Leader in feminism hosts rally on campus

Central Florida Future

Originally published in the Central Florida Future: http://www.centralfloridafuture.com/news/leader-in-feminism-hosts-rally-on-campus-1.2781516#tabs_article_comments_tab1

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem made a stop at UCF’s Pegasus Ballroom Friday to lead a discussion on women, politics and the importance of voting in the upcoming election.

The rally, which was sponsored by UCF’s women’s studies program and the National Organization for Women at UCF, brought more than 200 students, faculty and local women’s rights organizations together.

Steinem opened her discussion by encouraging everyone to forget about party labels and to examine the issues that are at stake. For Steinem, that includes equal pay for women.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women earn an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man in an equal position. Though pay equity has been discussed by both presidential candidates, Steinem said she believes both candidates have not realized that “equal pay for female human beings of the United States will be the single greatest, most powerful economic stimulus this country could possibly experience.”

“Just equal pay for comparable work would put $200 billion more into the economy every year,” Steinem said. “We are not going to take that money and put it into a bank account in the Bahamas. We are not going to send it to Switzerland. No, we are much more likely to spend it in a way that creates jobs.”

Steinem also emphasized the importance of another women’s issue: reproductive rights. Though the case for abortion has created an even greater division between partisan lines, with liberals generally for it and many conservatives against it, Steinem believes reproductive freedom defies political ideologies. She said reproductive freedom is just as important for people who do not wish to have an abortion as it is for those who do.

“It means what it says [and] it says the power of the government stops at our skin,” Steinem said.

The issue of reproductive freedom is particularly important to many Florida voters because of a contentious amendment on this year’s ballot: Amendment 6. The measure would ban state tax money from being used for abortions or for health insurance coverage of abortion, except in rare circumstances like rape and incest.

To president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, Jenna Tosh, who also spoke at Friday’s event, the amendment would put women’s health in jeopardy.

“If Amendment 6 passes, it could mean that a pregnant woman who needs access to cancer treatment would be denied health to end her pregnancy even if it’s what her doctor recommends. If Amendment 6 passes, it would leave a woman and her family struggling to figure out how to pay for medical care, even in the case of a severe fetal abnormality. Denying a family help in these cases is unconscionable,” Tosh said.

UCF’s women’s studies director, Maria Santana, said issues like reproductive rights and pay equity make this election crucial for women. However, she fears that young women who lack interest in politics may not exercise their right to vote, risking the gains that Steinem and her contemporaries fought for.

“Today, as young and perhaps single women, they don’t feel the necessity or the urgency, but we see it as an urgency because we understand the political path of change and the political path has ramifications,” Santana said. “It’s important for them to understand what’s happening today, right now, because it will be history.”

Santana remembers the agency created by second-wave feminists like Steinem. She admires that they did not just organize to complain about gender disparities, but that it moved them to action, something she hopes today’s generation picks up.

Steinem’s discussion imbued a similar sense of agency in junior finance and marketing double major Lauren Mulvihill.

“I’ve never been so empowered by hearing someone speak. I’ve never wanted to act out and go out and do something to perpetuate these feelings before,” Mulvihill said.

For senior political science major Paul Thurston, the conversation helped him recognize something about himself.

“As somebody who is obviously a man, I never really classified myself as a feminist, even though I believe in a lot of the same stuff. It’s good to see that maybe I have been this whole time, but I just didn’t know it,” Thurston said.

Steinem has been traveling around the country and the world advocating for women’s rights since the late 1960s. Her visit to UCF was the first of six stops she’s making in Florida this week. She’ll take a trip to St. Petersburg, Fort Lauderdale and Miami to continue her talk on women’s rights issues as related to the 2012 election.

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