I am fairly certain that Gloria Steinem would prefer not to be labeled a hero in the conventional sense. However, before I continue on this topic, I’d like you to pause and listen to a song. The title is, not surprisingly, Heroes. It is written and performed by Ann Reed (Hole in the Day is the album) and I have cherished this song since the first time I heard it. At the close of the song, Reed invokes a list of women heroes drawn from our history. Certainly there are names that could be added, but I find the litany quite stirring and satisfying. Over time I have come to appreciate the phrasing in the rest of the piece. Reed’s ‘definition’ of a hero as a friend seems right. It also aligns with Steinem’s request that she be referred to not as a mentor, but as a partner, of Jamia Wilson (Executive Director of WAM: Women, Action & the Media), with whom she shared the stage last night.
The event was focused on Steinem’s recently published memoir, My Life on the Road. Several hundred of us got to be a part of the evening and listening to both Steinem and Wilson produced many sparks of joy. Another popping source of joy for this 63-year-old woman were the hundreds of young feminists who filled the hall. I will admit that I had expected to see a lot of grey heads, but we were soundly outnumbered, which was grand! I’m not very good at ‘re-viewing’ talks that touch me deeply, precisely because they touch me deeply. When I’m immersed in the experience, it’s as if my cells are absorbing the messages and it’s hard to translate that into words.
Going back to my own thoughts about heroes, the definition: “[a person] admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities”, is useful, but doesn’t capture the essence for me. It doesn’t describe what I got from Steinem’s talk last night or the impact that the poetry of Mary Oliver has or how the groundbreaking work on shame by Brené Brown opens my eyes. Or what I feel when I listen to Reed’s song, while looking out my window at this riot of autumnal glory.
It’s that spark of joy that lifts me up and inspires me. My true heroes are not people placed on a pedestal to be admired or idealized, which creates distance. They are full human beings, expressing their passion and honesty; taking risks that may leave them exposed and vulnerable. Some of my heroes are famous. Living or dead, I learn from the words and deeds they have courageously shared with the world. Many of my heroes are regular people who exhibit quiet, persistent, heart-felt bravery every day. My heroes cause me to feel alive and encouraged, given courage to be my authentic self. Reed asks: “What can I learn from you? That I must do the thing I think I cannot do; that you do what’s right by your heart and soul. It’s the imperfections that make us whole… “
A final note, about MS Magazine: If you don’t read it, you are missing out. Find a copy.