Writer, feminist and activist Gloria Steinem is pictured during a visit to Toronto in September 2011. On Monday, she was in Washington, D.C. and weighed in on the recent controversy around Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's event for women. Chris Young/Canadian Press
Gloria Steinem, one of the most famous leaders of the feminist movement, says there was nothing inappropriate about the recent ‘Ladies Night’ event featuring Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau that was deemed sexist by some and caused so much controversy.
The “Justin Unplugged” event, held on Nov. 7 in Toronto, was organized by a group of women and a colourful invitation with Trudeau’s head shot read: “Ladies, you’re invited to (really) get to know the future prime minister.” It included the following questions on the poster: “What is the biggest issue facing women? What’s your favourite virtue? Who are your real life heroes?”
Proceeds from the $250-a-head cocktail event went to the Judy LaMarsh fund that helps women Liberal candidates.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel was one of the strongest voices that spoke out against the event, blasting its tone and calling it patronizing. Rempel was joined by some of her caucus colleagues and also by NDP MPs such as Megan Leslie and Niki Ashton, who were all united in saying "all issues are women’s issues."
Steinem was asked for her thoughts on the event following a speech at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., on Monday.
"Certainly to have an event to encourage women to get into political life is not inappropriate at all,” she said in an interview. “If the problem is that there was a kind of a small sexual implication to come and get to know Trudeau … I think it's so innocuous because it was coming from the group itself.
“When a particular group talks about itself it's different from it being defined from the outside. Would I have written a different invitation? Maybe, but it just seems so inconsequential and apparently your Conservatives have no sense of humour," Steinem said.
The 79-year-old activist and author said it’s not wrong for political parties to appeal to women voters and that more women should be in politics. To get more women involved in politics, women have to feel more included and welcome and the parties should appeal to potential candidates directly and encourage them, Steinem said.
Steinem, who co-founded Ms. Magazine and helped start the National Women’s Political Caucus, among other initiatives, raised Canada in her speech to the National Press Club audience when she outlined the many challenges that still face women and why the term post-feminist is “ridiculous.”
She said that recent marriage equality victories in the United States are to be celebrated but it shouldn’t be forgotten that only 51 per cent of Americans say homosexuality should be accepted by society compared to 69 per cent in Canada.
“Are we not comparable at least to Canada?” she asked. In the interview afterwards Steinem said it’s interesting to think about why Canada and the United States are so far apart in opinion polls on the issue. She's not sure what the answer is but offered some theories.
“It’s possible that churches have more political power here. We have less strong tradition of secular government perhaps than you do … that may have something to do with it,” she said.
Canada generally has a “somewhat more open attitude,” Steinem added, and there seems to be less racism. “And since racism and sexism always go together, because you have to control women in order to maintain racism, that may be the case."
Steinem is in Washington to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Former president Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey are also on the list of recipients.