My hope is to open up the road—literally. So far it’s been overwhelmingly masculine turf. Men embody adventure, women embody hearth and home, and that has been pretty much it.” I want to have my own travel show and share my scary challenges and adventures with a larger audience. Reading your words makes me more determined to make it actually happen. As you wrote: “Perhaps the most revolutionary act for a woman will be a self-willed journey—and to be welcomed when she comes home.” I would like to write “the story of a modern nomad…In many languages, even the word for human being is “one who goes on migrations.” Progress itself is a word rooted in a seasonal journey. Perhaps our need to escape into media is a misplaced desire for the journey.” I have taken many steps on my journey and will continue to share it.
In your book, you tell the story about your an invitation to give the address at the Harvard Law Review banquet and recommending “Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a brilliant lawyer who was one of the first female students at Harvard Law School, and who has just created the first Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.” My favorite thing at the Ruth Bader Ginsburg exhibit at the Skirball Center was your letter to her on Ms. Magazine stationary. By writing for Ms. Magazine, I feel I am part of this collective and community of women who have changed and are changing America.
I loved reading your stories about the 1977 National Women’s Conference, organizing for 1975 United Nations International Women’s Year and “NWPC’s goal to increase the number and diversity of women delegates to both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions of 1972, and to get the Equal Rights Amendment, reproductive freedom, and other basic issues of equality written into both parties’ platforms.” It was painful to think about 1992 and “the aftermath of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Watching the dignified Anita Hill face an all-white and all-male Senate Judiciary Committee—and then seeing Thomas confirmed for the Supreme Court—had inspired more women to be elected to Congress in that single year than had been elected in any previous decade—though they still made up only a little over 10 percent of a body that should have been more like 50/50. This record wouldn’t be surpassed until 2013, with 20 women in the Senate and 81 in the House.” More women have been elected since your book was published and hopefully we will get to 50/50.
Your book shares what you uncovered on the road, “the unPrison Project. It provides children’s books to mothers in prison so they have another way to connect with their children during visits, minds fly over prison walls, and mothers also improve their literacy.” You share the struggles of farm and migrant workers, sex workers and modern day enslavements, working with women, politicians, doctors and clinics on issues of reproductive freedom and choice as well as the problems with our voting systems and how each person really does make a difference.
I now want to go to see “the mounds around this country that were spiritual centers or astrological observatories or burial sites. Most are pyramids, with openings inside for viewing solstices and equinoxes, but others are flat mounds at global magnetic points where seeds were spread out to make them more fruitful…Most of the big mounds were along the Mississippi River. People on this continent then known as Turtle Island had cultures as advanced as any on earth.”
I want to go to Moundbuilders Golf Course at the Moundbuilders Country Club and see “Great Circle Earthworks, which is protected as a state park. Its thirty acres are surrounded by a wall that even after two thousand years of erosion is still fifteen feet high. At the center are four mounds in the shape of a bird, its beak pointing toward the entrance.”
I agree with your question: why did “we learn about the pyramid builders of Egypt but not the pyramid builders of the Mississippi River?”
The Serpent Mound, is now on my bucket list, it “is a grass-covered, undulating serpent stretching out for a quarter of a mile on a plateau above a valley. It seems to emerge from the earth, rather than to be built on it. Astronomers realized that the head points to the sunset at the summer solstice, and the tail to the sunrise at winter solstice. Radiocarbon dating traces its age back to at least two thousand years ago, not the few centuries originally thought.”
I loved learning what you discovered about “Native languages, Cherokee and others—like Bengali and other ancient languages—didn’t have gendered pronouns like he and she. A human being was a human being. Even the concept of chief, an English word of French origin, reflected a European assumption that there had to be one male kinglike leader.”
Your birthday being during Women’s History Month makes sense as you have taught us all so much. I did not know that: “the Iroquois Confederacy was the model for the U.S. Constitution—or that this still existing Confederacy was the oldest continuing democracy in the world.” I have studied Benjamin Franklin and been several times to the National Constitution Center but did not know that he “cited the Iroquois Confederacy as a model.” Franklin invited “two Iroquois men to Philadelphia as advisers and among their first questions was said to be: Where are the women?” I am glad that now there are more women in the room and that we have you as a chief organizer and “Trickster, a common figure in Native mythologies, a boundary crosser who can go anywhere. The Trickster is free, a paradox, a breaker of boundaries who makes us laugh—and laughter lets the sacred in. In Native spiritualities, there is often a belief that we cannot pray unless we’ve laughed.” Thank you for showing us we are more alike than we know and being an inspiration to keep going as there is so much yet to do.
I love that believe that spiders should be the totem of writers. “Serpent Woman of the Midwest is called Spider Woman in the Southwest—but she is the same source of creation and energy. She is the Thought Woman who names things and so brings them into being. Both go into a space alone and spin out of their own bodies a reality that has never existed before.”
Happy 85th Birthday! Thank you for creating a new reality with us, for us and among us!
Joannie and I say, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”
Learn more about Gloria Steinem at Women’s Media Center!
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