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Start where you are: Steinem

Protest need not always be about rousing moments of change and, taking a leaf out of her early days of protesting, Gloria Steinem admitted, “When I started I was quite naive and I think burnout is a function of naivete. It took me quite a while to understand the depths of the injustice.”

At a session titled Feminism Across Frontiers, the feminist icon spoke about what a new generation of women must do to consolidate sporadic protest into long-term change.

Steinem’s “dearest hope” was to “save you the burnout because that kind of time and effort is not adapted to the long term”.

Protest can happen in various ways, said Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, as she recalled protesting first by writing. “Since I can’t march on the streets I will protest by exposing what is not right. I began to look for those moments of injustice and what was invisible. Forming Apne Aap in itself was a protest.”

“Keep protesting because each protest is incremental and change does happen in its time. I have a lot of protests ahead of me,” Gupta added.

In the times of candlelight marches and slut walks, Steinem looked back at a few things that enabled her to keep going through strength, frustration and joy “by having small groups of people, maybe very different but sharing values and sharing hopes…. like an alternate ally”.

“We need chosen families. Women’s movement around the world has come from small groups of women, meeting by the well, the river, in front of the YWCA and supporting each other. A place where you can speak the truth,” said Steinem.

“The secret is to start where you are. If you are a young person with access to places that old people don’t, take them with you and vice versa,” said Steinem.

As the house was opened up to the audience — a mix of school and college students — at the Victoria Memorial, Steinem found herself offering solutions. When a girl shared her wish of volunteering help to protect women in red-light areas and how her father would rather have her become an IAS officer, Steinem advised: “Do it anyway!”

As the questions kept coming, Steinem and Gupta moved to the Victoria lawns with a handful from the audience for an exchange of ideas and thoughts. “Say what you’re thinking and feeling. Try to be authentic, who you really are and not dictated by gender or caste or class. Try to just say it and see what happens, you will be surprised,” Steinem signed off with a smile.