Activist and writer Gloria Steinem emphasized doing what is important to you as she spoke to a crowd of more than 200 people Thursday night at the Missouri Theatre.
“Do what you really care about,” she said. “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”
Steinem was in Columbia to receive the 2004 Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, honoring her work with women and other groups.
Steinem was greeted with a standing ovation, and the applause grew as four women — described by Jan Colbert, chair of the MU School of Journalism’s magazine department, as representing “the young and old voices in the feminist movement” — took the stage with her. Each had a different story to tell as they praised Steinem for her influence in both feminism and journalism.
Suzanne Levine, a writer and former editor of Ms. Magazine, spoke of her time at Ms. with Steinem and of Steinem’s contribution to journalism.
“She helped us understand how each person’s story was a microcosm,” she said. “She has the absolute conviction that every story was worth telling.”
Farai Chideya, a multimedia journalist, said Steinem was also modest. “She’s a living legend, but she doesn’t ego trip,” she said. “She is a teacher, helper and partner for justice and peace.”
Amy Richards, co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation for young feminists, recalled the first time she met Steinem and remembered the most important thing she learned: “You can be conflicted without being compromised.”
Mary Kay Blakely, a contributing editor to Ms. Magazine and a journalism professor at MU, spoke of the bond she shared with Steinem. “Here in the Heartland, women really get it,” Blakely said.
After each woman spoke, Dean Mills, dean of the MU School of Journalism, handed Steinem a medal and plaque, calling her “a personal hero and truly a giant of America.” The crowd began cheering once more. When the applause died down, Steinem thanked the speakers.
“This is as good as listening to your own eulogies, but you don’t have to die,” she said.
Steinem spoke about the ties between social-justice movements and journalism and about her mother, a former journalist. She also gave a list of suggestions for journalists, advising them not to get discouraged.
“If you’ve asked a question that can be answered in your generation, then you’ve asked the wrong question,” she said.
Maura Dunst, a senior broadcast major at MU, arrived at the theater an hour before Steinem’s appearance with a friend, Katie Blair. Before the event, Dunst did not know the topic of Steinem’s speech, but said it didn’t really matter.
“I’d listen to her speak about anything,” she said.
Blair, a junior at MU studying communications, participated in a question-and-answer session after the lecture, asking Steinem how to be a good feminist. With a smile, Steinem replied, “I think you’re doing just fine.”
“Gloria was really personable, and I’m honored to have spoken to a living legend,” Blair said after the event.