Last Wednesday, the famous—perhaps more accurately “infamous”—feminist Gloria Steinem visited the Vassar campus. Steinem held an hour-long book signing followed by the lecture, “An Evening with Gloria Steinem” in the Chapel. I had the pleasure to attend both these events, and my experience was hard to define; perhaps I’ll say it was “interesting.”
Unfortunately, most of the book signing took place while I was at work. When I left work at five, I sprinted to the AULA in the hopes that there would still be copies of Steinem’s book left for me to have her sign. As one might expect, they were all gone. I then went to the Vassar bookstore only to find that their books were also sold out. They did however, offer me some labels—so when copies of her book came in I could purchase one and put the label on it as if Steinem had signed the book itself. I took the labels, and hurried back to the signing.
After waiting for twenty minutes the moment arrived: my chance to meet Gloria Steinem. Although I am aware of the gross transphobic, racist, and classist things Steinem has said in the past and in her book, I was still slightly enthusiastic to meet her. Our meeting occurred at approximately 5:27 PM, three minutes before the signing was scheduled to end. I didn’t have time to take a legitimate picture with her, instead I settled for an “in action” shot of Gloria signing my labels, while I stood above her, watching.
I was pressed for time, since my friend and I agreed to meet for dinner ten minutes prior. So I didn’t attempt to start a profound conversation with her about feminism in the twenty-first century. In fact, I didn’t say much of anything. I’m pretty sure the only words I said to her were my name, “Anna” and a lackluster “have a nice day.” Looking back, I could’ve at least tried to be less gauche.
After dinner, my friend and I went to the Chapel to hear Steinem speak. This being a lecture about feminism, a topic I have many complicated feelings about, and it being my first lecture here at Vassar, I couldn’t help but feel a bit giddy.
If asked what Steinem said during her talk, I honestly wouldn’t be able to explain in a coherent sentence. What held my attention most were the questions asked afterwards. I was just as giddy to hear what Vassar students would ask Ms. Steinem, as I was giddy for the lecture itself. Despite the collective uncomfortable moments caused by both questions from students and the responses they generated from Steinem, I am so grateful the questions were asked.
I left “An Evening with Gloria Steinem” a little jaded—it’s disappointing when such an influential figure is respectful to certain aspects of social justice while disrespectful to so many others. However, I left the chapel hopeful because I know the feminists at Vassar (and hopefully those outside of the Vassar community) will prosper where Steinem fell flat. So I will keep the labels with her signature, and the pictures of her on my iPhone, for nothing if not for the optimism I gained from attending her lecture.
Written by: Anna Iovine
Photo cred: Rachel Garbade