What It Was Like to Meet TWO Feminists Leaders in One Week

It took me years to identify as a feminist, mostly because society has done a bang up job at mangling the simple definition of the word. Plus, it didn’t help that growing up, I was told that “girls shouldn’t do this or that”. I didn’t know believing in the complete opposite was called “feminism” but I did know that what people were telling me about what girls and boys were allowed to do was complete bullshit. I felt in my bones and rebelled whenever I could.

Now, fast forward past playing manhunt as a little girl until the wee hours into the night and way past my women’s studies class at Rutgers, to about 2014 when I first discovered Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “We should all be feminists”. I was completely floored at how she broke down what feminism was and felt understood when she admitted she didn't know what the word meant at first either. In case you didn't know, feminism is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. That's it.

I’ve been a huge fan of her work ever since. Her novels like “Half of a Yellow Sun”, “The Thing Around Your Neck”, and “Americanah” have helped me in as a woman, Latina and journalist. So when Times Talks announced that she would be speaking, I literally dropped everything I was doing and bought my one ticket. I didn’t even care that I was going alone.

She shared her thoughts on her newest book, “Dear Ijeawele; Or, A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,” originally a private letter for her friend wanting advice on how to raise her own daughter as a feminist “so that she doesn’t take the kind of nonsense that I took, I want her life to be better than mine,” Adichie said, “It was both moving and sad.” Adichie said she wanted to be honest and practical but felt overwhelmed to write it at first.

Adichie gracefully admitted that she is still unlearning some anti-feminist beliefs simply out of habit and coming from a country where people still say, “As long as your husband says it’s okay you should be able to…” Her vulnerability was endearing and her honesty was inspiring. Now, that she’s a mother, she said that there’s this sense of urgency to help make the world a better place for her. Because, like her friend, she wants her daughter’s life to be better than hers.

She shared a constant problem she faces when she gets picked up by drivers. She can't tell if their surprise to see her as their client is because of the color of her skin or because she's a woman. It's difficult to tell if someone is being racist or sexist toward her. A problem many minority women can relate to. She even walked the crowd through what a not-so successful day of writing is like. My greatest takeaway from hearing her speak was how sincere, funny, vulnerable, and delightfully charming she and her answers were to every question. She wasn't bullshitting anyone. There were times when she answered, "You know, I just don't know..." The crowd (and I) were captivated by her honesty. 

There is so much more that she said (on Trump, post-racial America, and cooking as a woman, etc.) that will resonate with you so do yourself a favor and watch the rest of the interview here.

And, now because the universe is good, days later I also got to meet Gloria Steinem in person through the Rutgers Women’s Institute Program where I am a mentor.

While I may have my shit together in so many ways but I have the gift of getting absolutely lost all the time. I was not blessed with a sense of direction so I arrived to her talk a bit late. The only seat that was available was smack right in front of her. So she noticed when I stumbled in all frazzled from New York’s unseasonable damn hot day in the middle of spring.

Many were eager to ask her about her afterthoughts on the Women’s March and if marches still had the same impact as they did in the past and she said, “Marches have always had an impact but this was the biggest one in history. In my experience, the most continuous." Which is true considering it was only supposed to be in Washington D.C., and then spread like wildfire across the world.

Gloria Steinem said that domestic violence against women isn’t over because “it’s not taken seriously because it is still looked at as inevitable.” And, she even shared her thoughts on intersectional feminism when a white woman asked, “How can we be allies without sounding like we are taking over” and Steinem simply replied, “Don’t identify as white. I mean, I’m beige. It’s all in the approach.” And, when it came to women working together...

"First of all, we aren't our worst enemies. We don't have that kind of power. Systems of oppression don't work unless they are internalized. I’m referring to the majority of white married women [who voted for Trump]. That's something I have to work on." It was a relief to hear her say that. 

Then, the conversation shifted over to how sexist languages are and what needs to change.

The old languages didn’t have he and she. Cherokee language doesn’t have he and she. They have always been twin spirited people who were thought to have special wisdom. Patriarchy is such bullshit because it is all about controlling reproduction therefore controlling women.

Finally, I got to ask Steinem on her thoughts of the word Latinx and she said, “I think it’s great. Think how distant romance languages are to Cherokee all the way to DALI languages in India, to give gender to a pen or table is bonkers. I think the word is fun and inventive. I don’t love “X” actually but it’s better than having to divide us up."

Based on her answer, it seems that Steinem wasn't too familiar with the word Latinx, which was what motivated me to invite her right then and there on the podcast I co-host, Morado Lens, to discuss this very word, intersectional feminism and so much more. Cross your fingers, folks. Of course, this is after I thanked her for continuing to be a leader in the feminist movement and how her work has influenced me over the years. She was gracefully intimating and yet still inspiring. 

And, then I asked to take a photo with her but that first one was a bust, so I got the courage to ask for another, this time a selfie. Here's what I got: 

Me: The last photo didn't come out. Can we take a selfie?  Gloria Steinem: For sure.  Me: ::looks at selfie:: OMG, Gloria. We are adorable.

Me: The last photo didn't come out. Can we take a selfie?

Gloria Steinem: For sure.

Me: ::looks at selfie:: OMG, Gloria. We are adorable.

Hearing Chimamanda and Gloria (yes, we’re on a first name basis now) speak reassured me that all of my work whether at my full-time gig, podcast or writing help make the world a tiny bit better for women (especially minorities) are all going to pay off.

I hope what I’ve shared has inspired you as much as it has for me, because I’m feminist af and hope to spread the feminist love like wildfire.