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‘We look up instead of looking at each other:’ Gloria Steinem addresses audience at Bowers Museum

‘We look up instead of looking at each other:’ Gloria Steinem addresses audience at Bowers Museum
Feminist icon Gloria Steinem greets an overflow audience at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. The presentation featured Steinem in conversation with Ann Friedman, journalist and co-host of the podcast “Call Your Girlfriend.” (Christine Cotter / Contributing Photographer)

You might not expect to hear a matriarch of the feminist movement focusing her attention on men. But then again, Gloria Steinem has built her career on being consistently unconventional.

“Try to make sure that [children] see loving and nurturing men so that they know it is possible for them to break out of the old-fashioned, masculine role,” Steinem said, advising a sold-out audience on Feb. 19 about how to raise children that dispel negative male stereotypes. “It is hard to be it if you can’t see it.”

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She addressed what she calls the need for altered gender roles among other topics at “An Evening With Gloria Steinem,” an event put on by OC Public Libraries at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana.

Steinem — a journalist, speaker, activist and trailblazing leader of the women’s rights movement since the late 1960s — recently released the third edition of her 1983 New York Times bestselling collection of essays, “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.”

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Each vignette is a step in Steinem’s decades-long journey of becoming a feminist leader and icon. Included is “I Was a Playboy Bunny,” the infamous 1963 exposé revealing shady working conditions at a Playboy Club, and “Ruth’s Song (Because She Could Not Sing It),” which explores her late mother’s struggles with mental illness.

Steinem credited her mother as the inspiration for her journalism.

“I’ve realized over and over again how many of us are living out the un-lived lives of our mothers because they could not be who they should have been able to be,” Steinem said. “So in some ways I’m sure I became a writer and a journalist because that’s what [my mother] was before she had what was then called a ‘nervous breakdown,’ and had such strains in her life that she gave up everything she loved.”

Journalist and podcast host Ann Friedman (“Call Your Girlfriend”) joined Steinem onstage to moderate the discussion about “Outrageous Acts,” followed by a Q&A and book signing.

“Her career straddles the worlds of activism and media,” Friedman said in a phone interview. “Her views have stood the test of time. She has continued to be in dialogue with other feminists and has been engaged with future generations.”

Past and present generations in the Bowers auditorium had the opportunity to ask Steinem questions about her work and how to apply her suggestions.

Nicole Walsh, an Orange County attorney, asked Steinem what outrageous acts and everyday rebellions can look like in people’s day-to-day lives.

“It just means that when you see something that is unfair or needs naming, or you have a piece of information that could help somebody else, that you just do it, in the moment,” Steinem said. “I mean, there’s only one thing worse than trying and failing, and that’s not trying, because you walk around saying, ‘What if?’”

Though she’s best known for her women’s rights activism, Steinem has been a champion for a variety of causes, including ending racism, violence, child abuse and LGBTQ discrimination.

She tours the country speaking at rallies and book signings and, at 84 years old, shows no signs of slowing down.

Her parting advice for effecting change? Start small.

“I would say the main, generalized problem with activism is that we have a case of the ‘shoulds’: what ‘should’ I do, instead of just doing everything we can,” Steinem said. “We look up instead of looking at each other.

“And if you just do whatever it is that presents itself to you absolutely every day, you’re much more likely to create the revolution we need.”

Aliese Muhonen is a contributor to Times Community News.

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