This is her second visit to Korea – and Jeju – having first come here in 2003. Accompanied by well-known scholar and author Chung Hyun Kyung, she delivered a presentation last week at the Seoul Digital Forum sponsored by SBS. She also participated in the 125th anniversary celebration of Ewha Women's University and attended a conference of the North and South Korean Women's Alliance followed by a trip to the DMZ.
Here on Jeju, Steinem spoke at the 6th Jeju Forum for Peace & Prosperity in a session entitled, “Women, Culture and Creativity: She's Coming.” The room at the Haevichi Hotel in Seogwipo City was packed to capacity. Her primary purpose for including Jeju in her itinerary however, was to attend a two-day “Goddess Tour” organized by the Seoul International Women's Film Festival and Feminist Artist Network.
▲ Gloria Steinem. Photo by Kim Yeon Mi
“This island of incredible beauty has always been in my mind since I first learned about it – a place that symbolized not just women's power but a balance of power, a 'matrilineal' not 'matriarchal' culture. And the island itself is the body of a woman and the divers a community of self-sufficiency, teaching their daughters to dive – it's just a great example.”
“I'm hoping that we can look to this as a source of strength, first of all for the women and men who live on Jeju Island – that's the most important thing – and also for all of us, as a symbol.”
“So for me, Jeju Island is a unifying, a very moving, an inspiring symbol, physically from the past and also, I hope, for the future,” she added.
Described as “the world's most famous feminist” by USA Today, Steinem rose to prominence in the American feminist movement during the late 1960s and 1970s. Today at age 77, she maintains an active role in the empowerment of women around the globe, toward the ultimate goal of gender equality.
“Feminism isn't just for women,” she maintains. “Gender equality would benefit men as well, and is for the good of societies – for the good of all humanity.”
When asked about the relevance of a “feminist movement” today, a question commonly raised, she gave a two-part reply.
“First, it's easy to see that women do not have equal status to men in a majority of countries. So, while the issues and awareness have been raised, the work is far from over.”
She continued, “Movements go through stages. The first, changing consciousness, goes like the wind because it's within our control. The stage that we're in now – changing power structures – moves much more slowly.”
Citing the suffragist and abolitionist movements, each of which took 100 years to achieve success, she suggested that the feminist movement still had decades of progress ahead.
Steinem feels strongly that feminism crosses cultural boundaries and is a universal human rights issue. “The methods of change may differ, but the goals – of true gender equality – are the same.”
“The essence of feminism is about self-empowerment and community empowerment, in balance,” she expressed.
A journalist by profession, Steinem has written numerous articles and six books. She is currently writing her seventh and participates in many speaking engagements around the world.
She has no intentions of retiring. “Retire from what? Life?” was her recent retort in a press conference.
Known for such frank statements, Steinem has helped to decrease the stigma of aging for women. When told by a reporter that she “didn't look 40,” she delivered the instantly famous quip, “This is what 40 looks like; we've been lying so long, how would we know?” – a quote she updated with each passing decade.
When asked about personal goals she still maintains, she exhibited her passion for life and social causes by saying, “I intend to live for a long time yet. But what I don't want to do is to die saying, “But--.”
In other words: she will not stop as long as there is still work to be done.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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