The Sunday afternoon crowd was mostly women — I’d guess fewer than 20 percent men. That’s unusual in itself, but even more unusual was the warmth of the crowd.
I don’t know when I’ve seen so many hugs, warm greetings, tender and gentle expressions happening spontaneously all around. Friends were calling out to each other, waving across the auditorium. There were grins and laughter, and even for those women alone, it was easy to strike up a conversation.
With so many people surging into the facility, there’s a level of management required. We were instructed to move into the interior, leaving room at the aisles so the people still coming could slip in quickly. We did. We were asked to help others find seats, and immediately hands went up, signaling open seats available.
Others chatted and helped each other remove coats, or offered to turn in tickets for the prize drawing, saving steps for others and easing the congestion at the drawing boxes.
I was there early, partly because I knew it would be full and could be difficult. It was fun to observe the solidarity and affection of so many women. I felt that old sense of sisterhood, a belonging with these beautiful creatures.
The affection was directed at the guest of honor, Gloria Steinem, but it radiated throughout the room. We spontaneously stood in welcome when she walked onto the stage, and we continued clapping our appreciation. She looked happily surprised and sat with the host, my friend Vivien Jennings, who talked with her about her new book (My Life on the Road).
Sisterhood. Despite vast differences, we are bound by common experiences. She encouraged celebration at our victories and stirred passion at the wrongs that still bind women — and men. Feminism is all about equality, she reminded us. It was not a lecture or sermon; it was a perspective that resonated in the truth of individual experiences. Individual experiences gave way to common, shared experiences.
Two favorite moments:
- Listen to the turtle. In college, she took a geology course, expecting it to be least difficult of the options to get her science credits. The professor took them on a field trip, where she found a big turtle struggling on an incline toward the road. She held her arms out in front of her, as though carrying a beach ball, describing how she picked up the angry snapping turtle and deposited it back at the river’s edge, safely away from the danger of the road. The professor told her that it had likely taken that old turtle three or four months to get that close to the sandy soil by the road, where she would have deposited her eggs. The turtle would have to start over somewhere else now. Gloria was horrified at what she had done, but absorbed the lesson: Always ask the turtle. She explained: the people who bear a problem usually know what they need, what the right solution is. We must listen to them. We are the turtles who know what needs to be done.
- Can you imagine? She gave us a thought experiment. What would happen if we could raise one entire generation without violence or shaming, with only a focus on developing the full circle of human capabilities? She challenged that it might be enough to break the cycle of violence and discrimination, to give new hope to the human race. Years from now, she said, people will be amazed that we had such ridiculous conformist ideas of beauty, that skin color, gender, age, etc., had any bearing on the value of each individual human. We are still working our way out of this injustice and ignorance.
An afternoon full of those old feelings — solidarity, friendship, being on the right side of a just cause, a sense of power and, yes, sisterhood. The afternoon was all too short, but full of promise still. A reminder that we are still working toward our goals.