Gloria Steinem and Jill Soloway: In Conversation

Image courtesy of CAP events

“What would it mean to live in a city whose people were changing each other’s despair into hope?”

On Sunday night in Royce Hall, this quote by late feminist poet Adrienne Rich framed the conversation between feminist icon Gloria Steinem and television producer Jill Soloway.

At the December 4 event, organized by the Center for the Art of Performance (CAP) at UCLA, the women discussed feminist politics in light of the 2016 presidential election.

While both Steinem and Soloway expressed strong disapproval of president-elect Donald Trump, the conversation was overall optimistic in its exploration of potential directions for the future of the feminist movement.

Steinem called herself a “hopeaholic,” citing people’s fervent mobilization in the wake of Trump’s election as well as recent social justice advances like the rerouting of the Dakota Access pipeline as reasons to believe in the power of grassroots social activism. She also emphasized that the current reactionary, conservative backlash would not exist if feminism and progressivism had not previously led a “frontlash,” or a wave of success.

Soloway, dressed in patterned pants and sneakers, provided a humorous counterpoint to Steinem’s eloquence. She expressed a conviction that the country is in need of a revolution that translates peace and love into political terms, sprinkling her argument with jokes about Kim Kardashian.

Soloway offered the possibility that our infatuation with social media could be put to a productive purpose, such as connection and dialogue between women of various identities. Soloway and Steinem agreed that identity politics have splintered women into factions and led to hostility between various identity groups. For example, the majority of white, married women abandoned intersectional feminist interests and voted for Trump.

“Women used to stand in a circle, not a pyramid,” Steinem lamented.

Steinem and Soloway discussed the role traditional media played in Trump’s election. The women agreed that news outlets abdicated a moral responsibility to critique Trump’s missteps relentlessly, partially in pursuit of Trump’s entertainment quality and the ratings he brings. They believed the media’s dwelling on Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, on the other hand, was seeped in a misogynistic distrust of a strong, female authority figure. Soloway joked that the country was afraid the national secrets in Clinton’s emails would somehow travel through campaign chair Huma Abedin and out her ex-husband Anthony Weiner’s dick.

Soloway asked Steinem how she believes women can best organize in response to Trump’s presidency. Steinem expressed a belief that individual efforts can amount to collective change, advocating what she calls a “matrilineal revolution,” essentially a radical surge of female power that results in an egalitarian society. She dismissed the efficacy of asking male politicians to create space for female leadership, adding we can still look to Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama as women looking out for female interests in politics.

“We need to do it ourselves,” Steinem said. “I don’t think we can ask daddy anymore.”


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