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Feminist Leaders Gloria Steinem and bell hooks Find Fellowship at Berea

Gloria Steinem, a veteran leader of the Women’s Liberation Movement, joined Berea College’s illustrious scholar-in-residence and fellow feminist, bell hooks, on September 19 for a late Sunday evening chat in front of a large audience at Phelps Stokes Chapel.

bell hooks and Gloria Steinem

The informal conversation, titled “Celebrating Sisterhood: a Feminist Dialogue,” followed the inauguration earlier that day of the bell hooks Institute: a Center for Critical Thinking, Contemplation and Dreaming.

The two old friends sat down together on the stage of Phelps Stokes before a large audience of community members, out-of-town visitors, professors, students, staff and local media. Warmly greeted by the audience and introduced by Women’s Studies Professor Peggy Rivage-Seul, the two opened the event by commenting on each other’s important contributions to the feminist movement.

bell hooks mentioned how Steinem was one of the first to listen “when women of color started bringing their issues to the table.” Steinem pointed out hooks’ dedication to make the feminist movement “an ‘and’ movement, and not an ‘either/or’ movement,” combining it with many other issues, such as racial equality. The two then focused their discussion on the tough issues.

The discussion varied in content and covered many topics, but mainly focused on the deconstruction of the harmful hierarchies that oppress women, racial and religious minorities, individuals living in poverty and members of the gay and lesbian community.

The audience was very receptive, often breaking out in laughter and applause. There was an emotional and insightful question-and-answer session where many asked questions and extended their appreciation to the pioneering women. One attendee gave a “thank you” card to Steinem “twenty years late” in gratitude for the advice she gave at an event many years before. At the end, hooks and Steinem received a rousing standing ovation.

It was an inspirational evening, and both commented on the importance of the venue where they were speaking. Gloria Steinem affirmed, "Berea should be the model of education for the entire United States.”

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