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Steinem shares her feminism story with Eckerd audience

The night after Hillary Rodham Clinton pulled a comeback victory in the fight for the presidency, about 1,200 people — mostly women — stood to applaud Gloria Steinem as the feminist icon took the stage at Eckerd College.

They clapped again when Steinem and panelist Dorothy Pitman Hughes raised their arms in the power salute made emblematic in a photo from the era.

Before a packed gymnasium of enthusiastic admirers, Steinem spoke Wednesday night. The discussion felt more like a heart-to-heart talk as she and the three other women on the panel told stories from rose-colored couches.

Steinem, 73, said that for the first time in her life, an election has offered Democratic candidates that are all strong supporters of women and civil rights. "When asked an either/or, my tendency is to say both," Steinem said when asked whom she supported for president. "We could have Hillary Clinton for eight years, and we could have Barack Obama for eight years."

Steinem, one of the most recognizable faces of the women's movement of the 1970s, has been vocal in this election, endorsing Clinton in a New York Times op-ed in which she wrote, "Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life."

This weekend in Austin, Texas, she caused a stir when she questioned whether Sen. John McCain's experience as a prisoner of war qualifies him to be president.

At a news conference before Wednesday's event, she said the media's spin made her feel like Hillary Clinton for a day. She said the context was a light-hearted event at a bar where she listed 10 reasons to vote for Clinton in a David Letterman list.

But she said she does worry she said she worries about militarism being viewed as a requirement to be president, from George Washington to John F. Kennedy — especially when the experience is limited to men.

"The idea that you have to learn to kill people in order to be president needs to be put to rest.''

But the program, sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times Fund Inc., and part of Eckerd's Women's History Month, mostly focused on the personal experiences that joined the panelists across generations and race to fight for women's rights.

Four feminists — Steinem, Hughes, Amy Richards, and Jennifer Baumgardner — traced the history of the movement, from the second-wave feminists of Steinem's day to the third-wave activists represented by Richards and Baumgardner.

They told of their starts as feminists:

Steinem said she attended a basement gathering of women who described their abortions before legislators liberalized abortion laws. "I had never heard women speak the truth in public before," she said, adding she had kept secret her own abortion at 22.

Baumgardner, a bisexual, learned the word lesbian from Ms. magazine, which Steinem helped found.

Richards said she thinks she became a feminist in the womb, because her mother left her father when she was seven months pregnant in 1969.

"We live in a different world now — a woman president, or a black president?" Hughes said. "The team we've been dreaming about."

Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

Steinem shares her feminism story with Eckerd audience 03/05/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:28am]
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