Blast Radius

Gloria Steinem inspires Branksome Hall students to build unity

Feminist icon pays the school, Toronto a visit to talk about equality—and empathy

CELEBRATE DIFFERENCES: Gloria Steinem chats with moderator Amanda Lang about making connections between people during talk to Branksome Hall students and families.

Under the glass ceiling of Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto, Branksome Hall students sat with their mothers and some fathers and listened to women’s rights advocate Gloria Steinem talk about equality Oct. 23.

It was part of the school’s annual Rachel Phillips Belash speaker series, Women Strong, which has seen Arianna Huffington, June Callwood, Samantha Nutt and Naomi Wolf talk to students about topics related to the development and education of young women.

For me, Steinem’s talk was a return to the University of Toronto, where I had read about her in the late 1990s. This was a talk I was truly interested in hearing. I’ve supported her views for a while as they formed the basic foundation of what my mother taught me growing up as a kid.

It doesn’t take having a daughter to understand the challenges still before young women in the Western world. Nor does it take seeing someone close to me grapple with testifying about a sexual assault they experienced.

I’ve seen the impact of men who believe women are their possessions and that attitude has always infuriated me. I’ve been outspoken about these issues in our society. Hollywood’s current scandal, the one involving Harvey Weinstein, was alluded to during the question period with Steinem.

But the big issue Steinem focused on was how we’ve been ranked as people in political, religious and economic structures.

“We do different things. We have different skills. We are different people but we can do it in a more balanced way,” Steinem told CBC journalist Amanda Lang.

I like the emphasis on the individual as well. Steinem suggested we celebrate differences instead of going colour-blind or gender-blind.

“There’s something in us that wants to be whole and make connections. It helps us to be together,” Steinem added. “We can understand, in addition to just learning, that we can empathize.”

Throughout the talk, Steinem showed great humour and humility, which Branksome Hall senior Astrid Ling found inspiring — and a call to action.

“We see a lot of division right now within countries around the world,” said Ling, who had introduced Steinem. “Our generation is going to look towards building unity — looking at what makes us similar rather than different.”

Branksome’s prefect motto is “Unity starts with you” and it will be something the students bear in mind, going forward.

“We’re looking to start a movement about unity. Gloria has talked about listening to others, so we’re going to build a real sense of community at our school.”

For me, what I was taught as a kid, long before being “woke” was a term, will be passed on to both my daughter and son.

Shatter that glass ceiling together.

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