They said feminism was dead. Gloria Steinem showed me that it's alive and fighting and more loving than ever.
Last week, I travelled to New York City to film a segment of Nick News with Linda Ellerbee at the Nickelodeon studio for Women's History Month. The show won't air until March, but I had the privilege of representing SPARK, an activist movement fueled by girls ages 13-22 that is demanding an end to sexualization in the media. I and two of my SPARKsisters, Sariel and Britney, sat on a panel of teens, all 16 or under, to discuss the progress that women had made -- and should continue to make.
The most exciting part of this opportunity was the fact that Gloria Steinem was on set with us. As an iconic second-wave feminist known for her intelligence, passion and humor, she was such an inspiration to hear from. Although the original instructions we were given cited her presence as mainly for "historical perspective," we soon discovered that Gloria Steinem never really became "history." She is just as relevant, just as important -- if not more so than ever. And so is the women's movement.
In order to better represent the American teen population, the producers of Nickelodeon strived to cast teens with both perspectives to answer the question, "Are we there yet?" in reference to American women. I argued that no, we still have work to do. At SPARK, we are protesting the destructive images in the media that inhibit women from succeeding. We still do not have a constitutional amendment that guarantees freedom of discrimination based on sex. We still do not have equal representation in the government. Especially in recent years, we've seen an increase in sexual violence towards women, especially women of color.
But as I learned on the set of Nick, there are those who disagree. As Gloria Steinem said, the biggest impediment to the feminist movement today is the widespread notion that feminism is dead, that there is no more use for it. Some of the girls on set were intelligent, articulate and smart -- but they too believed that women had gone as far as they needed to go.
One teen even said that she felt sexual violence was something that couldn't be fixed; she said that the Disney princess model taught women correctly -- that as long as we are patient, good things will come. This had been true in her life. But I interjected that while the historic feminist movement has been successful in guaranteeing her opportunities and quality of life as a woman, we still have more work to be done, especially for women in poverty and women of color. Women represent a disproportionate two-thirds of those in poverty, and women of color bear the brunt of the music industry's sexualization, and are at a higher risk of sexual violence. Good things don't just come to girls who grow up in impoverished regions, even in the United States. As long as we take an apathetic approach to sexual violence, nothing will ever change.
There are so many misconceptions around feminism and what the word means: gender equality between men and woman. Nothing more, but so incredibly necessary.
As I watched Gloria Steinem correct the misunderstandings of the Equal Rights Amendment and feminism on set, it struck me that she has had to do this for her entire life. Yet she did it with incredible love and understanding. As she told one of the girls whose beliefs on the place of women differed so radically from her own, "My pillar of beliefs supports your pillar. I support you in whatever choices you make." Gloria Steinem's love and kindness inspired me to teach those around me and support the girls around me no matter how they think of feminism.
Feminism isn't widely understood. But once understood, both men and women, all races and ethnicities can be a part of this movement for equality.
So no, feminism isn't dead. For me, feminism has become about more than women's rights. As my SPARKsister Emma said once, "If I have my rights, but my LGBT sisters, if my African-American sisters still don't, what is the use?" That's what feminism is about today -- equal rights for women, and equal rights for all. I'm proud to be a feminist. I'm prouder to be one on TV.
You can watch our show for Women's History Month in March.