“When I was growing up, there was no term for domestic violence,” said Gloria Steinem in a speech Wednesday night at the Texas Council on Family Violence Statewide Conference. “It was just called life.”
Feminist icon Steinem—who co-founded Ms. magazine and was the face of the 1960s-70s women’s rights movement—drew a standing ovation and boisterous cheers before she even took the stage at UT’s AT&T Center.
Before a packed crowd of about 300 domestic violence prevention professionals and others, Steinem said that women’s rights have progressed greatly during her 78 years. “When I was young, it was accepted as fact that if a woman was abused, it was her fault—or worse, that she wanted to be abused,” Steinem said. “Today, that is changing.”
Citing a study of Good Samaritans who protected Jews during the Holocaust, Steinem said that eliminating violence in the home has powerful consequences. “Researchers looked for what these Good Samaritans had in common that made them altruistic—from age to race, sex, and class,” she said. “But the single-most shared characteristic was that they had not been abused as children.”
During a question-and-answer period, one young woman told Steinem that many of her 20-something peers think feminism is no longer necessary. “To them, I would point out the relevant issues,” Steinem responded. “We have a huge student debt crisis in this country, but it is worse for women, who earn $2 million less than men over our lifetimes.”
While she praised progress—such as a rise in women’s shelters and nonprofits—Steinem also said she believes that feminism is now facing a strong backlash. “Those of you who work in shelters know that a woman is most likely to be murdered during the period immediately after she leaves her abuser,” Steinem said. “The same is true of women in our nation at this moment. We are in a time of maximum danger, but we’re about to be free.”
Photo by Zen Ren