What happens when one famous activist meets another? The world sits up and listens, that’s what.
A few weeks back, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson and feminist journalist Gloria Steinham (now 82) had a public chat at London’s Emmanuel Centre.
What struck me most about the event was the difference in age and experience between the evening’s hosts. At first, Emma’s youth annoyed me – compared with Gloria, she seemed naïve and inexperienced – but as the evening went on, I realised that Gloria was taking the opportunity to pass her legacy onto the next generation and encourage them to continue her life’s work.
While the event was predominantly centred around her new book, My Life on the Road – an overview of her career and travels – it also allowed the audience to reflect on some of the biggest changes experienced by our society as seen and documented by Gloria herself.
US-born Gloria grew up travelling around in a trailer thanks to her father’s job as an antiques dealer. With a lack of formal education and plenty of exciting stories under her belt, Gloria admitted that she actually longed for stability and normalcy as a child.
Similarly, Emma – who experienced anything but a typical childhood thanks to the HP franchise – also spoke out about the importance of activism.
Gloria complimented Emma on taking a year off from acting to resume her responsibilities as a global goodwill ambassador for UN WOMEN and the #HeForShe campaign in particular. “We trust you,” said Gloria on behalf of us all.
Which made me think that Glroia’s current blessing rests in her being able to look back on her life and advice the new generation on what she has learnt.
One of the key topics that she feels we need to continue addressing includes establishing truly democratic family values. Gloria read out a statistic from Sex & World Peace, written by Valerie M. Hudson, that claimed more female lives are lost to suicide, domestic violence and sex scandals than in all of the 21st century wars combined. Her biggest concern is that we are devaluing the female life and this in turn, is creating an imbalance in our current global population. While this may seem like a broad statement to make, Gloria reminds us that this imbalance is affecting all aspects of living – poverty, terrorism and war – because it creates a culture that normalizes domination. With that in mind, she advises that we need to differentiate violence from pleasure – something she thinks today’s porn industry is only confusing. But, she claims that in sex, “cooperation beats domination” – it can be empowering! [Emma piped up here and encouraged the audience to check out female sexual pleasure site, OMGYes…]
Her suggestions to tackle this? We need to learn how to appropriately condemn sex crimes and reeducate the public about understanding their feelings. We could introduce a new language to talk about these issues, but fundamentally both men and women need to learn to embrace their emotions so that we can finally dispel gender stereotypes. Why is it so unusual to see a man cry?
She recognizes that time is a slow healer and credits the Indian American belief that it takes four generations to heal one act of violence – so don’t be expecting any radical changes immediately. But equally, don’t be discouraged by slow progress. “The means are the ends,” says Gloria. The length and the difficulty of the journey is part of the journey itself, so learn to instead embrace it and continue doing what you love while fighting the cause. “Never give up… and dance a little,” she also added. And on Gloria’s advice, hanging out with your friends and sharing experiences is our way of connecting with each other.
“Pressing send is not activism,” reminds Gloria. The problem with technology is that it allows people to connect with others but also to remain anonymous, if they so choose. And this can encourage violence against minority groups, including women. Various industries – like adland, which is under constant scrutiny for its use of the female form for commercial benefit – need to be reconstructed and updated to meet modern needs. Of course, there are some organisations in place that already do challenge the status quo but these are often female led. Men also need to be factored into this discussion and they are often absent from these conversations, as was the case with this event. But perhaps this is because the male consciousness is still in its very early stages, compared with the female movement which is currently enjoying its third wave. Campaigns like the #HeForShe attempt to initiate a discourse between the two sexes and can only be seen as a step in the right direction.
Gloria’s final words were not to leave disheartened, but to leave full of life, love and laughter – and with that, she encouraged us all to turn to our neighbours and have a real conversation (offline) because as she says, “Let’s make it better tomorrow because we were here today.”