7 Things Gloria Steinem has to tell girls right now

We all know Gloria Steinem rocks. And last night, she rocked a red sequined motorcycle belt to great applause at the Girls Write Now Awards in New York City. In an exclusive chat with SheKnows and an inspiring speech to the crowd, Steinem hit on topics ranging from social media to the recent shootings in Santa Barbara (resulting in #YesAllWomen). Here are some things we learned. Share them with your girls.

1. Your voice is more powerful than you know

Steinem said the only female writer she knew of as a little girl was Louisa May Alcott, admitting, “That was my only idea that a female human being could be a writer.” Things have changed, but not enough. Pointing to both Malala and the kidnapped girls in Nigeria, Steinem cautions, “The reason it’s hard for young women to have a voice and to speak is because it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous for female human beings to be able to have a voice and to tell their own stories.” Tell your stories.

2. Feminism is about everyone

When asked what she would tell girls today about feminism, Steinem broke it down like this: “Either we are human beings or we’re not. If we’re human beings, we’re feminists. If we’re less than human beings, we may not be so feminist.”

3. Boys are individuals just as much as girls are

Unwilling to classify boys as a subgroup of humans independent of girls, Steinem instead encourages us to “think of Irving, or of Jonathan, or whoever…” to focus our discussion on the individual rather than the group. “We’re linked, we’re not ranked.”

Girls Write Now gala honoring Gloria Steinem

4. Listen — it’s the sound of your voice

What would Steinem tell girls about the history of feminism? In general, she says, “I don’t want to tell girls anything except to listen to themselves.” She explained, “I would much rather… listen to them and let them know that they are really worth listening to.”

5. Your peers can be your role models

To prove her point, Steinem steered us to her guest for the evening, Kai Williams, 16, from the Bronx. An actress, writer and overall smart young woman, Williams gave us her POV on everything from selfies to siblings. Kai explained that role models can defy hierarchies of age, class or experience. Role models can be “people in our age group who are just advanced, mature people. Anyone who is passionate about a cause… going after justice.”

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6. The proof of your power is in the opposition

“Sometimes our adversaries know it better than we do.” Referring to the individual responsible for the mass shooting in California on May 24, which left six dead, as simply “the guy in Santa Barbara,” nameless, Steinem pointed to his actions to highlight the power of reproduction, explaining, “The guy in SB said it… he just said feminism is evil because it allows women to control reproduction.” Similarly, referencing recent events in Nigeria, Steinem said, “Those terrorists in Nigeria could have quite logically kidnapped very important people. People in the government… decision-making people… and demanded ransoms. But who did they kidnap? They kidnapped young women.”

7. And yes, you can someday be an 80-year-old woman in a motorcycle belt

Steinem introduced herself as “a completely happy person, an 80-year-old woman in a motorcycle belt.” Laughing, she said, “I just bought this… I’m not kidding — it was motorcycle belt on Lexington Avenue. I absolutely couldn’t resist it.” It looked awesome. This incredible woman is still living her life on her terms. You can too.

Girls Write Now gala honoring Gloria Steinem

More on supporting women’s voices

The scary truth about the bad thoughts of our best men
Achieving success in a man’s world: From player to professional coach
Why #YesAllWomen matters