Gloria Steinem visited the Arlington Theater on Thursday night through UCSB Arts & Lectures, discussing feminism, intersectionality and the Donald Trump presidency.
This was Steinem’s third appearance with Arts & Lectures, and she requested the house lights be turned on so she could see familiar faces and friends in the audience. She also commended the Santa Barbara community for its activism in organizing a sister Women’s March to the Women’s March on Washington in January.
After a standing ovation from the crowd, the iconic feminist activist and writer dedicated her speech to those affected by Trump’s divisive rhetoric and legislation. She immediately deemed the night as a moment to take all the power away from Trump and “demystify” his presidency.
“Tonight will be devoted to what we are going to do about it,” Steinem said. “It is important to be hopeful, as hope is a form of planning.”
Feminism, to Steinem, is a common thread within larger social issues. She said she believes the normalization of violence and supremacy crimes lead to inequalities within race and gender.
According to Steinem, the Trump presidency revived the divisive rhetoric in America that also connects to gender inequalities.
“You cannot be a feminist without being anti-racist,” she said.
Steinem encouraged Americans to acknowledge the dangers of Trump’s executive orders and the importance of voting at the local level.
According to Steinem, Trump poses a danger to American society, but she believes he is inciting a movement like no other.
“It has unified and activated people in a way that I have never seen in my lifetime before,” she said. “This is a rebellion, a contagion of energy that I have never, ever, ever seen. To me it was symbolized by the Women’s March on Washington.”
She went on to say that people in the crowd could be in danger because of their immigration status. She said one woman dies every five minutes due to the Mexico City Policy, which denies funding to overseas programs that offer abortion referrals and access.
Immigration, reproductive rights, Black Lives Matter, indigenous rights and LGBTQ movements were all integral parts of Steinem’s “circular paradigm of society.” In reference to indigenous beliefs, she said a circularly structured society links people together, whereas a pyramid structure creates hierarchies.
Steinem said 53 percent of white married women voted for Trump while around 95 percent of African American women voted for Hillary Clinton, statistics which, according to her, represent racial disparities in America. However, UCSB students who attended the event had varying opinions about Steinem’s position on feminism being intersectional.
Rachel Engel, a third-year sociology major, said she was disappointed with the way Steinem handled the discussion of feminism in relation to race.
“When Steinem was asked about the problem regarding representation of women of color within the feminist movement, her answer didn’t acknowledge racism within the movement as explicitly as I’d hoped it would have,” Engel said.
Engel said the demographics of the audience reflect Steinem’s overall speech, but “also the general notion that intersectionality means that Steinem can’t speak for nor understand the experience that women of color have.”
The audience was mostly made up of middle-aged white women. In a response during the Q&A part of the night, however, Steinem said she wanted the audience to understand that women of color have always been present in the movement and that she herself learned feminism from black women and other women of color such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Aileen Hernandez.
“Since a big problem with the mainstream feminist movement is the focus on white middle class women, I honestly didn’t expect much more than that from her talk,” said Natalie Burrous, second-year history major and general campus organizer for the Associated Students External Vice President of Statewide Affairs.
Burrous, however, said she appreciated that Steinem insisted on the importance of using an intersectional framework as a feminist.
“I was pleasantly surprised to hear her acknowledge the fact that white women within the movement receive more attention and notoriety,” Burrous said. “I think that was an important message for anyone in the audience who considers themselves a feminist to hear.”
Despite the discussion of such topics as Steinem’s own abortion she had in England, she identified laughter as a way to cope with the perils of political activism.
“How do we know when we’re free? When we can laugh,” Steinem said. “I’ve only learned in the last few years that laughter is truly the only free emotion.”