Thursday, March 11, 2010

Gloria Steinem and My Pantsuit Revolution

“Revolutions come from combining what exists into what has never existed before.”

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem (born March 25, 1934) is an American feminist, journalist and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader of, and media spokeswoman for, the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. A prominent writer and political figure, Steinem is today considered one of American history's most important women and one of the most transformative figures of the twentieth century. She has founded many organizations and projects and has been the recipient of many awards and honors. Whether or not you agree with her politics, the woman is an icon.

I had the privilege to meet Ms. Steinem a couple of weeks ago. She was in town speaking at an event sponsored by the University of North Carolina’s Women and Gender studies program. ( About fifteen Charlotte women had lunch with her several hours before her speaking event.

Gloria is 76 years old. She is about my size (for some reason I expected her to be bigger), and her presence is powerful. She appeared to float about the room. She was clearly at peace. We talked during lunch about systemic and cultural change. We talked of youth, girls and boys. We talked of the men in our lives and the influence they have had. We shared our anger, sorrow and peaceful resolve. When i asked her what she felt as she looked back over the legacy of her life her response was...”I don’t really have any regrets,” she exclaimed. “I just wish I had been less lady-like.”
In June of 1970, a piece written by Ms. Steinem entitled “Women’s Liberation Aims to Free Men Too” was printed in the Washington Post.

In 1970, the women’s movement was in full effect. I was in 5th grade that year. It’s no coincidence that in the fall of that year I and a few girls staged the Myers Park Elementary Pants Revolution. All girls at my school were required to wear skirts or dresses. Pants were not allowed. I didn’t think this was fair. We couldn’t play on the playground the same way the boys could. The monkey bars were out of the question. So too were cartwheels, hand stands, football and standing broad jumps.

To tackle the problem we secretly passed out flyers recruiting volunteers to help stage this revolution. Several girls signed up from each grade and we met at the monkey bars during recess to discuss our plan.

On one specific day in October, all girls at Myers Park Elementary would wear pants. We would let everyone know of our plan.

The big day came. I came downstairs in a pantsuit. I won’t ever forget it. I walked into the kitchen, both excited and afraid of what the day would bring.

My dad was sitting at the breakfast table.

“What are you wearing?” he asked as he peered over his reading glasses.

“What do you mean?” I asked. I tried my best to be nonchalant.

“Isn’t there a dress code? You aren’t allowed to wear pants are you?”

“No, but today we are all...”

My father interrupted. “Go back up and put on a dress.” His gaze calmly returned to his newspaper.

“But I can’t. I’m the one who organized...”

Again my father replied, but this time with that look that meant business: “Go back up and put on a dress.”

I wore a dress to school that day. I was the only girl in the entire school in a dress. My friends were okay with it when I explained my predicament. The outcome? The dress code was changed and the following week I played uninhibitedly on the monkey bars in my brand spankin’ new pantsuit!

We’ve all staged our own little mini-revolutions. Some, such as Ms. Steinem, more publicly and others like my own mother who in her more private way bravely stepped outside her “girl box” to recognize and activate her magnificent and beautiful potential.

But no matter the venue, it sometimes takes more than a gentle nudge or a tender pull on our culture to create systemic change. Sometimes we have to just painfully yank off the outdated and limiting view held by the status quo to reveal a new layer beneath...expose the real, the raw and the honest.

When have you bravely stepped outside your comfort zone to stage a mini-revolution of your own? Tell me about it. I’d really like to know, share and celebrate that mini-revolution with you! Let me know at

1 comment:

  1. I just found your blog and I had to comment on Gloria Steinam. You sound like you are close to my age. I can totally relate to what you are speaking about. It was a brand new day when we were allowed to wear blue jeans, just like the boys. I can still remember like it was yesterday when the teacher said we were allowed to wear double seamed jeans. What a liberation that was!! We forget the women before did for us.