Stuck in a “Pissed Off” Time Warp

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Gloria Steinem
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Gloria Steinem at news conference, Women's Action Alliance, 1972.


Sometimes when I’m speaking about my alma mater, Smith College, I’ll start with Gloria Steinem. Forget being the largest of the Seven Sister schools, or having the first women’s engineering program, or even the amazing education I received. For bragging rights, I go straight to fellow Smithie Ms. Steinem.

Steinem turns 79 next week, although that doesn’t seem to be slowing her down. If anything, she’s picking up speed. As debates about leaning in, having it all, and balancing family and work obligations rage, Gloria Steinem's oft quoted mantra “the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” seems exceedingly relevant. Ms. Steinem spoke these words during a different political era. But it seems as though even nowadays, the truth is still pissing us off.

Today Steinem delivers the keynote speech for Women’s History Month at Simmons College. She’s returning to the Boston campus 40 years after addressing the graduates of the class of 1973. Although much has changed in our world, Gloria Steinem’s message of breaking down boundaries and striving for equality remains, perhaps alarmingly, relevant.

Steinem’s first speech at Simmons tackled the challenges facing working women, “if we look at a marriage in which both a husband and a wife are working outside the home and we see that the wife is still more responsible for taking care of the children and the house, for doing the work of that house, then we understand now that it’s politics.” I wonder if anyone would be surprised if she gave an identical speech today.

I hope in 40 years the next generation of feminists will find our current fights to be antiquated. I hope they’ll speak of women like Gloria Steinem as stepping stones, as the shoulders they stand upon, as women who fought the good fight back when change seemed daunting. Because boy will I be pissed off if we’re still giving the same speeches in 40 years time.

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