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Feminist icon Gloria Steinem speaks at Duke Chapel

Gloria Steinem, a writer and activist, spoke at Duke Chapel in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Baldwin Scholars Program on Tuesday.
Gloria Steinem, a writer and activist, spoke at Duke Chapel in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Baldwin Scholars Program on Tuesday.

Steinem just turned 80 — but she still sees much more to do.

“Life is long,” she said. “Aging is a joy. I think it’s especially maybe a joy for women because we can escape the feminine world that descends upon you when you’re 11 or 12 and continues until you’re about 50.

“Mortality is another question, quite different, and I think that is what I’m trying to deal with myself although I have every intention of living to 100.”

Steinem, whose career as an author, journalist and feminist activist has spanned decades, spoke at Duke University on Tuesday.

She spoke to a sold-out crowd in Duke Chapel, calling it an organizing meeting.

“Maybe each of us, me included, will leave here with one new idea,” she said.

The hundreds of people in the audience ranged from children to senior citizens. There were some UNC-CH students, in addition to the many Duke students, in the crowd.

“I wonder how many of you are going to graduate with debt,” she said, looking out at the people raising their hands in the audience. “That shouldn’t be — that is so, so wrong.

“Education is much more expensive than it (once) was. Why? In large part, because our state legislatures have cut money for higher education in order to spend more money building prisons or other profit-making endeavors.”

The audience hissed and booed at the mention of the North Carolina legislature, which has cut nearly half a billion dollars in funding for the UNC system since 2011.

“This is a very intimate part of the revolution that you can be mad as hell about,” she said. “It takes organizing.”

In her hour-long speech, she touched on a range of issues to be addressed, including violence against women, equal pay and reproductive rights.

Steinem said feminists and activists must make connections with their community to their national lives and with each other — no matter their race, gender or class.

“God may be in the details, but the goddess is in the connections,” she said.

Her speech generated a standing ovation, and Steinem invited attendees to ask questions at the end but also share information about their own community organizing.

Duke senior Miryea Ayala said she liked how engaged Steinem was with the crowd.

“Everything she wanted to say, she said it with confidence,” she said.

Another attendee, Denny Hood, who works at Duke, was in a consciousness-raising group inspired by the National Organization for Women back in the 1970s.

She said she was inspired by Steinem and her long career of social activism.

Steinem told the audience that there is starting to be a shift in vision — no longer is there a hierarchy, but instead, a circle in which everyone is linked to each other.

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“We have a few tasks ahead of us, but we have the single most important thing, which is the understanding that we are not crazy, the system is crazy,” she said. “And (we have) the joy of discovering our own rebirth as whole human beings ... as we discover a secret, which is each of us is two things — unique and a member of the human family.”