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Feminism – A Bra Burning Issue – A myth since the 70s

May 23, 2016

Gloria Steinem in conversation with Virginia Trioli.

A chilly night at Melbourne Town Hall with a hot topic

At the Gloria Steinem meet and greet I had an Alice in Wonderland moment and dropped down the

Gloria

rabbit hole into the midst of an assembled group of vibrant women’s right advocates, women who have long held Gloria Steinem’s work over the decades as an inspiration.

This iconic American feminist has lost none of her power and passion about women’s issues and in her long campaign to expose the inequality in the areas of race, class, age and ethnicity. Nor has she neglected her sense of elegance and style. Tall and slim she wore simple black trousers, a long black-sleeved t-shirt topped by a scarlet silk scarf. Her youthful looks belie her age. Her natural grace alludes to her passion for dancing. Her delivery and gesture reinforcing every word. Her wisdom has been honed over decades of listening intently to the lives and limitations that have confronted women strongly reinforced by her detailed studies of matrilineal societies particularly those found in India and North America. She is a combination of charisma and gravitas.

I met the inimitable ABC presenter Virginia Trioli, a normally fearless woman who said “I am as nervous as a kitten.” Christine from Readings, was a remarkable host of this meet-and-greet. I was reintroduced to the amazing Mary Crooks of the Victorian Women’s Trust by Dur-e Dara convenor of the Victoria Women’s Trust, a passionate woman and civil rights activist and icon in Melbourne’s food culture. I also met up with the man behind Gloria Steinem’s visit to Australia Morry Schwartz the head of Schwartz Media, and the influential publishing house Black Ink.

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Gloria was extremely generous to everyone, especially to the Fitzroy High School Girls who aim to put a feminist collective in every high school in Australia.

The town hall was a buzz with about 2,000 women and only a sprinkling of men. Before the lecture began, we all held up our signed copies of Gloria’s book as a sign of solidarity. As the dynamic Christine from Readings, in an introduction to the lecture told us Gloria signed literally a tonne of books that very afternoon.

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Christine went on to say that Gloria was ‘a trailblazer in the second wave of feminism who came to prominence working undercover as a Playboy Bunny’.

In fact Gloria burrowed beneath the glamour and glitz of the Playboy culture and exposed the horrendous working conditions and appalling wages. Her article was called ‘A Bunny’s Tail’ (1963). Unbeknown to the Playboy Club Gloria was not just beautiful but all things bright and beautiful -she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, mane cum lauda from the prestigious liberal arts institution Smith College.

Untitled 2On stage Gloria in conversation with Virginia Trioli about her book and her life responded to Virginias question about Gloria’s own mother “I suspect that like many women here I am living out the unlived life of my mother. And this is a huge step forward. We should be proud of this, but it’s also true that we need to move forward.”

In reply to Virginias question about ageing and female invisibility: “I feel very, very alive and very, very happy but not sexual, thankfully,” “The brain cells dedicated to sex are now free for other things.” As for the bra burning issue in the 70s she said it was a total myth – “it never happened”.

Gloria said her big realisation early on in the Feminist movement was “that telling of the inner-equality of women’s rights as well as the civil rights movement, didn’t do a damn thing. The power hierarchies weren’t interested in the injustice. They were part of the exploiters for moneymaking and gender control. We were just too damn nice.”

The last time I encountered such wonderful solidarity with women was at one of Maria Prendergast’s fabled, Fabulous Female Friends Party. I introduced myself to the woman to my right. Her name was Marieke Brugman, her advice to young women is, “Believe in yourself and the roots of your own authenticity. Prepare to stand out from the group. Don’t be afraid to be passionate about what you do, and excel at it”.

“If you are not doing what you are doing now, who would you be”?

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