[Photo Credits: Marcel Tromp]
There’s no denying the enormous impact that Gloria Steinem has had upon the world during her 82 years of life, and last night at the Auckland Writers Festival, she shared stories and tales that were both wise, inspirational, and sometimes hilarious, all at the same time. Though she only spoke for a mere hour-and-a-half, the wisdom that she bestowed upon the audience in that time was unfathomable.
The first part of the evening saw her in conversation with Edinburgh Book Festival Director Nick Barley. At times he seemed uncertain of how to word his questions, trailing off mid-question, even apologising for bringing up the article she wrote about becoming a Playboy Bunny - something she described as a "career error”, as despite the implications it had on improving conditions, she still gets introduced as an ex-bunny. He seemed uncomfortable in many moments throughout the night, and while Gloria shone through with wisdom and tidbits of stories, it made me question as to why Nick Barley was chosen to interview Gloria, when here in New Zealand, there’s no lack of strong, successful, talented women.
Eleanor Catton (Man Booker Prize Winner for her 2013 novel ‘The Luminaries’), Kim Hill (Radio New Zealand National Presenter), even Lorde (all round great human, and well-read human at that), would have all been suitable options - and they would have made the evening a bold statement about what women can really achieve, especially here in New Zealand.
Gloria touched on various moments in her life - from her childhood, to seeing Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, to her formation of Ms. Magazine. She spoke about the struggle to run the magazine as a woman - feeling pressure to write fluff pieces about how to shampoo your hair, where in reality she wanted to write about political ideas and feminist messages. Every word Steinem spoke was a reminder that anything is possible, especially when you’re passionate about it.
She also spoke about more modern issues, discussing the upcoming American election. Her disdain for Donald Trump was clear, she said, "He is not a successful businessman, he is a successful conman. It's unspeakable." She doesn’t believe he will actually get elected as President, and instead her support is behind Hillary Clinton, who would be the United States of America’s first women President.
The sold-out audience was clearly in awe of Gloria - and were given the opportunity to ask her questions later on in the evening. The questions asked were mostly thoughtful and insightful, bringing up issues of sex workers, modern feminism, as well as hearing public announcements from people organising get-togethers in Auckland for feminists to discuss their ideas.
Highlights of the night included quips like, “Who are your anti-abortionists? Maybe they don’t read books,” when Gloria mentioned that there are often protestors outside events where she speaks. She also called the organisation of feminist events as “Fan-fucking-tastic,” ensuing laughter from the audience.
The enjoyment of the night was made all the more clear from the sheer number of people who bought copies of her latest book ‘My Life On The Road’, and waited over an hour to get their copy signed by Gloria herself - who personally spoke to everyone waiting patiently. Gloria’s importance cannot be understated, and having the chance to see her speak last night was a once in a lifetime opportunity.