“Gloria: A Life”: “Lead with love, low ego, high impact, and move at the speed of trust”   

By guest blogger Maureen Murdock; editorial review by Nancer Ballard and Savannah Jackson.

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Last year my partner, Bill and I went to a matinee performance of “Gloria: A Life, ” Emily Mann’s play about Gloria Steinem. The setting at the Daryl Roth Theater in lower Manhattan was arranged as if we were in a consciousness-raising group. The stage area was in the middle, carpeted with Persian rugs like Ms. Steinem’s own apartment. We, the audience, sat around the stage in bleacher-style rows covered with multi-colored pillows. Six aisles allowed for non-Gloria characters to come and go as scenes changed.  Images of Gloria’s life were projected above the stadium seating on two opposite walls. Christine Lahti, looking exactly like the feminist trailblazer in black bell-bottoms and tinted aviator glasses played Gloria.

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The first act traced Gloria’s life from small town girl taking care of her mentally ill mother in Dayton, Ohio through her rise to become an icon of the Second Wave of Feminism.  What was poignant is that Gloria became a journalist to get away from her mother and found out years later that her mother had been a newspaper journalist herself before Gloria was born. Her mother was then abandoned by her husband and became terminally depressed. Gloria realized, like so many of us who have had depressed mothers, that she ended up living her mother’s “unlived life.”

Film clips of Gloria from her time undercover as a Playboy bunny, to her early reporting on the women’s movement, to her involvement in the creation of Ms. Magazine (with many others in her living room), to images of her addressing the crowd at the 2017 Women’s March in Washington D. C. appeared on the walls around us as the play evolved. Other actors played many other feminist leaders such as Florynce Kennedy and Wilma Mankiller, black and Native American leaders often left out of standard histories.

When her husband of three years died of cancer, Gloria turned to Wilma Mankiller. Wilma told Gloria a story about her own near death experience in her forties which included such a feeling of ecstasy that she didn’t want to return to the living when  given the choice. However, she did make the decision to live and assured Gloria that her husband probably was also gifted with an ecstatic release from his suffering in death.  The whole idea of death being an ecstatic experience gave me hope.

Gloria Steinem,  Image by © MARIO ANZUONI/Reuters/CorbisGloria had her own #MeToo moment before the movement was named. A New York Times editor suggested to Steinem that they “discuss her work in a hotel room this afternoon”; and in 1963, when she was sitting in a cab ride in between Gay Talese and Saul Bellow, Talese said, “You know how every year there’s a pretty girl who comes to New York and pretends to be a writer? Well, Gloria is this year’s pretty girl.”

Perhaps the most important part of Gloria’s coming of age was finding her voice by listening to others in consciousness-raising groups and speaking with other women. It surprised me to learn that she had a fear of public speaking and so she always invited another feminist like Florynce Kennedy or Bella Abzug with her colorful hats to share the stage with her. “Social justice movements start with people sitting in a circle,” she says in the play and that’s exactly what the second act consisted of. At the end, there was a 20-minute talking circle in which we, the audience, were invited to share our own responses to what we had seen in the play or what we had lived. The guidelines were principles enunciated by Black Lives Matter projected on the walls in big letters: “Lead with love, low ego, high impact, move at the speed of trust.”

The lights came up and the first person to raise her hand for a microphone was a 16-year old girl. I was pleased to see such a young woman present because most of the audience—almost all women and the few men—looked like survivors of the nineteen sixties. She said, “ I’m 16 and I grew up with a mother who always told me I could be anything I want to be. I appreciate the sacrifices that Gloria made for all of us and I’m really grateful to my mother for giving me the confidence that I can be anything I want to be.” Impressed by how articulate she was, we all clapped as Christine Lahti said, “There is the next Gloria Steinem!”16steinem1-articleLarge

An older woman, sitting high up in the bleachers said, “I want to tell you what it was like in the ‘60s. My husband was a student at Yale and I worked in the library to support us. There was a man who worked with me in the library and I found out that he was making more money than me. I talked to some of the other women who worked there and we went to our boss and asked for a raise. Our supervisor said, “Well, he’s a man. Someday he will have to support a family!” The woman replied, “Well, I am supporting a family. My husband is a student and I work to support us both.” (I nodded, thinking back to how I worked on a psych ward while my first husband was in law school). Having received no satisfaction from her supervisor, she went above him to one of the Deans, who eventually gave her a raise. She interrupted our applause by saying, “Wait! There’s a happy ending to that story. I got promoted and now that man works for me!” We all roared with approval.

There were a couple of men who raised their hands to speak. One man, who appeared to be in his early ‘50s, said, “I work for a company whose name is not important. I wanted to give a woman who works with me a 20% raise. I was told by the HR department (managed by a woman) that I could only give her a 10% raise. So I said, ‘Oh, I see. She’s a woman. We always pay a woman less.’ We all groaned. As he gave up the mic, he said, “She got the 20% raise. It works every time.” We hooted and hollered!

Another man, with thin graying hair, on the other side of the theater, took the mic and slowly said, “I have been crying throughout this entire performance. It touched me deeply.” We all got quiet and the woman sitting next to him put her arm around him. He continued through his tears. “I have been thinking about how oppressed I have felt throughout my entire life.” His comment surprised me.

When he spoke the word “oppressed,” I thought he was going to admit to situations in which he had oppressed women and apologize. Or that in seeing the play and identifying with women, it began to dawn on him that he had been oppressed during his life as well. But he didn’t explain how he felt oppressed and I began to feel cynical. This show was about how women have struggled against inequality and I felt that he was co-opting Gloria’s story for himself. He continued, “I’m 72 years old and I was a feminist before any other man was a feminist.” The audience sighed. I wanted to scream. How dare he claim that for himself.

Here was a man pulling on our heartstrings by comparing what he saw as his own oppression to the oppression of women we had just witnessed on stage. The principle of Low Ego had been abandoned: instead the man was inducing the audience into expressing sympathy and taking care of him.  Christine Lahti could have explained that the play wasn’t about male oppression, or called attention to the message on the wall.  She didn’t do either, at least not on this afternoon.  Instead, she fell into the trap of equating men’s and women’s circumstances by saying–with great warmth–“Thank you so much for your courage and your tears.”

He  successfully hijacked the moment.  But I am sure I wasn’t the only one who had noticed that the self-proclaimed first male feminist hadn’t grasped the concept of low ego.   And a moment is not the journey. As Gloria—A Life, Gloria Steinem herself, and many of the other speakers that day showed us, when you encounter high egos blocking the way, it’s a call to step around them–and keep moving.Gloria Steinem at Women's March, Photo by Jenny Warburg

Maureen Murdock, Ph.D. teaches memoir writing at UCLA and in Pacifica Graduate Institute’s memoir certificate program, “Writing Down the Soul.” She is the author of the best selling book The Heroine’s Journey, which delineates the feminine psycho-spiritual journey, as well as four other books: Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and MemoryFathers’ Daughters: Breaking the Ties that Bind; Spinning Inward; The Heroine’s Journey Workbook, and Blinded by Hope: My Journey through My Son’s Bipolar Illness and Addiction published under a pseudonym. Maureen Murdock b&w jpeg

You can find her blog on her website:  www.maureenmurdock.com

Peace in Her Time: Heroines’ Journeys in the Arts

Written by Nancer Ballard; ed. assistance by Savannah Jackson.


“Women’s voices and actions, while often unheard and unseen, have been and will forever be instrumental in conflict resolution.” So opens the Curatorial Statement by Susan Janowsky for the multi-media art show, Peace in Her Time; Visionary Women Against War and Violence. Sponsored by Unbound Visual Arts,  the show is currently on exhibit at the Boston Public Library Honan-Allston Branch Art Gallery.

The exhibition includes a diverse collection of paintings, fiber arts, sculpture, collage, printmaking, book arts, and assemblage. Art helps us to see, and to not forget, both the horrific moments and also unexpected acts of inspiration. A a group, the artworks express the multiple dimensions of women’s struggles against violence and toward wholeness and peace throughout history and across the globe. Like art itself, the exhibit is a wonderful example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

 

The artists were invited to submit artist statements along with their visual / sound works which the sponsor Unbound Visual Arts has collected in a bound volume available with the exhibit. Their statements and their art offer a window onto many values, concepts, and examples that characterize heroine journeys.

Valuing Relationships & Community EffortWomen United

Jean Askerkoff: For peace in our time, we must work together. Equality, kindness and respect for each other are needed to end divisiveness in our world.

Tsurn Mig Shmiklinski:  Being a Woman, a minority woman, I face may obstacles as well as opportunities.  It is hard to make it alone… the truth is that I don’t believe we have to.

Linda Clave: Women are beacons for nurturing spiritual values.  Staying with our feminine souls brings forth a balancing force of equal magnitude to situations under duress.  This allows for the understanding of the other with clarity.  We are here to join each other and grow as humanity.

Empathy and Inclusiveness

Elizabeth Geers Loftis:  TElizabeth-Geers-Loftis-4-300x300he role of women in all facets of life is a topic I return to again and again.  I am especially attracted to women from more rural, indigenous cultures.

Nancer Ballard: I originally wanted to do a piece on women and work because I was frustrated by hearing so many intelligent people assert that women had only begun to go to work during World War II. What about all the African Americans who have been working since this country was founded?  What about the indentured servants who paid for their way to America with years of working?  DSC_0358What about the Lowell Mill workers?  Women throughout the world have played important roles in virtually every form of constructive peaceable work from antiquity to the present. The piece’s subtitle, Women in Labor, is a play on the concept of women forever giving birth creatively to the world on many levels.

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Peg Ehrlinger:  Intisar is from Syria.  Her home and mosque are in rubble, her beloved country destroyed by the ongoing Civil War.  Her son is a first responder in the midst of the devastation… In the midst of the chaos, Intisar assists others as she is able, praying for the day the Damascus Rose may bloom again.  Her gentle smile makes me wonder, would we be kinder to others if we considered the pain they hide?

 

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Combining Binaries into Wholeness

Alicia Dwyer:  The armor is constructed over a body case of a pregnant woman.  Among the decorative flowers adorning the dress tiny toy soldiers lie hidden in the petals. Blending fabric and metal together creates a juxtaposition between contrasting elements of fragility and strength inherent in nature, individuals, and society.

Heidi Lee: Sacred is she. Holy, is she not. Within the same entity, does both wrath, lust, pride exist even for a short while alongside kindness humility, and self-control

 

Making Do, Repurposing, and Living in Concert with One’s Environment

Missiles and Oil Wells

Missiles and Oil Wells by Mary Gillis

Mary Gillis: The cloth piece was intended initially as a banner for a local weekly peace vigil but then turned into a wall quilt, which traveled to several art exhibits and now hangs in a charter high school in Roxbury.

Nancer Ballard: I believe art is a very powerful form of non-capitalist value—it is life affirming, it can be experienced by anyone who has access to it, and it can fulfill unlimited purposes. You can destroy a piece of art, but not the impulse and need to make art.

 

Persistence; Focusing on the Journey rather than the Moment of Triumphant AchievementBrenda-Gael-McSweeney-HabibouSKPR-300x300

Brenda Gael McSweeney: This photograph captures Habibou Ouédraogo, Women’s Leader in the village of Zimtenga Kongoussi Zone, Burkina Faso and Scholastique Kompaoré, National Coordinator of the UNESCO Project for Equal Access of Women and Girls to Education as they debate the challenges of gender injustice, including the subordination of women and girls and violence against them, and income inequality.

Affirming Life rather than Conquest

Diane Sheridan: It is impossible not to feel [inspired] by women carrying their words proudly, their signs of protest towards peace and justice and hopefully opening someone’s eyes and heart even the smallest bit.Run Like a Girl 7

Peace in Her Time  provides a multi-layered demonstration that  art and peace work– in whatever way you do it— are like driving a stake in the ground and declaring that there is hope in the future—even if what you are depicting or experiencing is terrible.

Peace in Her Time; Visionary Women Against War and Violence is on exhibit at the Boston Public Library, Honan-Allston Branch Art Gallery through April 29, 2019. To find out more about Unbound Visual Arts, click here. To get directions to the gallery, click here.