Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine and one of the most prominent modern feminists, explored the connections between religion and gender politics at the Institute of Politics on Saturday.
Steinem's lecture was part of the Women and Public Policy Program's day-long symposium on Women, Religion and Public Policy.
The audience of 400 consisted of symposium attendants and Harvard students.
"She is so well known--probably falsely--for an extremist position, and I wanted to hear what she really wants," said Georgianna P. Powell '39.
Most of Steinem's address touched on the symposium's themes, first, religion.
"I still find that religion is too often politics made sacred," she said.
She cautioned the audience not to overuse religious arguments in policy debates.
Steinem criticized the use of scriptural arguments in the debate surrounding abortion, for example.
"We should argue for or against it," Steinem said. "But we should not use the Bible as our argument."
She warned against the historical partnership between religion and patriarchal power, telling the audience to be inclusive. From this connection, she offered her beliefs on men's responsibility to women.
"Godliness is present in women, men, and in all living things," she said. Modern-day women must "relieve men from the impossible soul-burden of being godlike."
The call for inclusiveness carried over into Steinem's remarks on gender politics.
"Though we've demonstrated to the public that women can do what men can do, our next task is to show that men can do what women can do," Steinem said, as the audience applauded.
Steinem urged not only an equality of opportunity between men and women, but also an equality of responsibility.
"I don't think we can answer the 'can I combine career and family?' question until men ask it as much as women ask it," Steinem said, sparking another round of applause.
During a question and answer session after the speech, students asked Steinem her opinion on such issues as biological determinism and the religious right.
"They have every right to do what they do," Steinem said, regarding conservative religious groups. "These organizations turn out 90 percent of their memberships to vote."
Citing meager 40 to 60 percent voter participation rates from leftist groups, Steinem added, "We're not doing our job."
She also mentioned Harvard's own history of imperfect gender-relations.
"My career at the Harvard Club in New York began with my demonstrating outside it," Steinem quipped. "What am I here for if not for making trouble?"
She then criticized Harvard for the lack of women on its faculty.
But after the speech, Steinem showed The Crimson a warmer regard for Harvard.
"Whenever I've come here to speak, I've thought, 'this is going to be hypercritical and cold;' but it's never been true," she said.
This is at least in part because Steinem impressed Harvard students with her intelligence and charisma, as several confirmed after the address.
"She's a woman with fantastic ideas and guts," said Josie Lahrer, a student at the School of Public Health.