What happens when Gloria Steinem, Ashley Judd, Michelle Bernard, and Connie Shultz take the stage together to discuss politics, current affairs, maternity leave, Sarah Palin, and cabbage patch dolls? As the audience at Bushnell Mortensen Theater found out on Friday, October 12th, what transpires is a night that is eminently global and deeply personal, serious and hilarious. “The State of Women” 2012, moderated by the lively and engaging Michel Martin of NPR’s Tell Me More, proved to be a canopy of discussion on the issues that matter most to these deeply engaging and iconic speakers.
The transparency of Ashley Judd’s stories of growing up as an impoverished teenager, and the traumatic sexual harassment that she experienced early in her career, were counter-balanced by Michelle Bernard’s tales of her struggles with the inherent sexist and racist values that she found, sadly, to be rife within the higher classes of the Independent Women’s Forum during her time there. Feminist issues, it turns out, transcend every social and racial divide.
Gloria Steinem’s own connection to the Forum is a deeply personal one, shaped on her many years of personal support of this Hartford institution and evidenced by Doris Sugarman – co-founder of the Forum’s – struggle to contain her emotions when introducing the keynote speaker at the dinner prior to the event. Speaking of Gloria, here’s a fun fact – she was a Playboy Bunny way back in the day, but only in order to write an exposé about the industry. That’s just the type of person she is: upbeat, brave, funny, intelligent, and ready to do what it takes to get her point across. She and Connie Shultz provided much of the comic relief throughout the evening, tackling the issues of women’s bodies, contraception, and sexism with grace and intelligence.
Like the other speakers, Connie made it very clear that women’s issues are personal issues to her, telling the audience about her response to Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke being like ‘a personal fight against her daughters.’ Despite the hard hitting political and social commentary, the overall theme of the night was positive and empowering. As Gloria said: “we are linked, not ranked,” in our equality across gender lines, and the next generation of feminists will be “lighting their torches from our torch…” not as a passed battle, but through shared responsibility in friendship and womanhood.