Glorious Gloria & the power of finding your tribe.

Last week I was reminded in a very real way of the importance of finding your tribe and loving them hard. As I sent out the bat(wo)man signal — I took a leap of faith and trusted my circle of women when they told me that things were going to be ok. And you know what I learned? Regardless of what happens, things will always be ok if you have people who are there for you and there with you in the eye of the storm.

The power and strength of finding your tribe and loving them hard is still very much on my mind this week after a completely ‘fan-f*cking-tastic’ time spent at Melbourne Town Hall last night with none other than Ms Gloria Steinem. Hosted by Readings, last night’s event felt like the Logies of Melbourne feminism, the who’s who of the cliterati, if you will. While it is still fresh in my mind I thought I’d reflect on some *mic drop* moments and what Gloria the Glorious, as I am now calling her, taught me about humility, hope and the magic of getting together and imagining a different way.

“Sea of femmos” with their books in the air — photo courtesy of Veronica Sullivan (Twitter)

It almost goes without saying that Gloria Steinem is a feminist icon, a trailblazer and a status quo smashing badass of the highest order. At 83 years young she continues to travel the world creating the conditions necessary for gender equality and speaking out about violence against women, reproductive rights and “patriarchy, monotheism, colonialism and all that bullshit,” as she so brilliantly put it last night.

She is fearless. She is fierce. She is feminist. Three of my favourite qualities in a person.

Not only did I have the absolute privilege of listening to her speak on stage with Virginia Trioli last night but I had the honour of actually meeting her. This occurred at approximately 5:49pm as she entered the Town Hall after an outright display of ‘feminist fangirling 101’ from yours truly.

Feminist fangirling essentially involves loitering near said famous feminist with giant geeky smile and proceed to catch her eye with awesome feminist Tee. When you have her attention introduce yourself quickly (I usually go for my name and organisation) and thank her for everything she has done for women and for you. Now whip out your phone and ask for a selfie, but be quick — you’ll only have one chance to get it right because feminists can’t be seen to be vain now can we. Then proceed to thank her again profusely and post that shit to social media with a caption like this otherwise it didn’t happen:

Using this methodology, I have fangirled my way to meeting a number of prominent feminists and all-round notorious women in my short time on the scene and have an enviable collection of selfies. The funny thing is almost all of the women I’ve incessantly fangirled seem to be completely taken aback that you know their name let alone can recite their entire Wikipedia page back to them! Feminists be crazy humble like that. Anyway, back to Gloria…

So I was walking up to the Town Hall when I spotted a group of women hugging out the front, not unusual at a feminist event it has to be said, but then I could faintly hear American accents so I looked a little closer. That was when I did the most almighty double take you’ve ever seen.

There standing tall and gracefully with a purple scarf draped around her neck was mother freaking Gloria Steinem. As soon as I picked my jaw off the floor, I realised that this would be probably my only chance to ever meet this incredible woman and I wasn’t going to die wondering. Die wondering if she’d have a selfie with me that is. So I weaselled myself up to the edge of her group, excused myself and just went straight up to her with all the courage I could muster. She said how much she loved my Signature Tee from The Global Women’s Project (seriously, get yours here, they’re awesome!) and I asked her if she wouldn’t mind having a photo with me. She kindly obliged and the rest is herstory. I died and went to feminist fangirl heaven. The end.

Fangirl (me, Carmen) and the fearless, fierce, feminist Ms. Gloria Steinem.

Ok so that wasn’t the end because I still hadn’t even been inside yet but what happened next will stay with me for the rest of my days. I told her what an honour it was to meet her and you know what she said to me, this twenty something fangirl with the fluoro pink pom pom earrings? She said:

“No, it’s an honour to meet you. Thank you for coming.”

See, I told you, feminists be crazy humble.

Among many other things — Gloria Steinem taught me a few lessons in humility last night. On several occasions she answered Trioli’s questions with a generous ‘well, I can’t speak on her [Hillary Clinton’s] behalf’ or ‘it’s not for me to dictate what the urgent business of the feminist movement is’, which is really just feminism q&a 101 but still brilliantly noteworthy when someone of her experience and intellect actually says it. She praised the work of Muslim feminists who challenge patriarchal interpretations of the Quran from the inside, she remarked upon the guiding principles of the #BlackLivesMatter movement (low ego, high impact, lead with love and empathy = wow) and schooled us on the activism and resilience of Native American women including, her friend, Wilma Mankiller.

We were reminded that history and the past are not the same and that there are two kinds of people in this world — those who think there are two kinds of people and those who don’t.

Overwhelmingly, she advocated a brilliantly intersectional, inclusive and modern feminism that had me hanging off every word she delivered into a microphone she stoically held up to her mouth all night!

One thing that Steinem said that really stuck with me, because it resonates so strongly with my own journey, is that magical things happen when you are amongst a group of ‘your people.’ She encouraged us to meet someone new in the room because undoubtedly there would be people there who share similar interests, who have common connections and who could be your next friend, colleague, boss, lover.

As I have written previously, by doing things that set your soul on fire, you start to attract the kind of people you not only want in your life but that you need in your life. That’s how I found my passion, my voice and my tribe. And I love them hard, especially on nights like last night.

I realised in my early 20s that what set me alight was fighting for the rights of all women and agitating for equality that will improve the lives of everyone, everywhere. So I got into the women’s health sector, I started regularly attending feminist events and I got involved on the feminist playground Twitter, even translating conversations into real life hangs as my new friend Scarlett Harris perfectly describes in her piece for The Vocal.

I was really proud and excited to take my mum along last night so I actually didn’t organise to meet anyone else or check to see if anyone I knew was going. Though early on I tweeted ‘Where are all my feminista sistahs sitting tonight?’ and, of course, they were all there. Indeed there were nearly two thousand people there to hear this ah-mazing woman and arguably the closest thing to a mother/leader that the feminist movement has. On that point, I wanted to make (wo)mention of the older women there last night. Thank you. Thank you for paving the way for us as young women, we know we stand on the shoulders of giants every day.

Events like that are almost like getting a feminist blood transfusion — they give me energy, they give me hope and they fill me with what I need to keep fighting the good fight. The courage, bravery, resilience and power in the room was palpable and it was transformative for me to be there in amongst all that femmo fandom.

Me and some of the fab feminists of Women’s Melbourne Network — photos courtesy of Wadzi and Eloise.

As a movement that advocates primarily for the social, political and economic equality of the sexes we have achieved some remarkable things, but there is still a long way to go.

When asked what she believed to be the single biggest failing of feminism, she answered: “We’ve been too nice.”

So in honour of Queen G, I am out in the world today doing my best to give zero f*cks. I will not apologise for taking up space nor shrink myself to make you feel more comfortable. I will, however, be fearless in pursuit of equality and challenge you to do something today that defies gender norms.

As we know, all good things must come to an end. *Just to be clear I’m not talking about my blog, I’m talking about last night’s event! ;)* At the conclusion of the interview, which I wish could have gone on all night, Gloria Steinem stood up. She graciously waited for the raucous applause to quiet down and she said:

‘Tomorrow will be better because we were all here tonight.”

And you know what, she was right. My today is better, brighter and brimming with hope because of the magic that happened last night. It was her closing remarks that compelled me to write this piece today and I am heartened by how many outrageously amazing women are poised and ready to carry the feminist baton (Fitzroy High School Feminist Collective anyone?!?!). Together we can relegate inequality to both history and the past. Together we can do so much more than we can do alone. Together we can make equality a reality. Are you in?

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