Last Wednesday, noted feminist and progressive activist Gloria Steinem came to speak at Oberlin as a part of our Convocation series. The Editorial Board applauds Steinem and her contributions to promoting women’s rights and addressing various forms of discrimination. Reflecting on her talk, however, we found that her ideas and points were hardly revolutionary; in fact, Steinem’s brand of feminism and the values she expounds seemed dated in relation to the strongly liberal ideas commonplace at Oberlin College.
Steinem and her rhetoric are a time capsule, a peek into a time when women were married with kids by their early 20s and only men could pursue a lucrative career. Her brand of feminism predates even Betty Friedan; Steinem wrote her first article on choosing between marriage and a career forEsquire magazine a year before Friedan’s explosive manifesto, The Feminine Mystique, hit bookstores.
Although Steinem’s ideas on basic gender equality are still considered radical in some parts of America, the average Oberlin student finds them somewhat antiquated. Here, we’ve advocated for the “T” in LGBTQ; Steinem, during her talk, said that some feminists might feel uncomfortable supporting transgender issues because they may feel “that there’s a minstrel show going on.” Although she also referenced the largely accepted idea in Oberlin that “gender is a social construct,” her views sounded too mainstream to our radical ears. Coming from a movement where the subtle meanings of words are extremely important, Steinem must understand why many Oberlin students would find some of her words indicative of misguided perceptions.
But Steinem is not the first victim of Oberlin’s “too-progressive-for-you” tendencies. During Yoko Ono’s talk last year, one student called out Ono’s distribution of numerous battery-powered flashlights to the crowd as environmentally unsound. Who would have thought that an Oberlin audience could summon the self-righteousness to take on Ono, whose activism strongly influenced that used by Oberlin students, with the same chutzpa normally reserved for Massey Energy Company?
Every new generation adheres to a set of values that can, at times, conflict with those that came before. This is inevitable as the younger generation seeks to carve out its own niche in a world defined by ideas and beliefs that do not coincide with its perception of the world.